Shaping a Men’s Ministry

I’m not a men’s ministry guru.  I’m not even a neophyte.  I have been able to, by God’s grace, serve with a small team to invest in the men at my church over the last several months.  Here’s a few of our decisions we’ve made about ministry to men.

  1. It should exist to help men be better men elsewhere.  That should seem obvious, but for us, it means that it only happens quarterly.  It isn’t a weekly breakfast.  It isn’t even a monthly class.  At Mercyview, our missional communities are the context in which most ministry happens.  That’s the place we want men to spend most of their time.  We want them to be great men to their families, their friends, and their missional communities, so why would we create anything that vies with those things for their time?  We wouldn’t.  Another thing this means is that we are addressing manhood holistically.  Have you noticed how facets of manhood that are often brought up are things you’d do with other men (hiking, hunting, fighting, arrgh!)  What good is that in the workplace or at home.  If they are great fishermen, but lousy fathers, we’ve failed.  What would it profit to gain a 1-handicap and lose your marriage?
  2. It should be Gospel saturated, Bible soaked, Trinitarian shaped times of intentional interaction.  Another “no duh!” right?  But what that means, then, is that we don’t spend time playing games, chatting, watching sports, or simply eating together (though we usually have coffee and light snacks).  We also don’t expect a 5 minute devotional to really get the job done either.  We spend almost 3 hours digging into God’s Word together, hearing teaching that is deep, challenging, and pointed, and looking each other in the eyes and asking hard questions.  Life’s too important to not do serious work together like this.  None of us need other men who will share a hobby or passion for football…but I’ve not met a man, yet, who doesn’t need other men who will get face to face and/or shoulder to shoulder with them to move away from darkness and towards light.
  3. It should include wisdom and witness from as many as possible.  While there are a few of us shaping the ministry and, especially in the beginning, doing a big chunk of the teaching, more and more we are pulling in guys (young and old) to minister.  We don’t want to give the impression that one guy (or 3 or 4) has it all figured out…we don’t.  We don’t want to give the impression that God isn’t at work in every life there…He is!  Sometimes it’s a testimony, sometimes it’s leading a large group discussion, sometimes it’s facilitating small group interaction, sometimes it’s participating in a panel or Q&A, and sure, sometimes it’s teaching.  And more and more, we want every man there to speak to other men on behalf of God.  There is wisdom in our collective experiences.  No man can be silent or we all lose something.  There is also wisdom in preparing more and more men to speak and lead.  For some, this is their first taste of that at Mercyview, but we are committed that it won’t be their last!
  4. It should target the heart.  Of course we teach, and that hopefully engages their minds.  Sure, we quote Calvin, Spurgeon, Piper, Lewis, Goodwin, Luther, Sibbes, Edwards, Athananius…you get the point.  We want to think deeply, but we are AIMING for the heart.  We believe, with Jesus, Peter, Paul and with our beloved reformers, that the HEART is crucial.  So, when we teach on being “Men of the Word,” we don’t just talk about memorizing it or studying it, we also talk about delighting in it!  When we ask, “how can we help guys understand the Theology of Adoption,” we answer by not only giving them well-reasoned content, but craft activities that help them see themselves as adopted sons of God, over whom their father dances and sings and weeps with joy!

So, how’s it gone?  I’m hearing men talk about what they are learning, what is challenging them, and how it’s affecting their lives.  By that, I’m encouraged.  Even weeks later, guys are talking about what we learned together or an intense small group interaction they had at the quarterly gathering.  That’s fruit!  It’s getting into their bones and into their hearts.  I’m seeing guys apply something they learned on one topic to another topic, seeing how Biblical manhood is integrated.  Hallelujah!  I’m seeing guys slough off passivity and start serving.  Praise God!  Is it perfect, absolutely not.  But it is intentional.  I don’t have time to lose…I’m desperate for real life, real interaction, real faith, real joy.  And as it turns out, so are a lot of other men.

What about you…what does it look like for men to do life together at your church?  I’d love to hear!

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What does Jesus think/feel about you?

That’s a $1 Billion Dollar Question (actually, an eternal question!).  What does Jesus (and therefore the Father!) think/feel about you?  Lots of ways to answer this, but I’m going to totally steal an answer from 2 other people.  The answer will come from Thomas Goodwin, who I’ll introduce below.  But it will come through Mike Reeves who introduced me to Goodwin, borrowing many of his words and more of his ideas below.  So, if anything sounds great, it’s Reeves.  If not, it’s me.

So, Thomas Goodwin. What do you need to know about Goodwin? Well, he was born in the year 1600, three years before the death of Queen Elizabeth. He grew up in a home of committed believers, he spent some of his younger years “making merry” as they use to say and literally seeking to become a celebrity preacher, and then something scary happened. He became REALLY religious.

He later said that, at this time, his preaching was a ministry of battering consciences. He’d use the Word of God to mercilessly beat up the congregation. And internally, he was experiencing the same thing. He began to fear that he wasn’t truly born again, and for 7 years, he was looking inside for some sign of grace on his life. Seven years!!!

SO, in Goodwin, we have someone with some experience in doubting the goodness of God.  Finally, he had an old pastor pull him aside and said, “Don’t trust anything in yourself, whether performance or feelings. Look out and rest on Christ alone.” And that was the turning point. Seeing Christ clearly and rightly made all the difference.

Well, eventually he wrote a little book called The Heart of Christ in Heaven Unto Sinners on Earth, and he wrote this, he said, because he found so many Christians who, like himself, struggled to know who God was and trust his goodness towards them.

So, he hoped the book would, “take our hands, and lay them upon Christ’s breast, and let us feel how his heart beats and his bowels yearn towards us, even now he is in glory.” That he might “hearten and encourage believers to come more boldly unto the throne of grace, unto such a Saviour and High Priest, when they shall know how sweetly and tenderly his heart is inclined towards them.”

We’re going to have Goodwin guide us through 3 scenes that will unpack Christ’s heart for us.

First, in the upper room (John 13-17).

John 13.1-5 – Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

FIRST, notice that he knew he was going away and that all things had been given to him by the Father, and yet his thoughts were on his disciples. Instead of (or perhaps BECAUSE of) thinking of the glory he’s headed back to, He washes their feet…he does this to show them how he is and will be towards them, even when he’s gone.

SECOND, notice also that he already knew they would betray him. He already knew…yet, he washed their feet and loved them to the end.

Really, this whole section of John from chapter 13-17, he is preparing them for his departure. He’s taking pains to make sure they know his heart. That they know he’s arranged everything so that they will be cared for.

At one point, he says, “I will not leave you as orphans,” And a major part of that is that he promises to send the Holy Spirit to them…Look at John 16.7, “it is to your advantage that I go away.” It’s good for you. Why, because the Spirit will be a better helper for you in the days ahead.

Goodwin riffs on this whole section from chapter 14-16 to unpack in a beautiful way, what Jesus says the Spirit will do in His place…

All the comfort he shall speak to you all that while will be but from the expression of my heart towards you…he will tell you nothing but stories of my love. He will tell you that there is as true a dearness of affection in me towards you, as is between my Father and me and that it is as impossible to take off my heart from you, as to take my Father’s from me, or mine from my Father.

Second, after the resurrection

The first people to encountering the risen Christ weren’t his disciples. Some women go to the tomb, and Mary encounters Jesus, and he gives her a message for his disciples…

Now, what would you say to those no good, spineless, traitors? Those men who deserted you in your hour of need. Who, at the very least need to show some major gratitude for what you’ve just done for them?

What does Jesus call them in John 20.17 ? – “go, to my BROTHERS”  (reminds us of Hebrews 2.11) and what message does he send them? In 20.17 – “I ascend to My Father and YOUR Father…to my God and YOUR God!”  They are still his brothers and the Father still belongs to them!  Despite what they’ve done.

And 2 verses later, he appears to them, and what does he say? Does he rebuke them? Chide them? Rip into ‘em really good? No, in John 20.19 he says “Peace be with you!” And he breathes on them and says, “receive the Holy Spirit.”

And in all this time, he never brings up the past. He never scolds them or reprimands them for their behavior before the Cross.

Goodwin notes that during this time: NO SIN OF THEIRS TROUBLED HIM BUT THEIR UNBELIEF.  Isn’t that amazing.

Well, after 40 days with them, he is leaving, ascending into Heaven. What’s the last thing he does as he is leaving…even as he is ascending into the sky: Luke 24.50-51 says 50 And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.

Third, seated at the right hand of the Father

-So, once in glory, He pours out the Spirit

-Then, he begins a ministry of interceding for his people, and this is where we want to turn our attention to the book of Hebrews. Hebrews 7.25 says, “He always lives to make intercession for us.”

I know people that live for college football. Or who say “I live for Doctor Who. I know the actors, I follow their lives, I watch the shows, I have the action figures. I LIIIIIIIIIVE for Doctor Who.”

Friends, Jesus lives for you. He EVER lives to intercede for you.

And a major theme through Hebrews is this: Jesus became the perfect high priest for us THROUGH suffering for us. A high priest comes to God on behalf of the people. And if you’re going to represent broken, suffering, hurting people…well, you have to be broken, to suffer, to hurt.

And Goodwin wants to draw out attention to, “two things, in particular, that stir Jesus’ compassion for us as our High Priest: our afflictions and – astonishingly – our sins.”

Hebrews 4.15 says He can sympathize with our weakness, that is, our suffering and all that is hard in this life.  All things that show how WEAK we are.

What about you?  Is your suffering terrible?  Have you had more than you can bear?   We’ve struggled with sin, hurt, heartache and loss.  And maybe you’re wondering, “Did he really suffer everything as I have? Did he experience betrayal? Excruciating Pain? Did he ever weep over the grave of a dear friend? Injustice? Loss of family?  The answer to all of those is YES!  What about Sin…did he suffer under sin?  Not his own…but yours and mine.  He was CRUSHED under it.

But, it’s not only our suffering and affliction that moves him…it’s also our sin. Look at Hebrews 5.2 – He can deal gently with the ignorant and the wayward (literally…those out of the way), that is, those in sin!  See what Goodwin says…

“your very sins move him to pity more than to anger… yea, his pity is increased the more towards you, even as the heart of a father is to a child that hath some loathsome disease… his hatred shall all fall, and that only upon the sin, to free you of it by its ruin and destruction, but his bowels shall be the more drawn out to you; and this as much when you lie under sin as under any other affliction. Therefore fear not, ‘What shall separate us from Christ’s love?’” TG

Mike Reeves comments on this passage by saying:

Jesus’ first reaction when you sin is pity. Where you would run from Him in guilt, He would run to you in grace. It makes all the difference when your heart feels cold. Right then in your very coldness, you can know it is your joylessness that stirs His compassion. In our guilt we’d never want to face up to some cold, pitiless God. But the tender kindness of Christ woos us.

Isn’t that amazing. Isn’t Christ good to us? And remember…the heart of Christ is the expressed image of the heart of his Father. This is our Father’s love being shown through our Savior Christ.

This is what transformed Goodwin’s life, and one of the best places to see this is to read his final words. Listen to this, these are the words of a man who for 7 years wrestled over whether he could be SURE of his salvation, SURE of God’s love for him.

I am going to the three Persons, with whom I have had communion…I shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye, all my lusts and corruptions I shall be rid of, which I could not be here; I could not have imagined I should ever have had such a measure of faith in this hour; no, I could never have imagined it. My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No, I have the whole of his righteousness. Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave himself for me. Christ cannot love me better than he does; I think I cannot love Christ better than I do. I’m swallowed up in God.

Isn’t that amazing? The assurance we have in His love! This is our God! So that brings us back to the beginning: how does knowing all this transform prayer? Well, where to start?!?!?! In our final post, we’ll compare our God, the Triune, true and living God, to the god of the Koran that we looked at a few posts back.

Does Jesus Rescue God?

We saw in our previous posts in this series (1, 2, 3) that what we believe about God, his character, his heart towards us, shapes everything else in our life and faith.  In this post, because of that, let’s draw our eyes towards the Lord and see what He is really like. Let’s see what he thinks about you. Is He just putting up with us, tolerating us?  Is he just watching from Heaven, waiting to jump on us after every little mistake? Let’s find out.

How do we know what God is like? John 1:18 tells us: “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” So, how do we know what God the Father is like? Jesus reveals Him! We cannot know God apart from Jesus. He is the exact representation of His nature. That is a very important point for us.

That means there is not some unkind, ugly god lurking in the dark somewhere who is only holding back his hatred for us because of Jesus. No! God is, as I first heard from Glen Scrivener, “Jesus-shaped” from first to last. The famous poet, Lord Byron once said, “If God’s not like Jesus, He should be!” But, HE IS! That’s why Jesus has said, “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father,” meaning you know what the Father is like because you see what I’m like. I’m the image of the invisible God. I only do what I see the Father doing…so when Jesus is loving us, he’s just doing what the Father is doing! He doesn’t have to rescue a cantankerous God…no, the Father is all loving!  I think this is where we get into a lot of trouble…

If you try to imagine God without Jesus, you are thinking of an idol. LET ME SAY THAT AGAIN. If you try to imagine God without Jesus, you are thinking of an idol. Michael Ramsey, former archbishop of Canterbury, put it this way, “God is Christlike, and in Him there is no unchristlikeness at all.”  God is Jesus-shaped!  In fact, let’s start to use that title “God” a lot less.  Instead, let’s talk about our loving Father and our brother and husband, Jesus, who has come to save us, and the Holy Spirit who makes all of the Father’s promises, which are YES in Jesus, true for us!

So, if we want to know what the Father thinks of us, and how he feels about us, how he is towards…we look to Jesus.  And that’s just what we’re going to do in the next post.

Christians who don’t know God

Of course, after the previous post, you may be thinking, “I’m not Muslim,” so my view of God is just fine. While I hope so, I wanna push back. Do you know God? And by KNOW, I don’t mean a superficial, Sunday school awareness of a few stories from the Bible. It’s not a “I grew up in a Christian family” type of faith. Those kinds of faith are washed away when suffering comes, like a house built on sand.

And this is why I think this is SO SO SO important. If our faith isn’t truly our own OR if it’s inaccurate, then when sin prevails, when suffering comes, when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling, what do we do? What happens when shallow faith meets deep suffering?

What happens if deep down we don’t believe that God is 100% good.  If we think he’s a “contract God,” who will only be good to us if we’ve first satisfied his demands.  If we wake up in the morning and think, “I better have a quiet time and pray or God won’t be pleased with me.”  Friends, that’s not the Gospel.  That’s not Christianity.  That’s not our God.

And, when suffering comes, it’s normal to hear statements/questions like, “If God were really loving, this wouldn’t have happened.” OR “What kind of God would do this, allow this?” Or as Woody Allen said, “If God exists, I hope he has a good excuse.” Do you see it: The question at the center of each of these statements is “what is God like?”

And for Christians, maybe we haven’t walked away from the faith, but maybe we’ve just decided to partition our lives. What I mean is that we still believe in God, but we’ve made sure to guard the precious things in our lives from Him…because we’re just not sure we can trust him with our kids, our work, our calling, our finances, our ___________. And I think there are probably a lot of us here today living in that reality.

We say, “I just can’t handle it if that happens again. I can’t do that again. Please, not again… please.” And at that point, God isn’t even in our thoughts…at that point, he’s somewhere, we still believe, but we almost dare not ask again where He fits in all this. That feels like it would just make it all harder, it would hurt just a little bit more…This is the danger of Shallow Faith colliding with Deep Suffering.

Can we really say with the hymnist, “…when all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay”?  I think this is a question with eternal ramification and for some of us, it’s a life-and-death issue.

Do you remember that our view of God will determine our life with Him?  It will shape our faith, our prayers, our mission, our view of the Bible, our view of the Church.  If we Christians are walking about with this amount of ambiguity about the character and goodness of God, then weep for the world!  Weep for the Church!  What a sad situation we find ourselves in.  It must change.  In the next post, we’ll turn out eyes to the one, true and living God, and it WILL make all the difference.

What about you?  In the comments below, please share where you’re at with God.

Your prayers to a false god

So, to help us understand how important it is to rightly understand our good God, we’re going to look at a false god.  We’re going to ask, “How does that god’s character affect the lives and prayers of his people?”  And what we’re going to see is that it makes ALL THE DIFFERENCE.

We’re going to look at the god of Islam.  We’ll use the name Allah even though that name was first used by Christians in the Arab World before Mohammad was born and still used by Christians today.  Just know that I am speaking about the god revealed in the Koran, the god of Islam.

The God of Islam/the Koran – Allah
What is he like? The first thing most Muslims will tell you about Allah is this: You cannot know Allah, you can only know his will. You cannot know him…only what he wants from you. If you somehow get to paradise, he will not be there. Relationship with you has never been on his agenda.   Before he created, Allah was a solitary monad, a lone deity. He was utterly alone. So, at his core, he’s not a relational deity…only after creating did he even have someone with whom to relate if he wanted to…but he doesn’t…that’s not bashing Islam…that’s classic, orthodox Islamic teaching.  This is Allah.
What is his mission? The all-consuming idea of Islam is that Allah has a sovereign will for the world and eventually all must submit to him. Islam literally means “submission”. Muslims literally means “one who submits”. So, Allah’s mission is Sharia law. That every country on the planet would be under his law.
What, then, does godliness look like? Obedience. Pure obedience. Having said that, in another sense, if we ask, what would it be like to be like this god (what would godlikeness look like for humanity), it gives us another window into how important this is? To be like Allah would mean we dominate, we rule as many others as possible, we cause others to submit to us. So, it shouldn’t surprise us to see that this view of god results in these kinds of behavior.
How does that shape prayer/ communion with Allah? Muslims are supposed to pray 5 times a day. These prayers are scripted for you. They must be said in Arabic even if you can’t speak Arabic. So, is prayer for relationship? No. Would you ever call this god “Father” or “Friend”? No, and he wouldn’t want you to. Is this the god of all comfort? No.   Is this a god to whom you can claim his promises? No, actually, one of his names in the Koran is the Deceiver. The man who took over leadership of the Muslim community after the death of Mohammed, named Abu Bakr, said this, “I would not feel safe from the deception of Allah, even if I had one foot in paradise.” Will you plead his promises to him? No. In prayer, will the peace of this god guard your heart and mind? No.

Do you see how the god you pray to makes all the difference? And we could look at any god and do this…we could look at Zeus, we could look at Shiva, we could look at the false god of Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  The shape of the god you believe in determines everything else in your religion (prayer, scripture, mission, fellowship, community, etc.) and your life!  The next post will ask us, “Christians, do you know your God?”

Feeling Far from God

Image result for close to god

About three years ago, I could only have described my relationship with God as “frustrating.” During this season, whenever I heard people talk about intimacy with God, my gut reaction was anger and judgment.

First, I was angry that whatever they meant by “intimacy,” I didn’t have it. So, what do you do when someone has something you want, but you can’t seem to have it? You judge them, right? Is that just me? 😛 I did judge them, saying things like, “they’re probably overly emotional nancy-boy Christians. Those kinds of Christians who make the faith all about how they feel. They probably checked their brain at the door of the church before they came in!” Ouch, it hurts to read that, but it was true.

At the same time, I’d judge myself. I knew deep down, my problem wasn’t with them. I knew something was wrong with me. And I remember so vividly, as I wrestled in prayer, that all of a sudden, out loud, without trying to make it sound nice, I said, “Father, I’m pretty sure that you love me…I just don’t think you like me very much.”

I had finally gotten to the heart of what I had been struggling with. I had, without realizing it, always felt that God was just putting up with me. And I was grateful…but I really wanted more. I didn’t want to just feel tolerated. I wanted communion with God. I wanted to experience and believe, deep down, that He loved me.

So, that was an ah-ha moment about myself, but I still wasn’t sure what that meant about God, until finally I was confronted with this question: “Justin, just who do you think I am? What must I be like, to be a god who merely tolerates His children? How low of a view of me do you have?”

And that discovery is at the heart of this little blog series. You see, there is a direct connection between your view of God and the richness of your fellowship with Him, between your understanding of Jesus and how you feel about him.

  • What you believe about him will affect whether you pray, when you pray, how you pray
  • What you think and feel to be true about him affects what you think and feel in the midst of blessing, and even more, in the midst of suffering
  • What you know to be reality about God determines what your life is like when it seems that your prayers are going unanswered

And that should make sense. We know, or should know, that prayer isn’t this sort of activity that we master, like hitting a baseball, or computer programming, or knitting a scarf. Right? It’s relationship; it’s communion! Think about another important relationship in your – your spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, etc.  If what you believe about their character is faulty, how big of a difference would that make in your relationship. If you believed that your spouse loathed you, that your boss wanted to fire you, that your kid thought you were a cotton-headed ninnymuggin…those beliefs would affect your relationship, especially if they are untrue!  Right?

Think how much more this is true about God!  So, I hope that the next few posts help us clarify both what he is like AND what that means for us!

 

2 Writers/Speakers Who Are Influencing Me

OK, I felt compelled to write this entry for two reasons. First, to point you to a few wonderful folks that have had a lot of influence on me of late, whether authors, bloggers, speakers, etc. Second, I almost feel like I need to do this as a sort of disclaimer! Some of these folks have so shaped my thinking that I can hardly look at any issue without their influence being apparent (at least to me), even when I’m talking about issues that I haven’t heard them address specifically. So, this serves sort of as a blanket footnote or acknowledgment. I do try to cite them when I quote directly or when I’m sharing something that has come straight from them in one way or another, but I may miss one here or there. And, honestly, again, I see their influence in almost every post, even when I’m not quoting them, so much of the good in my writing and none of the bad can be attributed to them.

So, read them, listen to them, enjoy them…better yet, enjoy the Jesus they have helped me learn to enjoy!

Image result for michael reevesMichael Reeves is the principal of Union, a ministry based in Oxford, England that is doing fantastic work. Seriously, you need to check them out. Mike has, first and foremost, helped me think about God. If I am ever trying to clarify who God is in order to help us understand anything else rightly, it’s primarily due to Mike’s influence. If I’m writing about the Trinity, God’s Glory, the Reformation (and Reformed Theology), Church History, or the Difference Jesus makes, he’s had a huge role in that. I know Mike slightly, mostly through his works, but looking forward to getting to know him more in the days/years ahead. Check out his resources at http://www.uniontheology.org and books at Amazon.

Image result for glen scrivenerGlen Scrivener is an evangelist based in Eastbourne, England. He leads a ministry called Speak Life. I love how they are working to help the church be more winsome and more Biblical in their evangelism. Glen, like Mike, has had a great impact on me in learning to clarify who God is and who He is not, and enjoying Him. He’s also been a major encouragement in my grasping how much the Old Testament is all about Jesus, and the Word exists to help us encounter Jesus! I love his Youtube journey through the Bible called Reading Between the Lines. Finally, he’s helped me continue to clarify my understanding of mission and what it is God is doing in the world. He blogs at christthetruth.net.

So, if I’m talking about those issues…even if I’m not quoting these 2 men, you can bet that they have significantly influenced what you’re hearing. Which means that you should be really be reading what they are writing and listening to what they are teaching instead of me. But if you want to keep hanging out around here, you are very welcome!

Responding to our Kind, Tender King

So, we’ve seen that God’s reign is one of self-sharing, self-giving, sacrifice for His people.  Isn’t that great!  He’s not a cosmic overlord simply looking for slaves.  Isn’t He so good!?  To review, check out the previous posts in this series:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Let me take all this just one step further. We could look at all this and say, “Hmm, the God of the Bible, at his core, is a self-giving God. That’s awesome. So, he’s willing to be merciful. It’s in his nature, sort of like a benevolent King, handing out bread, who is good and kind.” We’ve sinned, but he’s merciful, so he forgives.

But, does King Jesus just say, “I think you guys are OK people, so I’ll die so that you can go to heaven…I’ll forgive you”?  OR “You’re not too good, but I’m gracious, so you’re forgiven”?  Does he want to just give us heaven? Does He just want to be nice to us?  Absolutely not! He wants to give us HIMSELF! And He wants us FOR Himself.  The Gospel is much less about what God wants to save us from, though that’s part of it, and it’s much more about what He’s saving us for!!! For Himself. He wants us to be with HIM! Look again at John 17.

Jesus says that the FATHER loves us: 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

JESUS wants to be with us: 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

Remember, the King isn’t just throwing bread around, in fact, the King is seeking a Bride! We are called the betrothed of Christ. Paul says in Ephesians that earthly marriage was given by God to point to Jesus and the Church.  If you are a GUY, listen…MEN, we have to get over ourselves, we are the Bride. There’s nothing sexual about this marriage.  Here’s THOMAS GOODWIN unpacking Christ’s love for the Church:

It is as if he had said, “The truth is, I cannot live without you, I shall never rest till I have you with me, so we may never part again. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father, if I don’t have you with me because my heart is so set upon you; and if I have any glory, you shall have part of it.”

Wow! Can you believe it? Is there a sweeter word than this, “I want them to be with me.”

We do not have a contract God, lobbing demands from a distance, seeing how much work, sweat, and sacrifice he can squeeze out of us.  We don’t even have just a nice God who’s willing to overlook offenses.  No, we have a King that came and was pressed out, under the judgment of His Loving Father IN ORDER TO BE WITH US. Oh, what a King! And friends, he loves you. His heart is warm towards you. It overflows with affection and tenderness for you. So, how ought we to respond?

We should love him. What more could you want from a King? If you are a Christian, how long have you lived under the weight of thinking that you still owe God something, that he’s still expecting something from you? Perhaps you wake up in the morning and think, “Oh, I better pray and read my Bible so that God will be pleased with me.” It’s SOOOO easy for us to slip into this YOYO mentality that His love depends on how well I’m doing. He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not. No no no no no no no no. You can’t do it for Jesus. Jesus has already done it for you. It is finished. Your CHAMPION has won! He’s secured the victory, and just like the Israelite army did when David beat Goliath, you simply get to enjoy being IN Christ, sharing in HIS victory.

And, if you are NOT a Christian, and you’re reading this. Oh, friend, look at Jesus. All this, he’s done for you. Could you find a better Savior, a better King, a better friend than Christ? Did you think that perhaps you have to get your life straightened out, and only then maybe Jesus would accept you? Friend, look to Jesus…trust in His victory. Would you simply receive “His life for yours?”

Either way, listen again as he says it: “I cannot live without you, I shall never rest till I have you with me, so we may never part again. Heaven shall not hold me, nor my Father, if I don’t have you with me because my heart is so set upon you”

God’s Reign as Self-Sacrifice?

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I decided to insert one extra post in this series.  Just in case you’re not convinced that self-sacrifice is the mark of God’s character, and therefore his dominion and rule, I want to look at one more scene.  Actually, it’s one scene in two passages.  First, let’s look at Revelation 5.1-5

5 Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals.And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; 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.”

So, what’s happening here?  Well, we’re looking for a King.  We’re looking for someone who has authority to unroll the rest of history.  Particularly, someone who can usher in the New Creation.  The 7 seals do point to perfection, but primarily because of the first use of 7 in the Bible, the perfect creation in Genesis 1 where, through his Word, God transforms a chaotic void into a very good creation! The person we’re looking for can bring in, by their authority, the perfect New Creation.

Luckily, a worthy one appears.  The Lion of Judah (kingship is promised to Judah’s descendant forever in Gen 49.8-12),  who also happens to be the Root of David (the coming, promised Davidic King!) has conquered!  So, He can open the seals, He can rule the rest of history!

Where do I get that idea of authority or ruling?  Well, besides the reference to Judah and David, we’ll see it in this passage in a moment, but let’s look at another passage that is recording this same scene – Daniel 7.

“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; and the books were opened.

13 “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.

Look at that.  We have the same heavenly throneroom.  We have one seated on the throne, and we have books (SCROLLS of course).  And in each, one approaches the throne, but in this Daniel passage we see what is given over to Him…Dominion, Glory, Kingdom!!!  The right to rule all things forever!

Now, as we look back at Revelation 5, we’ll get a little more detail to round out our picture.  Particularly, WHY IS THIS LION-KING, THIS SON OF MAN FIT TO BE KING FOREVER?  Look at this!

5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain (sphadzo). And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain (sphadzo), and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”

Wow!  You are worthy FOR YOU WERE SLAIN!!!  Because you gave your life as a sacrifice!  To redeem the lost.  You gave your life for theirs!

Friends, why is Jesus so utterly worthy of dominion and a kingdom?  Why is He worthy to unfold the rest of history, to bring the New Creation in?  My life for yours!  That’s what makes Him the perfect King!  And of course he’d rule this way because He is the image of the Invisible God…this is who He has always been and always will be!  Or as Hebrews 2.9 puts it:

But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Absalom as anti-Christ

Remember, two posts back we saw that because God’s VERY NATURE is self-giving, self-sharing, self-sacrificing, that is also how He rules…it captures the nature of His dominion.  We saw last post that David demonstrates this in his self-sacrificing behavior in the David and Goliath story (of course, he does a bad job of this in the whole Uriah and Bathsheba incident).  In this current post, we want to learn the same lesson, but in another way.  Instead of seeing the glory of Jesus’ self-giving dominion through a positive example, we’re going to see his glory through a negative example.

I looked online for a good picture of Absalom and found one…

blood sucking vampire

Oh wait, is that not Absalom? Let me search again…ah, that’s better.

Let’s turn to 2 Samuel 14 to meet this handsome devil. At this point, David is King on the throne over all of Israel. Absalom is his oldest son. David had two older sons, but both are now dead.

Before we dig in, you need to know that the Bible spends 7 chapters on Absalom. From 13-19. SEVEN chapters! As we look at this story, be sure to ask yourself, “Why does God spend so much time telling us Absalom’s story?” I’m going to argue because he wants a very detailed picture of earthly kingship to contrast with His Kingship. So, let’s look at Absalom.

David was described as a man after God’s own heart. What about Absalom?  In 14.25-26, here’s what we read: 25 Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the sole of his foot to the crown of his head there was no blemish in him. 26 And when he cut the hair of his head (for at the end of every year he used to cut it; when it was heavy on him, he cut it), he weighed the hair of his head, two hundred shekels by the king’s weight.

Now, you may be thinking, “Schell, it’s not a sin to be good looking.” But, there is a heavy emphasis on the external with Absalom. Contrasted with the earliest descriptions of David, all of a sudden, this description is quite chilling.  Remember, the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t look at the outside!”

We also see another glimpse of his heart if we skip to chapter 18, verse 18, which reads “Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself the pillar that is in the King’s Valley, for he said, “I have no son to keep my name in remembrance.” He called the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom’s monument to this day.” Anytime anyone in the Bible starts to worry about their own name, trouble is close behind. You may remember at the tower of Babel, God has just told the people to spread out, to fill the earth, and the people gather together and say, “Let us build ourselves a city with a tower that reaches to heaven so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

This is worrisome behavior, but where we really see what’s in his heart is in chapters 15-18 where he plots to overthrow and kill his father, David. Starting in Chapter 15, we’re just going to do a fly over to catch the highlights of this story while really looking at Absalom.

  • He provided himself with a Chariot (15.1).  This is an act of claiming the throne.  One of his brothers will do this later in the book.
  • Set self up as judge, threw David under the bus (15.2-4).  David was judging the people’s cases, but Absalom told them otherwise.
  • Stole the hearts of the people (15.5-6)
  • Rebellion: Has himself declared king.  “ABSOLOM IS KING IN HEBRON” (15.10)
  • Tricked many into joining his side (15.11)
  • Even made sacrifices (15.12), almost as if to say, “Well, the king of Israel needs Yahweh’s approval, so I’m going to at least fake it.”
  • David is forced to flee for his life  (15.13-14).
  • Sleep with David’s concubines (16.21-22) to bring shame on them and ridicule to David.
  • Seeks the life of his FATHER (17.1-4, 18.3).

Now, you know why I confused Absalom with a blood sucking vampire!  Finally, in the midst of the battle, Absalom’s hair gets caught in a tree (18.9) OH, THAT HAIR, that beautiful hair, that luscious hair, a physical expression of the glory that Absalom hungered for was his downfall.  And, in short, he is speared by Joab and his men and thrown into a pit. (18.14-17)

What does all this tell us about JESUS?  Well, we saw in David’s faith in God, a picture of Jesus’, who is God the Son, trust in God the Father. David is a positive picture. And Absalom is a negative picture. To see Jesus’ in contrast to Absalom, look at Philippians 2.5-11.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice first that Jesus was exalted to his throne only AFTER trusting His father and saving His people.  BECAUSE (Therefore in v. 9) He was self-giving (vv. 5-8), He is fit to be King (vv. 9-10).

HOW MUCH MORE DIFFERENT COULD JESUS BE FROM ABSOLOM?  Let’s look at three ways.

First is how they relate to their fathers.

David flees Absolom

Absalom slept with his father’s concubines to bring shame on David, to show his contempt for David, and ultimately, he wanted to kill David.  He wanted glory and dominion for himself.

Not my will, but yours be done, Father

Jesus said things like “I’ve come to do the will of my Father. My food is to do the Father’s will. Father, not my will, but yours be done.”  He wanted to give glory to the Father.  He wanted to bring men and women to the Father!

What about in this area of glory and name?

Absalom riding through Jerusalem to be seen

Absalom didn’t just want glory in this life, seen in buying a chariot and riding through town to be seen and admired by everyone, but sets up a monument to himself so that even when he’s dead, people will think about him. He tries to build himself up.

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Washing the feet of His disciples

Jesus emptied himself. He left the glories of Heaven to come to earth. Jesus humbled himself to death on a cross. Literally emptied himself, pouring out his blood to save sinners.  He was the greatest SERVANT of all.

What about their judgments?  Both Hung on a Tree, buried in a pit/tomb.

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Absalom’s Death

Absalom, full of himself, is ensnared, literally, by his pride.  His life said, “everyone’s life for mine”.  Jesus’ act of supreme sacrifice declared, “MY LIFE FOR YOURS” from start to finish.  Absalom was speared through for his own sin.  Jesus was speared for our sin.  Absalom hung on a tree because of his treachery.  Jesus hung on a tree to forgive our treachery.  Absalom got what he deserved.  Jesus got what we deserved.  His life for ours.

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Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!

So, Absalom helps us see the glory of Christ, precisely because he is nothing like our Jesus.  From the core of his being to the way he rules, our God is a self-giving, self-sharing God, and that is how Jesus came and how He continues to rule!