Due to crazy busyness I haven’t been blogging at all, but will eventually (& hopefully soon) get back to it. Part of the busyness is due to the launch of The Bridge Community Church in Dublin, OH. The short video talks about the launch and the first series I will be teaching,
I’ll get back to writing posts soon…
If you’re addicted and bound;
come find freedom
If you’re depressed and lonely;
come find joy
If you’re tired and anxious;
come find strength
If you’re lost and confused;
come be found.
He’ll lift my head and rescue me,
He’ll restore my broken heart,
He’ll wipe away my every sin,
Abundant life is mine today, come find Jesus.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
The truth came into this world. The Word, the logos of God. The fulfillment of the law and the prophets as well as the vocation of Israel. The perfect revelation of who God is. Truth is a light unto men in a dark world. A dark world needs truth. The light exposes the darkness as much as it gives light to it. Though not all of it, part of the proclamation of truth is that it exposes the problem of the darkness. It needs to know that the problem is sin. Jesus came to fix that problem. The Kingdom of God deals with, at ground level, sin. Overall, the church is often well practiced at proclaiming this. But we cannot ignore that Jesus came full of grace and truth. Grace is from love. Grace gives us what we do not deserve. When the Word became flesh, truth came into the world in flesh so that truth could be practiced with love. God had always been proclaiming truth though things and people. Now God was proclaiming truth in flesh. Immanuel. How he did it makes all the difference in the world.
The proclamation of truth without the practice of love is not the Jesus way.
It is easy to say what you want to say in our tech world. It’s easy to throw out your opinion to the masses because of social media. Our world is overflowing with people saying a lot of things. Simply open your Facebook page, type away, and hit enter -a message to the four hundred or so ‘friends’ connected to your page. One thing that some Christians do is use social media to proclaim what they believe to be the truths of scripture, the truths of the Kingdom of God. The proclamation of truth is a form of love. Nothing really wrong with this…unless truth is given without the practice of love. A whole lot of saying and no doing. Just because one believes they have truth does not mean they can go about that truth in any manner they choose. So it is with the message of the Kingdom. We must proclaim truth along with the practice of love. This is what Jesus did. This is what we are to do. This is vitally important when one wants to proclaim truth about sin. Often, a person will want to proclaim truth about a particular sin. Maybe a hot topic in our society. Maybe towards a particular group of people. The question is, as you proclaim truth about this particular sin, how are you practicing love along with it in a particular way? It should make you stop and make you really think. How are you the embodiment of the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, in that particular issue you are speaking towards? How can you practice love in a tangible, maybe relational way? That’s how Jesus did it. That’s how he brought truth to the world- the truth you proclaim to be a representative of.
(Maybe a quick side not here: When we begin to live practicing love, the rest of what Jesus says falls into place. Things that we often struggle with. Words like meek and peacemaker. Phrases like ‘love your enemies’ and ‘whoever wants to be the greatest must be the servant of all’. The practice of love allows the life traits of humility, obedience, and servant to show. This is the Jesus way. Of course, we must grow into these things…)
When I think of truth without love, I think of the Pharisee in parable that Jesus told about humility found in Luke 18:9-14. “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Humility is the key. Truth without love breeds pride. Humility rids one of confidence in his righteousness that causes him to look down on the sinner. The Pharisee knew truth about sin but missed it’s essence because he did not practice it in love. He had a prideful view of the sinner. You cannot pray better than your heart. You cannot proclaim truth better than your heart. If you are not humble, you will not look to love and serve those to whom you are proclaiming truth to.
We should never make it hard for others to enter the Kingdom of God. We do this when we proclaim truth and do not practice love. Remember, we each have the opportunity to enter the Kingdom because of grace and truth, not truth alone. Truth exposes sin. Love paves the way to salvation. When we proclaim truth with the practice of love and it is then hard for someone to enter the Kingdom, then it becomes that person’s personal struggle with the things of God. But the Kingdom should not be hard to get into because of how we proclaim truth. I’ve heard it said that the church needs to be excellent at accepting those who are not good at being spiritual. We do this by practicing love. If the Pharisee understood this his view of his own righteousness as well as his view of, and interaction with, the tax collector would have been vastly different. When one proclaims truth without the practice of love he proclaims truth from a sense of his ‘being good at being spiritual.’ That’s pride.
Proclaim the Kingdom. Proclaim the truth of the Word made flesh. Proclaim the truth found in scripture. But match each syllable, each word, each verse with the practice of love. Then, and only then, are we are like our Savior.
Philippians 2:3-8 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
1 Corinthians 15:42-44 “So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
Revelation 21:1-5 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
I believe in the resurrection of the dead. I believe in the life to come. New heaven and earth. God is going to make everything new. My hope is in this. But I had to come to terms about how much I really, really believe in it. That may sound silly- or maybe unspiritual. Now, I have been a follower of Jesus Christ, more or less, for about 23 years. You would think believing in those things is a given. Yes, I have always believed in them since I came to their understanding. But how I allowed my belief in them to change the way I think and view the world and follow Jesus is really what has been changing.
If you really believe in the resurrection and the life to come, living as Jesus leads us to live becomes a bit easier (at least in the approach to do so). When you really believe in the resurrection and the life to come, how we live now takes on a new light. Now, before I go on, let me say this: I do want to enjoy life now. I believe God intends us to enjoy life. I pray the blessings of God on my family and those around me. I want my children to walk with God and be blessed. I intend to smile and laugh. I intend to live this life to the fullest. (But, of course, my definition of living life to the fullest and my definition of success have changed a bit over the years.)
What I am getting at could be said through the following examples:
When Jesus says, in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…”, taking that to heart is easier when I believe in what is to come. My view in what is most important is shifted from now to what is to come, as is, in turn, my view of what I do now as it affects what is to come.
Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” That is hard to reconcile with the way the world functions. It only works because of the resurrection and the life to come. The meek are generally trampled in our world and certainly are not currently inheriting the earth. But we are to be meek.
Jesus said, in Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” Be a light, no matter the consequence. Stephen, the first martyr, lived this out fully. He didn’t throw any rocks back. He had to really believe in the life to come.
Jesus told those listening to him, Matthew 5:38-45, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” Hard teachings of Jesus are possible, and mostly logically acceptable to you, when you really believe in what is to come. You will willingly begin the hard changes needed to be his disciple.
How can we approach life and live as a follower of Jesus -and do what he asks us to do- in this messed up world, living within a system of fallen-ness that at times seems to “win” and have its way? You must really, really believe in the resurrection and the life to come and put your hope in it. Now, what about the things that happen to us as we live this life? As I wrote earlier, I intend to live this life to the fullest. I also have opinions about matters in the public square. Some of these are formed by my faith, some of them are not consequential to my faith. But as life is happening, I understand that if things do not work out the way I want, or if life actually turns quite bad, or if I lose rights that I currently have under my government, or (insert any number of scenarios), that my hope is not in what I get or can have in this life but in what is to come. I can live according to what my hope lies in no matter the circumstance. I believe through the initial disappointments or grieving or anger or whatever any hypothetical situation may cause, that I will come back to what my hope is really all about. I will try not to let my hope rest on any particular outcome in this life, but in what I believe Jesus is doing and will do while living as he is leading me to live as his disciple. In this, at the end of the day, I find peace in my soul.
Matthew 16:26 “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”
James and John, aptly nicknamed the Sons of Thunder, thought it might be a good idea to call down fire from heaven and burn up a Samaritan town because they refused to welcome Jesus and his disciples. Not only did the Samaritan town not welcome them, they were considered one of the Israelites’ enemies. Bad blood there. Destroy the opposition. Show them who is boss. How dare they defy Jesus! We’re right, they’re wrong. After all, doing something that would make them like Elijah, Elisha, or even King David couldn’t be a bad thing, right?
To destroy the opposition is not the way of the cross.
Jesus rebuked them. The story, in Luke 9:51-56, doesn’t say what Jesus actually said to them. It records that he simply turned and rebuked them. He stopped, turned, and rebuked them. And it is worthy to note that this story directly follows the story of the disciples arguing who among them is the greatest. Who is the greatest? Destroy the opposition. The disciples and triumphalism. Not a good match. The gospels are rather choosy in the stories they record. This story is not there to fill space. It’s there for a reason. The gospels need to be forming, not just in knowing the story of Jesus, but they need to be theologically forming.
Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets (like Elijah and Elisha) and was in the line and kingship of David. He fulfilled the vocation of Israel. But he also changed some things. And one thing he changed is how we go about dealing with those opposed to us. The way of Jesus is not the way of Elijah, Elisha, and King David in that way. The way of the cross is not to destroy the opposition. Elijah, among other things, blessed the widow at Zarephath and even raised her son from the dead. He gave scathing rebuke to the way of those around him. He was a great prophet. Elisha, among other things, blessed a widow with overflowing oil to sell and raised from the dead the son of the Shunammite woman. He also brought the word of the Lord to the nation. Elisha was a great prophet. Jesus also did these same kind of things. He multiplied the wine at a wedding. He multiplied the loaves and fish. He healed the sick and raised the dead. He spoke the truth, he brought the word of the Lord, himself, to the world.
Elijah called down fire from heaven and burned up the water-logged sacrifice in the showdown with the prophets of Baal. He then had the prophets killed. Later, Elijah called down fire from heaven and burned up a captain and his company of fifty men. Not once, but twice! Elisha cursed a bunch of teens who made fun of his bald head. A couple of bears then mauled the forty two teens.
Destroy the opposition. Blood. Death. Judgment.
Now, big theological questions. Did God ordain these things? It seems so. What purpose did they serve? Answerable, but also opening up a bunch of deeper questions. However you navigate these kind of questions, even throwing in things like the conquest of Canaan, understand that God is the one who bears the responsibility for them. In his sovereignty he does not need to really explain why. No reason needs to be given for why Elijah called down fire from heaven to burn up one hundred and two men, even if you can reason out a good explanation. But the bigger point is this: Jesus is the perfect revelation of who God is. When the Sons of Thunder wanted to be like Elijah and burn up the Samaritan town, Jesus rebuked them. No more destroying the opposition. The entire story found in the Old Testament now needs interpreted through the one who it leads to and gives us: Jesus.
What happened to the Sons of Thunder? What happened to the ones who wanted to burn up the Samaritan town? Acts 12 records that James was martyred. He was not taken to heaven in a fiery chariot like Elijah. He was killed. No record of any discourse between James and those who put him to death with a sword. But I do not think he tried to call down fire from heaven and destroy them. Destroy the opposition. Vindication now. Prove right now that I am right. If he did ask for fire, it didn’t happen. I think by this time James had changed. He got it. Son of Thunder was now a martyr. He drank of the same cup that Jesus did. Death at the hands of others…the “opposition.” According to tradition, John lived to old age. He did not die a martyr’s death. He penned the gospel bearing his name. He wrote the epistles also bearing his name. He wrote the vision of Revelation. Take time to read 1, 2, & 3rd John. You will notice a couple of themes. One, John is dealing with heresy in the early church. The second theme is love. The other Son of Thunder focuses on love. He too became like his master. Tradition says that in his old age when he could no longer walk on his own, John was carried around and constantly saying, “Dear children, love one another.” By the time both James and John died, “Sons of Thunder” probably did not fit them anymore.
Jesus did triumph. He did conquer the opposition. But he did not do it by literally destroying the opposition. He did it by loving the opposition. He did it by dying for the opposition. When Peter drew his sword at the time of the arrest of Jesus, the sword was put away, the ear was healed. Why? The way of the world, winning by destroying the opposition, was not the way of Jesus. It is not the way of the cross. Nor is it the way of his followers. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Die doing it that way if necessary. Triumph comes in the spiritual realm. That is where his kingdom is now. This is where our battle is waged. His rebuke of the Sons of Thunder was not just a onetime thing, only to get back to destroying the opposition later. Thank goodness. Imagine if we could burn up the opposition now. The earth would be scorched by us loving Christians. Of course, at one time we were all the “opposition”. You probably would have been fried. Good thing you were given mercy and not fire.
What about what John wrote in Revelation? Jesus is coming back, and maybe in your interpretation you are coming back with him, in judgment and war. Yes, judgment is coming. Yes, there is fire to come, eternity- the Lake of Fire. Jesus will do so perfectly- perfect judgment and justice. But that is not ours to do now. Our judgment would not be perfect. Ours to do is to be like him as he was on earth. Sermon on the Mount living. The Kingdom growing within us. Taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. A gospel built on love and mercy and forgiveness. The good news of Jesus. Yes, the problem is sin and there is a judgment to come.
What does this lead to? As followers of Jesus – though we know we cannot physically destroy the opposition- our attitude, our rhetoric, and our action needs to be that of Jesus. Not an attitude, rhetoric, and “action” of destroying the opposition. However it then applies: in our workplace and businesses, in our politics, in our interaction in society, in our schools, in our relationships, in our interaction with non-believers, in how we stand up for our beliefs in all segments of society: we cannot leave behind the way of Jesus and then think we act in his name. I cannot walk through the thousands of scenarios and explain how this works in each one. There will be difficult applications. But it is our job as believers in Jesus to live by his way, it is our job to work it through.
Read what Jesus said. See what he did. Do you really believe this is the way of new humanity? Do you really believe that this is what abundant life is? Do you really believe this is the life you are called to live? Look at a sampling of the words he uses: things like meek, peacemaker, merciful. Paul uses words like gentleness, kindness. Why do we not hear these things preached about in our churches so much? Why are they often followed by “but”? Because when we are meek, a peacemaker, merciful, gentle and kind, we generally don’t “win”. We don’t win in the sense that I prove right at this moment that I am right, that I get my way, and I triumph over you. We don’t get to call down fire from heaven. We don’t get to destroy the opposition. We like to win, but our idea of winning needs changed. You want to inherit the earth and be called a son of God? Yes. That’s winning! (But not winning in the sense of I win and they don’t, I’m right and they’re wrong, “so there!” It’s a winning that this is what God intends and blessed are those who participate in it this way.) Then be meek. Be a peacemaker. That’s how Jesus says it’s done.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
It’s been almost four months since I sat down to piece together a blog…times get rather busy and move along quickly.
As I’ve mentioned before, due to reading the parables of Jesus quite a bit I have ended up spending a lot of that time thinking about the Kingdom of God. What it is and what it’s about. What entrance into it means, how it grows within us, what it means that it then begins to swirl around us. I’ve also spent a bit of time recently thinking and studying about holiness as I did a series with the youth entitled Pure in Heart. That series ended up being eight weeks long. I had no intention to do that, it just kind of grew that way. In thinking about holiness I didn’t get very far till I kept coming back to love and the Kingdom of God. As a matter of fact, it all comes back to love and the Kingdom of God. When thinking about a God who is holy (separated otherness), a God who asks us to be holy, I kept finding that He is motivated by and works in love, and, as it always does, comes back to the establishment of His Kingdom. Our view of God needs a proper view of both holiness and love. God is not schizophrenic that He is holy one day and loving the next, or that He is holy in the Old Testament and loving in the New. He is both. He is perfectly both. The holiness and love of God cannot be separated cleanly and easily defined as two separate things. They are intertwined together. And our view of Him needs both because how we view the Kingdom and go about living the Christian life is formed by it.
To view God’s holiness without God’s love will equal legalism (‘Rules, rules and more rules. God is an angry God waiting to crush the sinner. So remember, God is holy so you better not mess up .The Kingdom of God works by keeping rules.’) To live like that is a burden that is not easy and light.
To view God’s love without God’s holiness will equal liberalism (‘Anything goes and it’s ok because God loves me. God understands that I am not perfect so sin ends up being ok, or at least, comfortably left alone. I’m free to be me and live life according to how I feel. Jesus loves me no matter what.’) That tries to make freedom as freedom is not intended to be. True freedom comes in proper confines.
It has been my experience that Christians have a tendency to lean one way or the other with holiness and love. And a lean one way or the other often produces a wrong approach to living the Christian faith. Maybe a look at the parable of the mustard seed in Matthew 13:31-32 can help a little in seeing how God’s holiness and love work.
He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”
Why does the seed need planted? God is holy and we are sinners and the Kingdom of God needs established within us (forgiveness, new creation). Why is the seed available to be planted? Because God is love and desires to reclaim His creation, including individuals. Why does the seed need to grow? Because God is holy and there is a life that He intends that follows forgiveness. Why is the seed allowed to grow? Because God is patient in love as it grows in fits and starts with in us.
I realize that it doesn’t breakdown as cleanly as I wrote it. It may be a bit of a theological hack job to simplify it that way. But our minds separate love and holiness so it may be the easiest way to bring them together. I actually went through the parables about the Kingdom of God and was able to see them in this way, seeing how holiness and love work together. It reaffirmed the need to understand that God is holy and God is love. He is both equally. And we should be thankful that He is. His holiness enables us to see the true nature of sin, what true freedom is, what abundant life is all about. That’s what the Kingdom produces, abundant life. In His love He keeps on with us as this is going on. His love allows the way of salvation and provides what we need to have the Kingdom grow within us, even as that can be a messy, but wonderful, process.
In some way, we are all like the woman who was caught in adultery and was brought to Jesus (John 8:1-11). If you look at this story through the lenses of holiness and love, you can see both at work. Take a moment to read that story and see how Jesus deals with the situation through the lenses of holiness and love. It is the same way He approaches and deals with all of us.
I’ll leave you with this: I’ve been seeing a lot lately the use of what is called The Jesus Prayer. I believe its origin is the Eastern Orthodox Church. Anyway, I believe in its simplicity is the power of the Gospel. The prayer is simply this: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.