An Agreeable God?

An Agreeable God?

After studying Psalm 2 over the last week or so and seeing a very different picture of who God is than the get-a-long with everyone God that I often want him to be, I have been asking questions about what it means to make God in my image. 

Really, to be honest, I am asking question about how I myself make God in my image. When I am scared, I want him to fix my problem immediately. When I want to be in control, I expect him to do exactly what I ask. When I treasure my sin an wallow in it, I want him to smile and wink and say something like "Let's not make a fuss about that." I often expect him to be like I can when other people sin against me: self-righteous and angry to the point of secretly hoping that someone pays for their sin.

But, the God who made us in his image is different than the image I make of him.

He is far less agreeable to me than I want him to be and far more loving than I expect. If God agreed with everything we thought we wouldn't rage, but we wouldn't worship either.

In Psalm 2 verses 1-3 the "nations" and their rulers are described as being enraged. A cold, calculating rage that drives them to be antagonistic to the Lord and his anointed King. (At the time of the writing of the Psalm, it was the king on Israel's throne, but that king always represented and pointed forward to the True and Better King, Jesus.) They saw the Lord as oppressive in his ways and repressive in his standard of life. There was no convincing them that real life, real joy was found in the Lord's way of living. They couldn't and wouldn't believe it. So they wanted to throw off the perceived shackles of his oppression and search for life their way. The best possible life they could find apart from God.

We are not so different. It is too easy to believe that God just wants to be the Cosmic Killjoy trying to take from us what we enjoy in order to make is boring (and bored) people who are quiet and submissive. The lie the enemy of our souls tells us is that God is holding back from us, keeping all the joy and pleasure to himself while we are made to dutifully be good little boys and girls.

The "nations" and the kings of Psalm 2 could not imagine a deeper joy or greater pleasures other than what they knew. They could not imagine that the way they were rejecting was really where they would find their deepest life and the fullness of joy. (see Psalm 16:11; Matthew 11:28-30)

Like me, my friends often make God in their own image saying things like "If he is loving he must be___________" or "I cannot imagine a God who would ____________." We have this thought that God should be in our likeness...agreeable to us.

We want the God we create in our mind to be like us. We want God to be a god who never disagrees with us, but only always gives us a thumbs up.

But what if...track with me for just a few sentences longer...what if it is better that God is more like himself than he is like us? What if there are times when he disagrees with us? What if he desires to reshape us to make us more like Him rather than leave us in the shape we feel good about?

How about last thoughts on this and you can go back to your life: Do we want a God who agrees with us on everything? Or do we want our God who loves us enough to tell us where were wrong?

I am grateful for a God who shows people grace by revealing that he is different than we want him to be. 

Shame City (Part Three: Fully Exposed)

Shame City (Part Three: Fully Exposed)

It is Like “Naked and Not Ashamed”, but Just “Naked”. 

The first two summers we lived here we got “caught” at the Fremont Solstice parade. Both times we were traveling from one place to another and got in the flow of traffic that pushed us towards the event. No, really, it was an accident! I swear!

The event has a very Edenic-quality about it. People sans the burden of clothing, soaking in the sun on their bikes while publicly proclaiming “I am not ashamed!” It is an echo of those pre-fall days that I believe is hard-wired into our soul: we weren’t meant to carry the burden of shame. As uncomfortable as I am with public nudity, especially my own, I do see something both helpful and telling about it: we have a desire to be radically and joyfully unashamed. Even though a culture of shame is normal to us, even though we cannot fully imagine a world without pervasive shame, even though we can’t understand our own lives without shame, we still hold on to hope that we might be free of it.

The parade is a celebration of a lot of things, I’m sure, but it is also a revelation that we still long to be fully exposed-with no reason to hide. 

He [Paradeth] Too Much, Me Thinks

But declaring ourselves unashamed is not enough to rid us of the shame. The reason to hide is still buried deep in us, so deep that the purifying rays of sunlight cannot reach no matter what we are wearing. The same people who will throw off their clothes on Saturday morning will replay their shame-filled memories in the quiet dark of their Saturday night.

It is in those quiet, undistracted moments that the shame reminds us it is there, but that it can be dealt with. Many people are unaware that this kind of “darkness” dwells in them.  Many of those that are aware of their darkness have coping tools to stuff it down further. Because silence and solitude help draw out the poison, we run from both. Better to either run from it or declare it isn’t there.

It takes courage to feel it. It takes courage to look deep into the reality of what God’s Spirit wants us to see in ourselves. It takes courage to feel it honestly. It takes courage to let it affect us so deeply that we are allowed to see that we really do need help. It takes courage to ask for that help.

Adam and Eve sinned against a Father who loved them. It was shocking betrayal. They hid behind leaves, behind trees, and behind the guilt driven belief that it was someone else’s fault, not their own. But, they really couldn’t hide. The same eyes that revealed the fierce love of the Father was also a deep-seeing gaze from the eyes of a Searcher. Their God could see through the leaves and the trees and the blaming into the very root of who they were. He could see the heart they tried to hide.

This is why it takes courage. We are all exposed every minute of our existence. The same God who sees all our actions sees all of the desires, loves, and beliefs that fuel those actions. He sees it all. Every bit of it. The question is: how will he respond? Fierce judgmentalism? Passive aggressive back-turning? Adding more shame?

It takes courage to not run away from him (and ourselves) in terror.

Where Courage Comes From

Adam and Eve hid, but God did not allow them to stay hidden. He exposed them. He brought them out of the shadows. The light of a Holy God’s scrutiny had to burn. Exposure always does. But it is here that he shows his real character. He does something strange: he takes an animal or two off to the side, kills it, and creates clothing for them. He covers their shame.

He doesn’t use their vulnerability to crush them, but heals them. He covers them. He starts the process of restoring all that was lost. Our courage doesn’t come from our own weakened moral resources, but the experienced understanding that God’s desire is to redeem, not reject. To wipe clean not wound. To come to us in our shame, embrace us like a son who came home after a shameful life, and put his own best clothing on us. (See Luke 15:11-32)

We can be exposed knowing that the one who sees all of us will redeem us.

Taken Outside of the Shame City For Shame City

Jesus came to a shameful city. Everything that happens in our city happened in Jerusalem during his time. People walked the streets with their heads down too far or their heads up too much. Pride was a poor covering then too. The weight we carry on us now they carried on themselves then.  We aren’t all that much different.

Jesus could see shame better than anyone else could. He never sinned so he never had his own shame, but he felt the shame of those who he lived among.

The most shameful thing that could happen to a male in first century Israel was for him to be publicly exposed. He would not have willingly chosen to be naked, but they stripped him down to prepare him for his execution. 

His presence and his words exposed their darkness, all they frilly wanted to hide. The guilt and shame of Shame City compelled them to try to hide one more time by getting rid of the one who exposed them. They tried to hide behind a tree by exposing Jesus on one.

But, when Jesus was most humiliated, most exposed, he revealed more than his nakedness: he revealed the depth of his own desire to free them. As he carried our shame by being publicly shamed he exposed the world to the truth that he is not a God who delights in humiliating people who deserve it, but he heals us. He covers us. He starts the process of restoring all that was lost in us.

The Cross Exposes Jesus for Who He Really Is: a God Who Will be Shamed on our Behalf.

The more we understand that truth, the more we have courage to let him draw our shame out of us. The more we comprehend Jesus' motivation the more we will trust him not to shame us. The more I understand his heart, the more I will let him heal a man that deserves condemnation, but needs grace.

I am not ashamed of the gospel because the gospel is the power of God to steal away my shame.

Shame City (Part Two: The Fig Leaf of Pride)

Shame City (Part Two: The Fig Leaf of Pride)

What an Empty Stomach is Full Of

I was in Beijing a few years ago with a small group of people, seeing the sites in China’s capitol and getting ready to get on a plane back to our American comforts. China, not unlike many other countries, is known for its street vendors  that cook and serve all kinds of- let’s call them “unique”- foods. So, walking around the government district near our hotel, we sought out street food for dinner. There had to be something we would enjoy…or at least meats too interesting to pass up.

That’s when we found it: a part of the sheep I didn’t think it was even legal to eat. It was expensive and we double dog dared the youngest of our group to eat it. (Yep, double dog dared!) We bought it, he “chewed” it, and- after a time of trying- he then gave up on it. Threw it in the trash bin behind him with disgust as the rest of us laughed at how he was a sucker for trying that “part.”

As we turned to leave, I noticed a man and a 2 year old child walking past that same trash bin. What we threw away wasn’t even cool yet. Head down and without any hesitation, he took the chewed meat out of the trash and put it in the cart he was pushing. It was obvious that he was used to picking up what others had thrown away. His demeanor told me everything I needed to know. In the seat of power of a “worker’s paradise” where all should be equal and none should go hungry, he lived cleaning up the scraps of others so that he could feed his child.

I watched him go to the next bin and the next, taking what he could find. His shame was so great he knew nothing else and, as I watched him turn the corner, I felt my own shame in not seeing just how many people are around me that live in a world of shame like he does.

Covered Up

That’s the “underdeveloped” world, right? Oppressive communist policies have a part to play in that, but shame is both much more universal and subtle. Our city’s streets have people like the man I saw in Beijing. Without question he lives unnoticed in Seattle too, but most of our shame is not unnoticed, it is merely covered up.

Unlike the man in China, we have strength and resources to push the shame down and triumphantly step on it saying “This will not define me! I will not let it!” All the while, what we stand on seeps into our system as a poison, slowly weakening us from the inside outward.

Our city (and many like it) has an unofficial motto of: “You have no reason to be ashamed!” But, like we talked about before, we all not only have reason to be ashamed (the sin we enjoy and live in), but we all live with a sense of shame.

[Note here: I know that some shame is ours to own and some of our shame is due to something done to us. We need to repent of the sin we treasure that causes us to be shameful and ask for help for the shame that comes because of what was done to us.

Willfully Unnoticed

Yes, people are called “shameless” and some people are more sensitive to it than others, but shame is a universal emotion… an often unarticulated feeling that lies beneath the surface of our everyday thinking. It is always there, shaping the way we think, causing us to shy away when we shouldn’t and draining us of emotional energy that could be used to love other people affectionately. It’s there, whether we like it or not, notice it or not.

We may not show our shame in public by walking with a heavy head, but we betray it in public by raising our heads too high. Over compensating. Not a clear conscience, but a conflicted “confidence.”

We Mask Our Shame with Pride.

If this, at first, sounds like a condemnation of a particular community, please know that it isn’t. This is a description of every community. We all do this. We all live with shame that we don’t know what to do with. We scramble for fig leaves and hide behind trees. In western culture, the most common way to deal with shame is not to courageously look at the root of it to kill it, but to turn our back on it and defiantly say we have triumphed over it.

We celebrate what is evil and harmful in order to deny the shame. We work hard to be “good people” (or at least better than someone else) in order to tell ourselves that we are really not what we honestly believe ourselves to be. We try to exercise it away or meditate it out, but it lingers. 

The “right” position at the company can try to mask the shame. The “right” way to parent can try to hide the feeling. Volunteering to help those less fortunate can be a smokescreen in our own souls, concealing shame for a time. Each of those things on their own can be a good thing, but they are also fig leaves that dry up eventually and never really cover what we want to hide. It is a lot of hard work NOT dealing with the real issue.

The Question that Haunts When We Are Honest

I woke up this morning, fearful of being ashamed. I mean, deeply fearful. Desperate to not be seen as foolish or a fraud. Even as I type these words, I know what it means to carry shame. And, I know what it means to want it all to go away.

If living with the shame is not healthy and burying it with self-righteous pride is destructive, then what can we do?!!

Shame City (Part One: The Hard Part)

Shame City (Part One: The Hard Part)

Its that dream that everyone seem to share. You know the one. The dream where we remembered everything for the big presentation at work except our clothes. Yep, we have all had a dream like that. The feeling of being, not only exposed, but ashamed of being exposed. 

There there are things that happed while awake that we wish we could wake up from. Things from which the shame doesn’t dissipate as the alarm goes off. Those thing we never want exposed. Things that we would like to bury and never see again.

Ugh, if I never feel that feeling again, I will be alright. But, the reality is that shame is a common experience for all of us. As a matter of fact, we often live in shame in such a way that we do not notice it. A constant fear of being exposed to the world, to ourselves, and (if we are honest) to a God who sees it all.

Sitting at a coffee shop with a couple of friends from out of town recently, we discussed what I see in our city- the deep needs, the things we celebrate. We discussed the things that make Seattle unique compared with other cities; not just the industry, geography, and demographics, but what motivates us and what are our assumptions about life that flavor the way we think.

What I told them is that I believe that Seattle (among other things) is a city of Shame. It is hard to explain that without being among the crowds of people and hearing what they have to say, but I believe it to be true.

We Shame Because We Are Ashamed

Sometimes it is overt shaming. It is one homeowner taking another homeowner’s plastic cup out of their trash (should be in recycling, you know!) and not putting it where it should go, but pinning it up on a common wall to display it.  If that wasn’t enough, the “righteous recycler” pinned a note that stated the offending party (their name and address were found in the same bag of trash) and their recycling “sin.”

Yep, that really happened.

Sometimes it is subtle. It is the look in someone’s eyes as they walk down the street either with their head held low or their head held too high. One expresses shame by studying every crack of the sidewalk and never making eye contact with another person. The other doesn’t make eye contact either, but holds his head up so high that he portrays a look of “I don’t care what you think!”  The man protesteth too much, me thinks.

Our Mantra is Myopic

I see a lot of heads held way too high. Uncomfortably too high. And that often comes from a slogan our city lives by... even if we don't use the words: “You have no reason to be ashamed!”

I understand that to some degree. There are many different types of Scarlet Letters that we give each other to wear and those letters weigh us down. A man with his head hung low is obviously carrying the weight of the Letter. He is burdened by either what he has done or what has been done to him. The man with his head held too high (both literally and metaphorically) still carries the weight of his Letter of shame, but he carries a greater burden with it: the burden of hiding its existence.

The truth is that we have reason to be ashamed. We all have reason, because we have all sinned. That is an inescapable truth, even if we desperately want to escape it. There is very real shame that was forced upon us that is not our fault. We are, in a sense, all victims of someone else’s sin. But it is just as true that we are all perpetrators too. It is the perpetrator's shame that we will focus on here.

The Source of Shame

This is primal knowledge. We all know it, feel it, live it, even if we don’t understand it. It goes back further than we can remember. There is a sense that we were born with it and with our first breaths of air we breathed it in. It came from our first parents and we have followed their lead.

In Genesis chapter 3, we see the first acts of rebellion against God. Before they ate of the fruit, Adam and Eve were naked and…NOT ashamed! There is something pure about that time. Something we long for because they were completely exposed with nothing to hide. No stain or blemish on their record. Then, they were allured by forbidden fruit that seemed more delightful than the God they enjoyed fellowship with. Their eyes were opened to their foolishness and betrayal. They saw darkness in themselves. They saw ugliness whereas there had only been beauty and holiness before. 

So, rather than owning up to it and letting the light of God’s holiness cleanse them, they retreated to the shadows of the trees. They hid themselves in shame. They experienced the weight of emotion they were never meant to carry. Light hearted joy devolved into heavy hearted shame. They pasted together some fig leaves to cover themselves, but they still needed the trees to hide them from each other and the God they betrayed.

Still More Fig Leaves

So, we continue to find fig leaves and trees to hide behind. Nudists try to bring Eden back by fighting for a society that can be naked in public, but it is not clothing that is the issue. It is that the part of us that we want to cover cannot be covered by clothes because the most shame-filled part of us is the heart of greed, and lust, and self-absorption, and “I-will-show-you-how-good-I-really-am-ness” that flows out of that heart in all we do. We cannot hide that.

Worst of all, we shame other people in order to say to ourselves “At least I am not as bad as the guy who throws away plastic cups in the regular garbage!” That may be true, but it misses the point.

We tell each other “You have no reason to be ashamed!” but that sentiment (though good intentioned, I hope) is nothing but a fig leaf. My city lives in shame. It is the air we breathe. It is the weight we carry.

Thankfully, this is not the whole story…more to come.

God's Movement in the Unspectacular

God's Movement in the Unspectacular

The people of God (his Church) is the visible expression of his movement in the world. We are what he is doing to make his world right again, beautiful again.

Along those lines, Mark Sayers says this: 

"Slowly spilling out, across the [Roman] empire, one life at a time, a rumbling, rolling revolution was breaking out. It did not happen in the spotlight, it was not thrilling or spectacular- at least in the way that the pagan mind understood it. It seemed to exist in the dark, underground places; in the quietness of rooms, catacombs, and the ordinariness of life. Yet there was nothing ordinary about it."

Mark Sayers, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm, pg 20

Father in heaven, bring your kingdom. All you want, here.

 

"You Will Be My Witnesses"

"You Will Be My Witnesses"

The Witness

In his book, Facing Leviathan, Mark Sayers tells a story of walking into the Holocaust Museum in Melbourne, Australia and pondering the photos on the wall of a everyday Jewish family in prewar Poland. He then goes on to remark “The story of the young man’s life accompanies the photos. The initial persecution of the Jews, the transportation to the camps, then the death of his entire family.” 

Then he hears a voice behind behind him that startles him. The voice has a face and that face is remarkably like the face of a boy in the pictures in front of him. The old man was the boy in the picture and the survivor asks “Would you like to ask me anything?”

Sayers wants to ask this man the right question and, in his head, goes through a list of questions that might be appropriate for this sacred moment with a man who has seen so much. Sayers describes his inward struggle in what to ask and then realizes something simple, but profound. To use his words:”I realize I am not talking to a professor, an expert, an author, or a commentator. I am speaking to a witness.”

That last sentence grabbed me, so I grabbed my computer to start writing this.

Being a “witness” is not just being on the scene, but experiencing the scene, being immersed in the scene in a way that it changes us. This man in the museum was not just a history buff, but he is history. He didn’t just observe the atrocities, the atrocities affected him. He is an insider, one who the holocaust happened to and not merely one who has researched it.

You Had to Be There

“You will be my witnesses..” seems to be to be much more than being a clever storyteller. (see Acts 1:8) There was a sense of gravitas, a sense of reality in the man who lived in the concentration camp and could winsomely tell the story about the reality of it. When talking about marriage generally, I can speak about the beauty of the institution. When I talk about my wife, I can passionately talk about the meaning of the institution…because she gives meaning to it for me. Both are beautiful, but talking about my marriage to Adrienne has meaning to it that is indescribable. A man who lost so much in concentration camps in Nazi occupied Europe has more to share than a mere interesting tale.

Can They Get a Witness?

As I type, I see dozens of people pass me to go down the road to wherever they are spending today. I look at them and wonder who they are. Statistically, more than nine out of ten of the people who pass me are unaware of the powerful reality around them that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is everywhere around them, filling the universe and the details in it, but invisible to both their eyes and the eyes of their hearts.

I don’t know them, but I would imagine that they are like so many people I meet. There are those who live lives shaped by the latest fad that gives them some feeling of being part of the ”in crowd.” There are some who spend much of their life trying to get by, making money to survive this week and wondering where next week’s meals will come from. There are those whose lives are dominated by fear, pride, questions, and the next emotional or chemical “fix.” Then there are those who have the time and resources to examine “life” and find that their world is deeply complicated, if not chaotic.

These are the people to which Jesus sent his “witnesses.”

Those first men and women Jesus sent out saw something. No, not just “saw something”, but were immersed by the reality of being part of Jesus’ life. I always thought that the power Jesus promised was the power to accomplish a task. As true as that may be, that’s not all. I believe the power of the Spirit on them was the power to continue to be immersed in the reality of Jesus’ life and to be a window into the reality of the greatness of the person of Jesus. This is transforming.

Witnesses are More than Storytellers

The life and words of the witnesses are an experience for the hearer. They bring a sacred moment with them wherever they go. But to bring the sacred with them, the witness must first experience the reality of Jesus deeply. If he is merely a character in an interesting story, that story will never change a life. The witness must be invited into the story of Jesus. There is a big difference between reading about how Jesus calmed a storm someone else was in and seeing him come through in the storm I am in. One gives warm feelings that fade away through the day. The other creates a sense of overwhelming awe and humility that will not wear of. The reality of the greatness of this Man is imprinted on us.

Maybe we don't have witnesses because we don't want Jesus to bring us into his story, with all of the thunder, lightning, wetness and wonder.

Face to Face

This is too long already, but here is the point: those friends that I love dearly who so easily dismiss the story of Jesus need a powerful experience of his reality. Not mere reasoning, preaching, and storytelling, but a powerful witness that breaks through years of questioning and fearful rebellion.

What my friends need is to hear the story, but also come face to face with the One who was there…and become a witness themselves.

Powerfully Lowly

Powerfully Lowly

There is always more that I want to draw out from a text than I do during our Sunday evening gatherings and last night was not an exception to that.

There is a line in verse one of Joshua 1 that has so much weight to it that I could not deal with it along with everything else we talked about, though it might be the most important: "Now it came about after the death of Moses the servant of the LORD..."

Leader, but More than Leader

If we know anything at all about Moses, it is that he was a leader. He was the one who went into the Tent of Meeting, heard the voice of God from the center of his overwhelming glory, and then went to shepherd a messy, stubborn group of people, following his command. There was no question that he led. But the Lord did not call him "My leader."

The title given to Moses was "my servant." And it was an honored title.

Long days in the wilderness first shepherding sheep, then shepherding people created something in the heart of Moses: lowliness. This was not his time to further his career or to make a name for himself, but a calling into a bigger picture. The only one who was qualified to fulfill Moses' role was one who was a servant by heart, shaped by trials and encouraged by Good's greatness. 

The Servant They Looked For

Moses dies then Joshua (the servant's servant) takes over. After Joshua they look for other leaders. Some were in the mold of Moses, but most were proud, self confident, and lived God-lessly even while proclaiming God's greatness.

The people of Israel always wanted strength in their leader, but often didn't realize where it came from. Over and over they desired this strength but didn't see that the real source of strength was not in stature or oratory ability, but in a contented lowliness that knew (KNEW!) that no one could rival God's glory...and delighted in having a lesser place than His.

In multiple chapters in Isaiah, a "servant" is spoken of, one who would be humble, yet effective. One who would be beautiful, but despise by many. One who would live out the strength of the Almighty to transform his world, but do it as a servant, not a despot. One who was so affected by the greatness of character of God than he would joyfully become nothing for God's sake. This servant would be like Moses, but (somehow) greater than Moses.

Not From the Outside...

Power is longed for, fought for, purchased and hoarded. Power is often the downfall of many who started off with a somewhat honestly desire to do some sort of good. Lord Acton said something like "power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely," and that is true for all who would grasp for it.

But, real power does not come from grasping for it feverishly...even with "good" intentions. Real power cannot be fought for or won from someone else. A bizzaro power that subtlety destroys from the inside out can be grabbed, but real power comes from a very different source.

...But from the Servant Himself

When Jesus took off his disciple's sandals to wash their feet (see John 13:1-5) his disciples saw his power in a way that grasped them. The same man who spoke truth to powerful rulers and who called for "peace" from raging waters was joyfully and authentically doing something that only the most powerless persons in their time should do: serve. They could see (in part) in that moment that the real power wasn't bent on ruling, lording, and controlling others, but loving them with no thought of their own upward mobility.

But he wasn't done yet. No, the depth of his powerful lowliness was not yet expressed. Hours later, instead of using his infinite power to coerce and control, he gave himself to selfish power. Selfish power saw weakness where Jesus was teaching them strength. Selfish power saw poetry of power in Jesus while his real power displayed his humility. 

Jesus emptied himself. Jesus took on the form of a slave. Jesus became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Selfish power tried to destroy the source of his power, but only displayed it  beautifully in a way that the world could see. (see Philippians 2: 5-11)

Israel was looking for a servant like Moses, but more than Moses. Moses was lowly because he saw Glory and could not compare himself to the Glorious One.

Truer and Better

Jesus, though, is the truer and better servant. He is not true and better because he was looking outward to a greater glory- there is no greater glory. 

His servant heartedness is his glory. His lowliness displays his power. Our hearts long for a servant, who is powerfully lowly.

 

 

The Abiding Leader

The Abiding Leader

Mark Sayers is a follower of Jesus, a pastor, and a cultural commentator. In his book, Facing Leviathan: Leadership, Influence, and Creating in a Cultural Storm he studies Western culture's drive [addiction?] for entertainment and how that has shaped the way we view what leadership should be.

With skill and thoughtfulness, Mr. Sayers looks at the state of our cultural climate and, with a prophetic gentleness, compares our current leadership values with the values of Jesus. There is so much that is helpful to me, but this quote in particular both challeneged me and encouraged me:

"When we withdraw [from worldly ideals of entertaining and showmanship to an abiding relationship with Jesus], we learn new movements. We move from striving to abiding, from competing to communing, from broadcasting to being. We make a break with the anxiety that drives so much of modern life and, sadly, so much of contemporary leadership." (Page 132)

Let's Just Be Realistic...

Let's Just Be Realistic...

After the China Inland Mission was beginning to be rooted in what God was doing in China and more and more people in England were hearing about it, Hudson Taylor began to get men and women who inquired of his request for eighteen more people to go into the unengaged provinces of China.

These were people who were not only believers, but also men and women who had some sort of desire to love and serve the people of China as well as share the good news of Jesus with Chinese friends.

Mr. Taylor, knowing the cost (and JOY!) of what it would mean for these people to follow Jesus into unevangelized parts of China, wrote to each of the inquirers these words:

"If you want hard work, and little appreciation of it; value God's approbation [approval] more than you fear man's disapprobation; are prepared, if need be, to seal your testimony with your blood, and perhaps oftentimes to take joyfully the spoiling of your goods [see Hebrews 10:34]... you may count on a harvest of souls here, and a crown of glory that fadeth not away, and the Master's 'well done.'"

(as recounted in Hudson Taylor: A Man In Christ by Roger Steer)

Luke 9:23–25: And he [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? 

Everyday Wonders

Everyday Wonders

The word "hospitality" is a strange word to me. For most of my life I have not really understood or desired it. It sounded antiquated and far out of reach. That's what old people did before they had fun things like the intarwebs.

To think of having people in my home- sometimes coming too early and sometimes staying too late- is a little bit intimidating. "What will I have to say?" or "Will they feel comfortable?" or maybe even "Who ARE these people?" are questions that come to mind and make me want to draw back from opening our doors.

Guilty as Perceived

Then, there is the other side of it. Today, I met someone at an event who is a friend of a friend who invited my family over for dinner soon. The invitation felt awkward to me. What does he want from me to invite me before knowing my name? What would I be getting myself into? Maybe he is one of those strange religious-types who wants to force me to believe something.

Ugh. Now, I know how I may come across sometimes.

Embracing the Awkward

But, even though that awkwardness is there, there is still something compelling to me about letting people in, whether that is at our home or someone's home or a park in the neighborhood. As awkward as that can be (!!!), this is where real life is. No room for faux friendships when we are cramped and huddled around a table sharing a meal. At least not for long.

Communities Saturated in the Heart of God

My heart's desire is to see the Spirit create communities of the gospel around our area that live real hospitality. Not merely because it is a command put on us, but because it is a joy to us. The gospel can be shared over a meal or it can be a night of hilarious laughter watching someone go all in at Guesstures. Or Both. But, one way or another, God's Spirit is creating something beautifully counter-cultural.

It may be counter our own personal culture first...just as a side note.

Worth Your Next Sixish Minutes

In light of all that, I want to point you to a video I watched while I ate leftovers this afternoon. She will tell you some of her story, but Rosaria Butterfield saw what it means to be loved in biblical community though a family who sincerely just wanted to be her friend and neighbor- not a project. There is power in sincerely loving our neighbors. The Spirit worked everyday wonders.

Please take 6 minutes to watch the video. It is worth your time. Click here to watch it.

Also, dig into Mrs. Butterfield's story a little more. Look here for it. It will encourage you to hear how the Lord worked in her life through the messy simplicity of gospel infused friendship. 

 

New Life Pushes Out

New Life Pushes Out

"I didn't drop gambling because anybody preached against it. That kind of push never really works over the long haul. True Christian change works more like an old oak tree in the spring, when the new life inside pushes off the old dead leaves that still hang on."

Dr. John M. Perkins, Let Justice Roll Down, page 72 

(see also Galatians 2:20)

What's the Big Deal?!

What's the Big Deal?!

There was a little stream down a little hill from the apartment that my mom and I lived in around the 410 loop. It was a strange little stream. The concrete that was the stream bed told me that it was at least partially there because someone wanted it to be there and not all natural, but that didn't matter much to a curious two year old.

We only lived in San Antonio for a few months and I don't remember much of that time, but I do remember that stream, though, because I have always loved to play in the water. 

(Every time that I hike over a running stream these days I want to immerse myself in it, feel the water surround me, be immersed in its purity and coldness. I guess I have always been drawn to it.)

I think that our apartment windows faced outward and down towards the stream. I was intrigued by the water and was drawn to it. In the heat of a San Antonio summer, few things are as attracting as cool, running water (even if it was just a trickle because the sun lapped most of it up) and I remember heading down the hill intent on getting drenched. That's exactly what I did...and I loved it!

While I was splashing and playing in my little south Texas oasis, my mom called out from up the hill. You know how it is, selective hearing and all, so I didn't hear her at first. Then she came closer and called out again, this time in a way I had to catch on: "Wes, get out of that water and come here now!" So, obediently, I did, but inwardly I was grumbling to myself, "What is the big deal?!"

Really, what was the big deal?

Years later, I was driving with a friend through San Antonio and decided to drive by that old apartment off of the 410 loop. We didn't stop and explore the area, but as we drove by I noticed something I hadn't noticed before: the stream wasn't what I had imagined.

Water was flowing just like I remembered, but it wasn't the water I remembered. It wasn't a concrete-lined stream that was built for precocious little boys to enjoy and create treasured summer memories. It was a drainage ditch that carried away rain water (and anything the rain water gathered) that the city wanted to direct to the sewer system. The water started off clean enough, but as it traveled to where I used to play it gathered all kinds of muck and sewage and trash and...who knows what else. 

It wasn't meant for me. What looked like pleasure to me would only make me sick. I just couldn't see that before. It made me glad my mom called me out of the stream because I didn't know what I was doing...or better yet...I didn't know what it was doing to me.

Jeremiah 2:12–13: "Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
        be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD,
     for my people have committed two evils:
    they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters,
    and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
        broken cisterns that can hold no water."


“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” 

― C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

 

Celebrating Grace in "the Ordinary Junctures"

Celebrating Grace in "the Ordinary Junctures"

"We need to understand that God does at times give us an infusion of joy even in our bitterness and hard-heartedness. [see psalm 73:21-26] God's normal means of bringing his joy is by redeeming and sanctifying the ordinary junctures of human life.

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, page 193

 

 

Where Endurance Comes From

Reading an account of the life of Martin Luther King Jr., I am surprised at just how much Dr. King had to endure in his ambition to see real change happen in our society. Reading about this courageous and complicated man makes me ask the question about whether or not I have what it takes to be apart of what the Spirit is doing to create lasting, meaningful change in his world.

I long to see that change, person by person, reborn heart by reborn heart. ("Long" is not nearly a strong enough word: "have to" is closer.)

And after a short night's sleep and an anxious morning, everything in me says "I do not have what it takes."

How ignorant I am to think that Dr. King's only pushback was from the racist non-black community. That would be enough. But acting justly with racist opposition, governmental opposition, misunderstanding along with willful false defamation of his character, and dealing with his own doubts and fears had to have been overwhelming. On top of all of that were his brothers on the same side of the issue who thought he was weak and fought against him because Dr. King did not use unjust, violent force in order to put forward a just cause.

Entering into his life just a little this morning made me feel the weight of what it would take to stand up humbly for what my Father in heaven would like to create in his world. Anytime that any person wants to follow in Jesus' ways (as opposed to the ways of worldliness), that follower will encounter strong, overwhelming resistance. That is the nature of faithfulness.

So, how do I deal with this weight with despair...without losing heart?

While I am reading about Dr. King, an almost unnoticeable feeling of the reality of my inability to have that heart (much less the moral courage and the Christ-like wisdom), the Spirit did what he promised and fought for my heart with his truth. He reminded me of scripture:

2 Thessalonians 3:5: "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness [or "endurance"] of Christ." (ESV) [My emphasis]

The truth is that I am not able to have the moral courage it takes to look spiritual evil in the eye and stand my ground. I do not have the emotional stamina to endure disappointment and the time it takes to wait on the Lord and see him breakthrough. 

There is another glorious truth too: the very same Jesus- who is the source of moral courage, enduring love for my neighbor, and joy that is unquenchable- lives in me. JESUS lives in me. Jesus LIVES in me. Jesus lives IN me. Jesus lives in ME! (see also Galatians 2:20; Colossians 1:27-29)

So, I will act today, knowing (even weakly) that Jesus lives in me. He lives HIS endurance in me. He is at work through me reconciling the world to himself...even through pushing back on all the ways of our lives that grieve Him.

Jesus (in me) is enough. This is his heart and his work, anyway.

Lord, create what you want in this world, out of me, out of your people, and in the lives of those who do not yet have the ability to trust you.

 

 

 

To Love My Neighbor is to Seek to Hear My Neighbor

People around us are deep mysteries. To love my neighbors means I need to understand them, to know them deeply even if they try hard not to be known. Every person has a culture and every relationship I have with someone is crossing over into their culture.

The only way I will ever really understand someone is if the Spirit gives me insight into them but, that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do the work of listening to them and observing what they love. Everyone who is a child of God is also a missionary to the people they spend time with. That means we need to think like people who cross cultures, even if we don’t recognize that we are crossing cultures.

In their book, Everyday Church,  Tim Chester and Steve Timmis give counsel on how to observe people and discern culture. They give questions to ponder in discerning how to love people deeply by understanding them and their culture:

Where?

  • Where are the places and activities that we can meet people (the missional spaces)?
  • Where do people experience community?
  • Are there exiting social networks with which we can engage, or do we need to find ways of creating community within the neighborhood?
  • Where should we be to have missional opportunities?

When?

  • What are the patterns and timescales of our neighborhood (the missional rhythms)?
  • When are the times that we can connect with people (the missional moments)?
  • How do people organize their time?
  • What cultural experiences and celebrations do people value/? How might these be bridges to the gospel?
  • When should we be available for missional opportunities?

What? 

  • What are people’s fears, hopes, and hurts?
  • What gospel stories are told in the neighborhood? What gives people identity (creation)? How do they account for wrong in the world (fall)? What is their solution (redemption)? What are their hopes (consummation)?
  • What are the barrier beliefs or assumptions that cause people to dismiss the gospel?
  • What sins will the gospel first confront and heal?
  • In what ways rate people self righteous?
  • What is the good news for people in this neighborhood?
  • What will church look like for people in this neighborhood?

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: Soul-full Eruption

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: Soul-full Eruption

Act Three

“My Lord and My God!”

I’m not a guy that tends to blurt out anything. It takes a lot to get me to that place and most of the time (over)think before I speak so that I don’t say what I should. Words just don’t come easy most of the time, but when I say something I want it to be meaningful.

Thomas’s encounter with the very-much-alive Jesus caused him to blurt out something meaningful, just a few words that were the overflow response to a change of his heart. The change was deep and the statement, though brief, was rich with significance.

Thomas was, in a moment, different. His hope had emptied when he saw his Friend carried away to his execution, but now a resurrected hope erupted inside of him. Now, Thomas’ faith was deeper than his doubt had been.

The Powerlessness of a Lie

I  (Wes) write this from about 30, 000 feet in the air. On the screen on the seat in front of me are all kinds of movies that I could choose from. Tough choices to make but I have 4 hours to decide.

If I wasn’t thinking so much (too much) about how anxious I get when the plane starts to shake, it would be easier to decide which superhero movie I should watch.

Superhero movies are our society’s new myths. Our ancestors told stories of Hercules and Perseus; now we have Superman, Batman, Luke Skywalker, and Wonder Woman. All are inspiring to watch and each makes us want to be heroes like they are. We will pay money in order to watch them be heroic. Too much money, probably.

But there is one thing they will never inspire us to do: worship them. Because we know, as the credits roll, they aren’t real. They are characters played by superpower-less (who may or may not really be heroic) for our entertainment.

Those fictitious characters will never inspire us to love them…or give our lives for them.

If Jesus died and is still dead, then he would be just as impactful as those cape wearing crusaders: inspiring to hear about, but no one to be devoted to. If we consciously or non-consciously believe that the resurrection of Jesus is a myth, then we will always live half-heartedly. We will hear the promises of scripture and trust the God who said them just enough to seem religious, just enough to feel some sort of hope, but not enough to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by him…awed by his life.

An Unwasted Life

Does the resurrection make any difference? The answer, one way or another, is “yes!”

Paul said that if resurrection isn’t real, then Jesus is still dead. That makes sense.

Then Paul goes further and tells the people in Corinth that if Jesus isn’t alive then those who believe are not just wrong, not just foolish, but of all the people in the world the most to be pitied. (see 1 Corinthians 15:19) A follower of Jesus should be pitied because he or she has lived a false hope. A pretty lie, but still a life spent on a lie. If Jesus was not resurrected, then following him wholeheartedly is a waste of life.

But, what if it is true? What if the doubts that we come by honestly and the fears that plague us daily are what is really foolish? Then wouldn’t it follow that it would be foolish not to follow him wholeheartedly? If Jesus is alive does that not also mean that we can have a new kind of life too…his very life?

The next question that lingers: Is this resurrection story true?

My purpose here is not to try to make a cumulative and comprehensive case for the historical reliability of the resurrection of Jesus. That has been done and been done much more humbly and eloquently than I could do. (see herehere, and here)

This is merely about one man being changed…and pointing towards millions of people who have had a similar (though probably simpler) encounter with our living Lord with the result being that their lives have been changed. The stories of former Thomas’s testify that something dramatic and beautiful has happened to them.

If the resurrection of Jesus isn’t true, then find inspiration in the story like you would if you were watching hero on the screen: enjoy it for what it is, but find something that is really worth spending you life on. It would be foolish to worship a dead man.

If the resurrection of Jesus is true, then let Jesus do for you what he did for Thomas. Let him awaken your hope. Let him command your affections. Allow him to overwhelm you with his love and his aliveness.

And cry out with Thomas’s joy: “My Lord and my God!”

If you will excuse me, I think I decided what I am going to watch. “Wonder Woman” looks worth spending the next 2 hours on. 

The Difference the Resurrection Makes: Where Faith Comes From

The Difference the Resurrection Makes: Where Faith Comes From

Act Two

A Different Story I Assume Would Be Told [see John 20:26-27]

If I were writing Thomas' story, I would write it differently.

Very differently. I would write it the way I expect Jesus would respond to me. Maybe, if I am honest, this is how I think Jesus does respond to me when my flood of doubt is drowning me. 

When Thomas confidently declares that he will only believe if Jesus shows up and lets Thomas touch him, I would imagine Jesus to respond in at least two ways:

One, I would expect Jesus to find out about Thomas' skepticism and get frustrated. How long had Jesus been with Thomas? How long would Thomas be at least "slow" of heart if not "hard" of heart?!  How long should Jesus put up with this? maybe Jesus should just find Thomas and tell him he needs to straighten up. Now! "Get with the program Thomas or this movement is moving on without you!" I would imagine Jesus sternly scolding Thomas for being so difficult. (I think that says more about me than Jesus, to be honest.)

Two, I would write the story in a way in which Jesus doesn't go through all of the trouble of scolding Thomas, but does something much more terrible: he would just let Thomas doubt and walk away. I would imagine Jesus hearing about Thomas' demands and merely moving on. Since Thomas didn't "have what it takes," Jesus would move on to someone who did. Surely there were plenty of people who would believe. 

Thankfully, I am not writing that story.

A Jarring Surprise

For two weeks the disciples met together in a locked room after Jesus' crucifixion. The text says that they were gathering behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jews. They had good reason to gather and good reason to hide. The first recorded time, Thomas wasn't there. Jesus showed up and the people were astonished that he really was alive.

Thomas wasn't there for that. He just heard about it. Hearing about it wasn't enough for him. He had to feel the Truth as well as hear it.

So, when Jesus shows up in the room again, this time with Thomas attending the meeting, I can imagine there was a silence in the room. Maybe a murmur. All were wondering what Jesus might do. And what he did had to have surprised them all: he offered his wounds for Thomas to feel.

Like Trying to Wake Up A Cemetery

One thing is certainly true: whoever believes in Jesus believes because Jesus came to them while they were still saying "I will not believe."

This is the story of every person who has faith in Jesus. we do not believe because we "had it in us" or because we were strong enough. No, everyone who has honestly entrusted themselves to Jesus has done so because he came to them first and created that faith.

We should not be surprised that Jesus came to Thomas and offered himself...not if we really understand Jesus. He showed that he was willing to humble himself over and over, going to those who didn't come to him and welcoming those who despised him. It is in God's nature to initiate relationship and to crate the fullness of faith where only the emptiness of doubt reigned.

God Acts First, and Second, and Third

And never more was that pictured than when Jesus endured the cross for people who were defiant in doubt. God demonstrated his initiative love in that, even when we were ravenously rebellious, he gave his precious Son that he might draw us to believe...and restore the closeness we were meant to share with Him. That is what he does.

And that is what he did for Thomas. In Thomas' stubbornness and hard-hearted willfulness Jesus showed Thomas the scars of his surrender. And Thomas was shocked.

When Jesus writes his own story, the story is a story that fills our souls with faith. His grace jars us awake to who he really is and then we are compelled to respond.

How about one last Act in this Story?

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: We Are Thomas

The Difference The Resurrection Makes: We Are Thomas

See John 21:24-25

Act One

April Fools Day

It made me laugh a little when I realized that Resurrection Sunday fell this year on April Fool's Day. Though many around me recognized the day as some sort of religious holiday, most people were more excited about what Google would do this year (see here) than the significance of Jesus resurrection.

Though our friends wouldn't just come out and say it, they would think we are a little foolish for believing it. Many think that it is okay for us to believe that as long as we don't push it on them or be "extreme" about it.

"Positive Illusions" and A Life Too Terrible to Face

Somewhere they have the belief that Jordan B. Peterson writes about in his book "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos" when he says that there has been a whole generation of social psychologists who recommend "positive illusions" as the only reliable route to mental health. (see page 87) He makes it a little more clear when he says that some believe that "things are so terrible that only delusion can save you."

For some of our friends (and maybe some of us) belief that Jesus was resurrected from the dead could be a sweet story that brings weak souls hope or a metaphor that one could find some sort of meaning of life in.

But, to many, the resurrection of Jesus is merely a story. A myth that is not true. A fiction that gives (false) courage to deal with the harshness of (a very real) reality.

We all need something to find hope in, right, but to say that Jesus' resurrection is true?! That would be foolish to many. From my own experience I know that I often at least live as if the resurrection isn't real, even if my mouth proclaims that Jesus is fully alive.

I. Will. NOT. Believe.

Thomas had left all to follow Jesus. He walked with Jesus as long as others and seen Jesus do the very same miracles the others did. When the blind were healed, Thomas saw it. When 5,000 men (plus women and children not counted) were feed with food left over, Thomas ate of the same bread and fish. When Jesus talked about going near Jerusalem and that going near would ultimately lead to his death, normally quiet Thomas said "If you die, I'll die with you!" (see John 11:16)

But, he didn't die with Jesus. Jesus died alone. And Thomas saw it.

We don't want to be called fools, and more than that, we don't want to feel foolish. Thomas had placed all his hope, based the remainder of his life on the Rabbi he followed. He was "all in." When Jesus was taken, tortured, and sentenced to death, all that Thomas lived for was up ended.

Thomas' hope died along with Jesus. And nothing short of a miracle could resurrect his hope. So when his friends came to him and told him they had seen Jesus, we can be understanding towards Thomas' response: 

John 20:25: So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 

"I will never believe! I was fooled once. I gave him my all once. I will not be fooled again."

I Am Thomas. And I Know I Am Not Alone.

We won't be fooled either. We can safely hide behind philosophies that "prove" to us that resurrection cannot happen in nature. We can preach the "good news" of common sense that these things just don't happen. We can recite creeds and hear good sermons about Jesus' coming-back-from-a-real-deadness, but never live as if the same power that resurrected him is available to his people. (see Ephesians 1:19-20)

I don't want to be a fool. No one does. I am Thomas. We are Thomas.

But that is not the end of Thomas' story...nor ours.

What We Actually Believe

"Whatever captures the heart's trust and love also controls the feelings and behavior. What the heart most wants, the mind finds reasonable, the emotions find valuable, and the will finds doable... Your loves show what you actually believe in, not what you say you do."

Tim Keller, Preaching, 159 [My emphasis]