Monday, August 26, 2013

Kingdom Perspective

Few of us, I think, truly feel that we have found the one and absolute calling on our lives professionally. I would hope that most pastors feel God has called them. I truly believe God does call many of us to specific vocations, specifically those in the ministry. The apostle Paul, for example. I wouldn't dare say Jesus revealed himself to Paul to give him an idea of what he may consider doing in the future. God called Paul. If he called Paul, he calls others. But, I'm not convinced he does this for each of us. Perhaps he does. God's sovereignty leaves nothing to chance... he does ordain our steps. What HAS he called each of us to do? The answer is in John 6:29 - "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

I think much of our angst about finding our calling is actually selfish, though it may be cloaked in what we think is a pursuit of obedience. We want to find fulfillment. We want to be satisfied by what we do. Don't mistake me, I want this too. We all want to have lives of meaning and significance, and this is surely not a bad thing in itself. But, it can be.

I was in 7-11 earlier, where you'll often find me... and while in line a picture came to mind. I pictured myself as a small child bent down trying to pick up a quarter from the sidewalk. The quarter was elusive. It's on its side under a grate, finger-length deep. I'm straining to line my fingers up just right so that I can pull it out. It will happen, it'll just take a moment. God is my dad, five paces ahead. He turns back to his left, left arm extended back saying, "Let's go... we need to keep going." This was a picture, not a video... it ends there. 

What I know, though, is that my dad is leading me to a place with roads paved with gold, full of emeralds and diamonds. Wealth beyond imagination. He's taking me there and I'll share in the wealth. I tell him I believe I know where he's taking me. I do believe this is where he'll take me... I believe I trust him. And yet, I find it necessary to spend a few minutes grasping for this elusive quarter-dollar. I don't see my dad looking at my angrily, but more in the line of, "If you'd only get it. If you'd only listen, really listen to what I've said about where I'm taking you..." 

Not one of us would spend a lick of time chasing after a quarter on our way to pick up a check for a billion dollars. I know the only reason that would lead me to do this is a lack of belief in the reality that I'll be receiving this check. In John 6:27-28 just before speaking the words above, Jesus says," Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you." In 1 Corinthians 2:9 we are told, "What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"

So, what does all this have to do with calling? Maybe you can relate - I know for me it's the internal struggle of seeking satisfaction, significance, influence, wealth, and happiness in this life. I believe the quarter will help. I believe if I pick up enough quarters I'll be a bit happier on my way to the paradise that awaits me beyond. This is ONLY true if: 1. I really don't believe in this paradise and don't trust my father. And/Or 2. I believe that on my way there I need to amass as much as I can (for you this may be money, relationships, fame, influence, etc.) in order to enjoy the walk.

If we could only catch a glimpse of the timeline of eternity! If we could only see that this life is an atom-wide spot on the 4 billion-mile timeline of our eternal lives. I really believe that the more I can come to understand this fact, the less anxiety I'll experience, the less I'll care whether I ever make that million, whether I get that part, whether I make my mark on this world. I pray for myself and each of us that we'll stand up and decide to be content to walk hand-in-hand with our heavenly Father as he takes us to his home. In this home I'm told I'll be his son, that I'll be a co-heir with Christ. I don't think all the quarters in the world will compare. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

On Romans 3:21-28

The following essay is less of a blog post than it is some thoughts on a passage. I'm privileged to have a friend who is a biblical scholar and he was working on Romans 3:21-28 and asked if I would take a stab at it and share my thoughts with him... I have NO idea why he would ask me for my thoughts, but it was nice of him. What follows is the email I wrote to him with my reflections on Romans 3:21-28. I recommend you read the passage before reading my thoughts. Thanks for reading.

On Romans 3:21-28

Though this passage has a great deal to say about justification by faith (vs. 22, 26 - wonderful), propitiation (vs. 25 - wonderful), and substitutional atonement (vs. 25 - wonderful), I believe the focus of this passage is not on the wonder of our salvation in Jesus Christ, but that in this God's Righteousness is now shown (as it was, in part, by the law in the time of the law and prophets). 

I tried to draw this out a few times and couldn't quite get it right, so I'll use words. You can picture God as the sun and his people are separated from him by a great cloud. But, this cloud has a hole in the center in which a great light shines through - this ray of light is God's law. Though we were separated from God by our sin and curse, his righteousness is still made known to us as it pierces this cloud. The point is God's righteousness was made known through his law at this time. We often talk about the law as less of something that we can truly own up to as much as it is something to show us our own weakness in comparison to God's glory and righteousness. We saw his righteousness shine through the clouds in the form of a ray of light which had his essence and character, but the law itself was not God. It showed us a great deal about what he was like - but the law itself was not himself.

But now, Paul says, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law (vs. 21). In 22, he says that it is now displayed "through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." They are justified "by his grace as a gift" through the redemption in Jesus. I think we can miss a point here. It's less that his grace has allowed us to be justified... I don't think it is saying, "because God was so nice (graceful) that he allowed us to be redeemed through Jesus Christ." His grace is not given as the reason behind the gift of justification. Jesus' redemptive work is the means by which his grace is apportioned/given/bestowed upon us. In my mind, it's helpful to understand this by replacing the word "grace" in vs. 24 with "righteousness." Paul is telling us that God's own righteousness is gifted to us by the means of Jesus Christ. His righteousness was put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith ("righteousness" entered into vs. 25). I'm not saying that righteousness is the better word - I'm certain that "grace" is the appropriated word. But, I believe that the point is well made to understand his grace as his loving kindness but also his righteousness itself. We are saved by his grace. We are saved by his righteousness, and not our own as Paul goes onto say in vs. 27-28. 

The paragraph culminates in the profundity of vs. 26 - "It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Again, Paul's focus is not necessarily on the means of our salvation, which is wonderful and profound, but it is on the fact that in this way God has now shown/displayed/expressed/
revealed his righteousness to us in more fullness. 

1. In the time of the law God's righteousness was displayed through the law
2. In the time of Christ and in Christ God's righteousness has been displayed by God's own redemptive work in Jesus Christ as the justifier of those in Christ.
3. When we are with the Lord his righteousness will be seen in its fullness to us, as we now see through a glass darkly. 

We can see that God has progressively revealed himself to us, first in the law then through Jesus Christ's justifying act (and the holy spirit) - one day we will see him in his fullness.

Though one can make this a man-centered passage about God's great love for us, I believe it is a God-centered passage about the revealing of God's righteousness in this new way of being the great justifier. He has revealed himself in the law that no man can keep fully and so, in his justice (vs. 26), he has himself revealed his glory further in justifying those same people who could not match his represented glory in the law. 

As I described the law as a ray of light piercing through the clouds, God has revealed himself and his glory further. God's righteousness is now literally placed upon our heads. He "righteousnesses" us in Jesus. It is not a straining to attain but a resting in the being in Christ. I am reminded of John 4:13, one of my favorite passages in John. He meets a woman at a physical well. She must come back to the well again and again to be replenished, just as we had to come back for forgiveness and life under the law. What amazes me is that Jesus does not say the water he gives will become a "well of water welling up to eternal life." It would have made sense, as he was at a well... would have been convenient, no? He says he offers a "spring of water" which wells up. God does not call us to dig man-made wells to get to his righteousness. In Jesus, God in his grace has made us to wade in the spring of water which he has placed us in. We no longer strive for justification because it is ours - he extols the Christian to bathe in his spring of grace, not dig the well of righteousness by effort.

This passage surely has great and comforting promises of our justification by God's righteousness and not our own - but what makes this all the better is that it is found in his righteousness displayed and given, not attained or earned, as God, too, is the giver of faith.

Written: September 30, 2011

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

They Had Been With Jesus

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus"
- Acts 4:13

And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

I was struck by this as I was doing my reading today. Peter and John had just been arrested, spent the night in jail, and were being reprimanded and warned not to preach about Jesus. Peter and John would not relent. The leaders and elders were so struck, though, by their boldness they could not help but know that they had been changed by Jesus.

These were uneducated, unimpressive, lower-class men before they knew Jesus. They may not have been especially poor individuals, but it is clear they were not exceptional by any means. The leaders of the synagogue knew this, yet these men were different. Not because they went to seminary. Not because they completed a "best life now" training course. Not because they tried really hard. They were bold and different because they had been with Jesus. Jesus changed them and infused them with a mission, an identity, a purpose that is greater than all others. 

Friends, people know when we have been with Jesus. Lately I have been on this "spiritual discipline" kick, if you can call that a kick. It's not about Moralism or checking off the spiritual to-do list. It's about being with Jesus. If you don't spend time with Him, you see it and others see it. If you spend time with Him, you are changed and this change, this infusion of the Spirit spills out... people notice. People are affected.  

I am continuing to be encouraged by scripture and the Spirit to be with Jesus. He wants to change me and renew me. And, he wants others to be changed and renewed. How do we do this? We read his word, we pray (more than 3 minutes before bed), we practice silence, listening to Him. If we want boldness in our life people need to see us and be able to say, "they have been with Jesus."

Written: January 19, 2011

Friday, June 7, 2013


We have such a difficulty as men with this simplicity of seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness above all else. It is among our greatest issues in my view. Many of us seek to have our cake and eat it too. “I want to be rich, but not to be fixated on my riches. I want to be both successful in the world’s eyes and in the Lord’s. I want to be an example of a rich successful person who doesn’t put his riches before God. I am the exception. I won’t struggle with finding satisfaction in my wealth like most men would. I deserve to have both God’s simplicity and earthly wealth.” How unbiblical this is! Yet most of us feel this way at our core! I feel this way! Why are we unwilling to trust in God’s word? Why must I be the exception? We love to picture those wealthy men in our lives who embody God’s gift of simplicity and generosity in their lives, yet who among us looks at the man with no great wealth who lives simply before God and men and says, “I want that!” We often desire to be in the circumstances where temptation to take our eyes of the Lord are greatest and walk the “healthy line” in that circumstance, yet who among us seek only God’s kingdom and his peace without a care of personal affluence? We want to be with the hottest girl in the world, yet not place too much value in appearance. We want wealth without greed or a hoarding mentality. We want to be looked up to by both the world and in God’s kingdom. Yet, often these things are not congruent, yet we choose the world’s common sense above God’s word.

Written: December 18, 2010

Thursday, June 6, 2013

John 1-3: The Whole Gospel is Here

It's amazing what happens when you really read scripture. I mean really read it. We often skim along, "read this, understand that, I know what happens here...skipping ahead." And at other times, even when we are truly spending time in a passage, it is all too easy to see only the obvious. Jesus turned water into wine... cool story! His first miracle was making alcohol for a wedding! Cool. Jesus must like parties. Or, "Come follow me." I get it, Jesus asks his new disciple to follow him. Simple. Got it.

But there is such an incredible depth behind the simplest of verses... even the ones that seem to have one simple, even strong, obvious meaning.

I've just been digging into John 1-3. I did not know this... but Jesus gives us the entire gospel in the first three chapters.

The first words uttered by Jesus in the book of John are, "What do you seek?"  Yes, Jesus said this to two men who were probably awkwardly following behind him as he walked. But look deeper. "What do you seek?"  This is really the big question every man and woman asks him or herself in life. What do I seek? What do I want? What is this life about?

Next, we have the answer: "Come and you will see." Jesus' answer here is in response to the question, "where are you staying?" Simple right? Some guys ask him where he's staying and he gives a simple answer, come and find out. But is this not the invitation Jesus gives to all who are seeking? He says to us, "come with me and you will see what it is you seek." We see an even clearer example of this in vs. 43 when he calls Phillip. He simply says, "Follow me." Jesus offers an invitation to follow him.

The next passage is the all-too famous turning of water into wine, his first miracle. We all know it's his first miracle. I tend to think of it fondly as Jesus' endorsement of wine, which I happen to love. But looking deeper, it's incredibly meaningful and significant. This may not be the only "truth" in this passage, but it has struck me. We tend to see water as the most life-giving of substances. This is probably true. But in Judaism water most often symbolized death (the flood, baptism is a death and rebirth as we emerge from it, etc.). Wine often symbolizes life and abundance, even spiritual love. Jesus' first act of ministry is to turn death into life. He is showing us the core of who he is. He the man that turns death into life.

Next, Jesus turns over the tables and pours out the coins in the temple. We often see this as Jesus showing his more masculine side, right? He's furious, so he acts. He takes charge. He stands up for God's name. This is true. But, there is more! We know that we as Christians are called God's temple. He dwells in us through his Spirit. Jesus has come to this temple to drive out that which has taken the place of His holiness and purpose for this temple. Namely, sin. Jesus then tells us how he'll do it.

Jesus predicts is his death for the first time. "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" He was just in a temple, a literal temple. He's talking about that temple, right? No. He is talking about his body. John explains this. This is the cross. We could stop here and it's pretty complete overcast of the gospel. But, the final forecast is given in chapter 3.

Jesus begins to talk about the kingdom of God. Want to see it? First, you must be born again... not physically but spiritually. Notice the capital "S" in verse 6 of chapter three. "That which is born of the Spirit is spirit." We must be born of God by his Spirit to see his kingdom. Are you able to do this, will yourself to be born? Nope. We are born of the Spirit. Jesus begins to tell us about the sovereignty of God here.

And lastly he explains the saving power of the cross. He has foreshadowed his death already when he mentioned the temple. But, here we see the purpose more fully. Jesus tells Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel by the way, about the serpent that Moses lifted up on a pole that whoever looked upon would be forgiven (interesting to note, too, that Nicodemus represents the Jews here who rejected and would not recognize him as a people). Jesus goes onto say that he too must lifted up, that whoever believes (looks upon) in him may have eternal life.

And that's the whole of the gospel in 3 chapters, foreshadowed... and what's the very next verse? What do you know... John 3:16.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

And there is a broad stroke of Jesus, tied up in a little bow.

1. What do you seek?
2. Come and see/Follow me.
3. Jesus turns water to wine (death to life).
4. Jesus battles sin in the temple (the body).
5. Jesus predicts his death and resurrection.
6. Jesus explains how one receives forgiveness/eternal life.
7. Seven, the number of completion, wholeness perfection... Jesus tells us the master plan, the title of this great book that God is writing.

Written: February 7, 2011

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Jesus the Man

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."
- John 3:16-17

We've all seen this verse before. It's likely the most well-known verse in the entire Bible. It's a verse we often quote and look to as an expression of the incredible love of God.

But, what does it say about manhood? Nothing? Look again.

It may feel harder than ever in these times to understand what makes a man. Is it power, wealth, maturity, a 401k, owning a house? Left to ourselves, it seems "manhood" would be defined by what our surrounding culture tells us a man is. Living in that paradigm might lend some markers to manhood, but I would be left unsure. So many things the world tells me define me as a man seem out of my control, out of grasp. I cannot will myself to own a home (anytime soon), have a huge bank account, lead others, succeed in achieving all my life's ambitions and dreams. These are circumstances I may find myself in as a man, but they do not define me. We all understand that these things don't define us, but we often act as if they do.

There are a ton of qualities that a true man, we could say, must possess: integrity, honesty, humility, compassion, strength. None of us would argue that these are not good things; indeed, they are. But do they define a man? What actually defines a man? It's a good thing we are not left to discover this for ourselves... 

Jesus was the man. I mean, he was THE man. He also happened to be God. Not a bad combo for a role-model. Let's look at what he had to offer.

In John 3:16-17 we see that God loved the world, he valued it. The first point to note is that God loves. God is love. But there is a problem. In verse 16 the Word says that without his Son we would perish. He desired that we would not perish, so what does he do? He saves us. He, Jesus, takes responsibility for my problem. God would have been well within his rights to say, "not my death, not my problem." But he doesn't. He moves. He acts. Why does he do this? To give life. Jesus came in an act of love to save for the benefit of life. Jesus is a life-giver. He is not a consumer, he is not passionate about receiving what the world can offer him, but with what he can offer the world... and this is life.

This is our model. As men, we must be committed to lovingly give of ourselves in service as an act of life-giving to others. Now, you and I are not in the place of savior. Jesus is the savior. So what do we do? We lovingly give of ourselves to others that they may have life in Jesus Christ. This boils down to two things that I are easily understood: 1. Take responsibility for yourself and for others. A man doesn't pass the buck, in fact he might even ask for it. 2. Be a producer of life-giving fruit that blesses others. Don't be a consumer, sucking the life/resources of others. Tall order, huh? Yep. Sounds impossible for me. 

It's a good thing scripture says this:

"With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."
- Mark 10:27

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ."
- 2 Peter 1:3-8

God has chosen us by the witness and act of Jesus Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit to point others towards Jesus, the giver of life.

You can focus on attaining manhood all you want. But, you can become a "man" and look nothing like Jesus. But if you come to look like Jesus, I think you'll find that you are a man.

God has given us a world to enjoy. I truly believe we are to enjoy our food and drink, our jobs, our friends and families. We can take pleasure in the fruits of this world. But if the pleasures of this world come even close to surpassing the blinding glory of God in our eyes, we are missing it. We must be men who desire God's glory above all else. This is a tall, difficult order. But we find our most epic example of this in action in Jesus' death. He died that life would come. We too must die to ourselves and receive true life from the life-giver. This is a life of freedom. We are no longer slaves to our ambitions, to the pressure to succeed. We find true freedom in the giving-up. I can't do it. You can't do it. But, God can... let's let him do it. Let's give him the glory, I don't deserve it and if I had it I wouldn't know what to do with it. 

P.S. If we want to look like Jesus, guess what, we need to get to know who he is.

Written: February 3, 2011

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

What If It's All True

While painting and cleaning today, I listened to several Ravi Zacharias sermons/talks (if you haven't listened to him, please do yourself a favor and do).  Ravi tells many of the same stories over and over, but he does so because they are profound tales. 

He mentioned one as I was listening today and have always liked, but today it hit me at a deeper level. He tells the story of his father-in-law as he was dying...

"I mentioned that my father-in-law did something utterly unforgettable in the final days of his life. As strength was leaving his body and he could no longer communicate with loved ones, he suddenly opened his eyes and said twice, quietly and clearly, “Amazing! It’s just amazing!” A few hours later, he again stirred, reached out his thin arms to his wife of sixty-two years, and said, “I love you!” Then he let his head drop back on his pillow. Those were his last words. Within twenty-four hours he was gone. That was the end."

How would it change the way you live today if you knew, I mean really knew, that it was all true. If you could catch a glimpse today of the glory of heaven, of the glory of the Lord as you might in your passing, if you could see it with your own eyes... how would this affect your life today as you live it?

I think we often fall into a patter of hedging our bets. We, especially as men I think, can fall into living a double life. We pursue the things of God as well as those things we know are likely very much a waste. If you could catch a glimpse of God's glory as a few men like Moses and Isaiah have, would that be enough? Would that be enough to convince you of your place in this world? I am constantly challenged about my half-belief. I sometimes find myself living as though either might be true: either the Kingdom of God is of the utmost importance and reality, or pursuing my own gratifications and self-fulfilling dreams are paramount. Many of us say, "I will try to do both; God will understand."

I have also been listening to John MacArthur. He has shared in these last few years about his discovery of our identity as "slaves" of Christ. It seems that in almost every case when our Bibles call us "servants" the actual word and meaning is "slave." What rights do slaves have? None. What rights do slaves have to pursue their own ends? None. Now, God is no slave-master as we think of it. But the very definition of a slave, one could say, is one who is owned. Scripture tells us that we have been bought with a price. We have been purchased, redeemed and made to belong to a Lord. Do I tell my Lord what I wish for him to grant me or do I seek, more than anything else, his will and desire for me?

How would it change your perspective to read that famous verse, "Well done, good and faithful slave." Does that word shatter you or humble you? I assume many of us have imagined that moment when God looks at you and you stand there in that moment of silence... what will he say? Will he say, "well done," or something else? If God has set me upon this planet to pursue my dreams and desires then perhaps anything I do will warrant a "well done." But, if God has gifted me in a certain way, called me to a specific task, granted me a purpose in his family than that changes the way that I think about that moment. 

What if we could fully comprehend the enormity of eternity in comparison to this short life? What if we could truly understand the incredibly grand and magnificent nature of God and his purpose for our lives, the scope of his reality as a person, the detail and holiness of his will? When I am caught up in these thoughts, the importance of my own ends appear to me to be dirt pies to his feast. 

If God is truly the Creator, if Jesus is truly his Son, and if this Son has truly redeemed us to himself... our lives are truly not our own. I am challenged more and more to understand the radical nature of the gospel and the "all" that Christ asks of us. It has often come to me in the picture of a man with two choices: invest in a stock that grows ten-fold every year, or invest in a stock that time and time again rises and falls. Only a fool would diversify this portfolio. I am challenged to invest everything, every last penny into the Kingdom of God. Not to is a display of an inward belief that this stock may not continue as shown, as promised.

What would the church look like, what would the world see in Christians, if we all lived with the surety of God's realness as though we had literally visited heaven and come back again. When you read,  “Amazing! It’s just amazing!,” were you surprised and tickled or did you think, "I can't wait!"? Does the thought of meeting the Lord cause in you fear and doubt or a sense of anticipation? I really believe that the feeling that comes to us with this question is revealing. I'm not talking about whether you or I am really saved or not. It's not a matter of in or out, but a question that forces each of us to examine our belief. 

Let us seek to know our God intimately and to actually live in such a way that undeniably represents this belief. Let us pursue the adventure of taking Jesus at his word. Let's quit hedging our bets. Will I seek the company of the elite or the down-trodden? Will I trust God with my money? Will I confess my sin? Extreme? Yes. I am challenged to choose this day whom I will serve.

Written: April 2, 2011