Monday, December 14, 2015

Reconsidering Advent: Baby Jesus is God

"Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace."

Nativity sets are out.  Bright lights decorate our homes and streets.  Advent wreathes are lit.  Christmas music is playing, carolers are singing, shoppers are stressing... And for those of us who are church-goers, it's easy to fall into the old pattern.  We need the nativity up, we need to celebrate the coming of Jesus, a time of waiting.  And in some ways, the tradition, the pomp and circumstance, help us remember the coming of baby Jesus.  
We remember that the Jewish people waited for a messiah for centuries.  We remember the promise in Isaiah, "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.  Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel."  (Isaiah 7:14).  And that this promise is literally birthed in the person of Jesus.  We rejoice.  We stand in wonder during the season.  We rediscover the magic and hope as we sing the lyrics that consider the tender infant that God sent into the world.  But how easy is it to stop there?  If baby Jesus is just a promised child that came from a virgin, then we sing lyrics of this 'holy infant, tender and mild,' we easily become jaded.  We go through the motions.  We set up the tree, put the presents under the tree, place the nativity as the tradition we worship, rather than the reminder of what God accomplished.  

The virgin birth was a miracle in itself.  God gets the glory if He truly caused a virgin to have a a baby.  But that's not the most important part of the promise.  Immanuel means "God with us."  So here's a baby, and God claims that He himself is this baby.  God is the one who is the 'holy infant'.  God is the one who is 'meek and mild'.  The same God who is all powerful!  The same God who created us out of the dust (Genesis 1)!  The same God whose face Moses couldn't look at without perishing (Exodus 33:18)!  This God placed himself as a human infant!  

Consider the implications!  God the Son could be everywhere, now if he wanted to get somewhere, he had to be carried.  God the Son could command the stars, now He had to depend on his parents to teach him to speak.  God the Son had the perfect Father in God the Father, now He had to depend on sinful parents.  God the Son resided in the glory of perfect heaven, now he resided on the broken earth.  He lived among lepers, the blind, the corrupt, and the godless.  Within the first two years of his human life, a human king felt threatened by this baby's presence to the point that Jesus had to flee to Egypt (Matthew 2:1-17).  Why would Jesus place himself in this position?  Why would He leave the comfort of His eternal home?  Why would He surround himself with both the lowest of society, as well as those who were his enemies?  Because the promise was to come and reconcile the lowest, the corrupt, the enemies back to Himself.  And only He could do it.  

God gave up everything to love those who hated Him.  It transforms how we think of the season.  It transforms how we consider how we love and who we love, because if we truly believe that baby Jesus is the God who saves, and He saved us, the lowest of the low, then how can we not respond in kind?

We choose to love even when it hurts.  We choose to love even if a person seems unlovable.  We choose to love when it costs much.  We do it because Jesus gave up EVERYTHING to win you and me.

So who is that one person you can't stand at work?  What if you bought them a nice gift, wrote them a card to share what you appreciate them, or take them out for a cup of coffee?

Who is the family member you cringe at when you see them?  What if you not only said hi, but actually spent quality time either on the phone or went and visited them?  

Have you considered the "low" people that you can serve during the season?  Can you visit assisted living places, soup kitchens, or the homeless and give not just of your money, but your time?  

Have you considered the needs of the world's afflicted?  There are physical needs for the less fortunate, and spiritual needs for those who have yet to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  Consider helping in the relief effort of Ting Ministries and the Independent Church in India, as a leper community struggles with recent flooding, or contribute to a current effort to raise $2016 by the end of the year to train missionaries to bring the Gospel to the unreached.  (Check out this video!)

If baby Jesus is God, then we must respond by not only remembering that God gave up His power, status, and reputation for our sake, but by doing likewise.  We are His people, and we should look more and more like Him.  It's part of the promise of His salvation.  

"Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven above
Heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born."  

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Judge not... until you've judged yourself rightly

“Don't judge me.” They are the three words that reverberate through our minds when someone brings up something we don't want them to touch. It might be a bad habit. A worldview. A preference. Whatever it is, whenever it gets brought up as a point of why we aren't good, moral, or “acceptable” to God (aka, called a sinner), these three words easily can roll off our tongues. And we feel justified.


“The bible says don't judge!”

But does it? Does the bible actually say not to judge another person?

If you look at Matthew 7:1-6, you see Jesus in the middle of a sermon to the masses. He is speaking to a crowd filled with all sorts of people, and He is constantly helping them come to the reality that God's standard is perfection, and they cannot meet it. He explicitly states this earlier in chapter 5, when he says “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.” (v. 48) And Jesus states this after he expounds upon the law in a way that makes us realize there is no way we could keep it! Consider what Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said to those of old 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment...” (vs. 21-22a)

“You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (vs. 27-28)

This standard of perfection is STAGGERING! And this is just a glimpse into God's standard.

Why does Jesus do this? He's trying to help the crowd realize their need for a savior. He's driving them to see the reality of their sin, their innate separation from God, so they could see their need for an ultimate, perfect rescuer. It's why Jesus says in 5:18 that He came not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. He knew that His people needed a perfect sacrifice to satisfy God's perfect justice.

This humbles the religious, because they can't please God by how many prayers they offer up, how many services they attend, and how many good deeds they can offer.

It also humbles the irreligious, because it exposes an argument that we can be moral and upright without God.

It shows both pathways lead nowhere but down. You can get to whatever you consider “enlightenment” if you're perfect. The problem is, none of us are. And that's the requirement we need to judge.

Jesus, later in his sermon, finally talks about judgment from person to person. He states “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (7:1-2) I know what you're thinking:

“See! The bible does say don't judge, otherwise God will judge you! It doesn't matter what else was said before, you can't judge me!”

Slow down. Yes, Jesus says don't judge, otherwise God will judge us. But let's look a little further:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” (7:3-5)

This is an absurd picture that Jesus uses. “Do you notice the LOG in your own eye?” These words are ones we quickly gloss over, but consider the absurdity. Picture yourself walking around wacking people in the head with the protruding LOG in your eye, telling people about the little speck in theirs. First, you'd leave a path of destruction, or at least countless concussions. Second, people would look at you with little credibility, because you by far have the bigger obstruction! A log, or a speck. Which is more noticable? And yet you haven't addressed the LOG, only someone with an itsy-bitsy speck!

This is a hilarious and provocative image. And notice what Jesus says to do with that log. “...take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” He doesn't say “don't judge.” He says address yourself first, and then address your brother. This is profound. This is why it's important to look at the context of the whole sermon, because the judgment Jesus is calling for is not condemnation, but rather one of discernment and rebuke. He's trying to help people know how to address sin in their lives so they would become undeceived, repent, and believe in Christ. He's calling people to judge one another, but only after they have humbled themselves and seen their own need for a savior, for restoration, for change.

This leaves some help for application:

We need to lead in humility → If we see someone struggling, we must first humble ourselves. Humility helps us to see things from God's point of view. It helps us filter our thoughts through the lens of scripture, rather than the lens of our pre-determined, sin-stained thoughts and motives. Where it could feel like someone is deliberately disrespecting me, I need to humble myself, ask what the sin actually is, and then address the sin, laying aside my pride and insecurity beforehand.

We need to welcome correction and rebuke → I hate being corrected. But the whole framework of the sermon on the mount is for people to see that they don't measure up, repent from sin, and trust in the finished work of the cross. If that's the case, then I need others to see my specks and help me remove them, because this passage implies that you and I are blind to them.

We need to be wary of when we default to “don't judge.” → v. 6 states “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.” Jesus “judges” those who don't want to listen, and he says, “Don't waste your time. Don't waste your words. They aren't worth talking to.” The point isn't that we should alienate and ostracize; I think many of us fall into this category from time to time. But, what Jesus is saying is that there is a condition that is extra dangerous. If we refuse correction and rebuke, but we claim Christ, it could be an indicator that you actually don't understand the gospel. And that is why the judgment of believers is vitally important. It helps us know whether we are on the track towards eternal life, or eternal damnation. 

May we help one another in pointing out each others 'specks', so that we might experience greater joy in the savior who was perfect for our sake.  

In His Grace,

Monday, November 2, 2015

Jesus Displays God's Glory

When people talk about Jesus, we often think of His love. And why shouldn't we? Even the most skeptical of men would note that, if Jesus was a real person (He is), He was the most kind, sacrificial, tolerant person in the course of human history. Or at least one of them. The cross is a great example, and should be an example to us all about how to love.

However, we miss something profound when we look at Jesus ONLY in this light. Ephesians 1 helps us with this, because we see it's through Christ that God worked to reconcile us to Himself, but to what end? vs. 3, 6, 12, and 14 all have a repeated theme.

v. 3 → Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed here is an adjective, it is describing God's character. The word blessed means “Worthy of Adoration or Praise.”

vs. 5-6 → … He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace...

vs. 11-12 → In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.

vs. 13-14 → In Him you also... were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of His Glory.

Look at what Paul is saying here. Followers of Christ are adopted as sons into God's family, they gain an eternal inheritance, and they are sealed with the Holy Spirit, all through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. But notice what they ultimately should result in:

Those things all result in the praise of God!

These blessings and guarantees are great (and there are more of them within this beautiful letter), but Paul is ultimately not pointing out God's love in this letter. Instead, he points out the glory of God in His character, as well as how He demonstrated His glory through Christ.

This is important as we consider Jesus. We often just describe Him (and God) with the word “love.” While this is true, it would be limiting to all of who God is. And the point of the gospel isn't to just point out God's love, it's to see God's glory and to praise Him for it. This includes His love, His wisdom, His power, His might, His beauty, His justice, His faithfulness, and ultimately, His God-ness. And we see all of these displayed through the cross.

Consider, for a moment, God's power through Christ. If I died like that for the sins of the world, it would be seen as a somewhat heroic, yet pointless and confusing, sacrifice. Why? Because I don't have the power or perfection to do it. However, Jesus has the power and perfection to die for sinners. It shows God's glory that He is a worthy sacrifice.

This is why Paul can say that through Christ, our pathway to God and heaven is guaranteed. It's not just because God loves us (although He does), it's because He's God, and He proved Himself to be God in the cross by defeating death once and for all. In doing so, He's elevated. Paul writes later in Ephesians 1: “according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:19b-21) Jesus is worthy of praise, and is placed far above rule and authority, as He should be. Our salvation, among other benefits, is for us to praise God! This is why our salvation is rock solid if we are in Christ. Our salvation is not primarily for us, but for God to bring glory to Himself. If God goes back on His Word, then it goes against God's holy character, against His power, against His faithfulness, against His perfect justice. We can rest assured that salvation is guaranteed, because God's glory is at stake. And Jesus displayed that glory, proving His love for us by dying for sinners, and then defeating death so that we might be reconciled to God through Him.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Ten Years Old

“Are you ok?” It was a fellow student asking me that question, someone that I had played poker with countless times my freshman year at Muhlenberg. I was sitting under one of the academic buildings with a breezeway and a bridge over the top. I had been praying and was crying. Both tears of sadness, but even more so tears of joy.

“Never better,” I replied to him. Life finally started to make sense. Jesus is God. I had sinned against Him, and He chose to forgive me by dying on the cross for my sin. Those who didn't believe would never get to be with Him, but for those who believed, they would experience eternal joy basking in His Presence. It was late September of 2005 that I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, that I truly became a Christian. As a tribute to ten years since my rescue, here are ten things I've learned as a Christian.

1. Our Greatest Reward is Jesus – When I first became a Christian, I was motivated to be the best Christian I could be. I wanted to share Jesus with more people, be more morally sound, and recite the scriptures from memory so I could be known as a great Christian man. There were other things I wanted as well as I grew in godliness, including a godly wife. As time has gone on, I see the need for evangelism to the lost, a need to grow as a man of integrity, and the need to cling to the scriptures. And I deeply love my wife. But they are means to a greater end, which is to love Jesus Christ as our treasure, and in doing so, becoming more like Him. Without Him, these other things grow dull.

2. Suffering is Required – A biblical worldview requires us to look at life soberly. The Psalms show us there is suffering from persecution, suffering from our own sinfulness, and suffering because the world is decaying. I've experienced all three (the first being minor, the other two being more prevalent in my life), and often my response is to try and escape the pain, or to avoid pain. However, as Christians we must embrace the suffering, knowing Jesus is working to redeem and renew all things. As we suffer well, we treasure Christ and His grace more. (Phil 1:21)

3. Jesus Has His Own Agenda – We have growth plans in DiscipleMakers, which helps us target areas to grow both in ministry skills as well as character goals. They are very helpful, but I rarely grow in the way I want to, in the areas I want to, at the pace I want to. He also uses us in ways that He wants, rather than how we would choose. I would much rather be known as the dynamic preacher and worship leader who leads countless men and women to Christ, but instead, I'm known often more for my transparency and willingness to admit my weakness. To me, that's often not what I want to be known for (mainly because in my selfishness I want my own glory), but it has been that very thing that has encouraged others to grow and seek after Christ.

4. You Can't “Arrive” – If you asked me ten years ago what I would like as a Christian 10 years later, here's what I would have said: I no longer struggle with lust, pride, or anger. I know the Bible like the back of my hand and can quote it on command, and people would see me as an excellent leader and example to follow. Man! I wish I could go back and help 19 year old me realize how I was setting myself up for failure! What's really happened? God has shown me deeper ways that I give into lust, pride, and anger... and has shown me other sin patterns as well. I know a lot more of the Bible than I did ten years ago... and I know enough of it to know that I'm still not adequate in knowing God's Word deeply and intimately enough. And I'm not going to touch the excellent leader and example... my best examples are often the ones in which I tell you, “Don't make the same mistakes I did...”

5. Growth Means Seeing More of Your Sin – Don't hear me saying that you can't overcome sin. However, part of the beauty of salvation is that as you see more and more the depths of your heart, more and more you see your overwhelming need for Jesus as your Savior, and the depths He went to to win you back!

6. It's Easy to Lose Your “First Love” – In Revelation, Jesus address the church in Ephesus. They are fighting the good fight, fighting against false teaching and bad doctrine, and they are commended. However, Jesus sternly warns them that He will take away their “lampstand” because they lost the love they had at first. Good doctrine and fighting for truth does not always mean our relationship with Christ is good. I'm learning that firsthand, as I struggle often to remember the awe-inspiring God who set me free from sin everyday. Why is it that Christians who are first rescued are so passionate, and Christians who have been so for a while can seem jaded? It's because we forget our first love. The Gospel becomes nothing more than a building block to other things, rather than the radical news that we could be saved, and that we are saved by Jesus' Blood.

7. It's Easy to Elevate “Good” Things Above Jesus – Family. Friends. Career. Political stance. Country. Sports. All of these things are good to some degree. How often, though do we put Jesus underneath them rather than above all. All it takes to see this is the current presidential primaries. We try to fit Jesus in our own agenda rather than trusting His. When our choice for political leaders “fails” us, we need to trust Christ in His infinite wisdom. When our friends disappoint us, we need to remember that Christ is our better friend that will never disappoint. We need to trust Jesus even when it means that He might divide “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother...” (Luke 12:53)

8. Everything Requires Faith – When does the Bible become a textbook? For me, the moment that I get into it without faith in Christ. If I read it just as my checkbox for the day, all I've done is increase my pride and self-righteousness. However, if I remember to be in God's Word because by faith I'm going to believe that it will satisfy my soul and lead me to a deeper relationship with Christ, then I'm preparing my heart to be led by Christ. This is true in all of life. We all put faith in something, and we are constantly putting faith in the wrong object, even during times of “faith activity.” What's your motivation for getting into the Word? For me, I often have to come saying “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)

9. Feelings Don't Tell You the Truth, But They Help You Know if Something's Wrong – The world, our culture, the media, they all tell us to “follow our hearts.” Disney has made a fortune from this. But the scriptures show us what's true about our hearts; they aren't trustworthy. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, it's desperately sick, who can understand it?” What the heart does do, however, is remind us that something is amiss. And it's an opportunity to turn to Christ in the weakness of our brokenness. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)

10. Jesus is Worth It – I've been in ministry for seven years. I've been a Christian for ten. And it's been hard. I've failed. I've doubted. I've struggled. And there are days where I'm ready to hang it up. The world just looks so much better. But then I remember that while the world offers temporary bliss, it doesn't last, and it never truly satisfies. Jesus, however, satisfies now. And how much sweeter will He be for all of eternity. I long for the day that I'm no longer distracted by the world. I long for the day when sin will be a distant memory. I long for the day where I will be able to be free of all the other gods calling out to me, trying to vie for my attention. Until then, I ask for Jesus' help to fight the sin that so easily entangles, to finish the race that God has set out for me, and to worship Him and Him alone in the midst of a distracted, sin-ridden, broken world. Because He's worth it. And He's the only one that is.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Learning to Write Again

A couple of years ago, I wrote a pretty controversial post. It received a bit of a backlash (as much a backlash as you can get for a part-time blogger who isn't very well known), and suddenly, I lost my passion to write. At first, I thought it was just the fact that I didn't have time. My wife and I just had our first child, I was getting more responsibility in my role with DiscipleMakers, and writing became the first thing that went. I wrote a bit more throughout the year of 2014, but it was sporadic and I lacked a desire to do so. It became a duty, a chore, nothing more than another job to do because, hey, I had 170 followers or so.

Then I started writing, but refusing to post any content. It never “felt” right. The layout of my blog is dated and lacks professionality. I didn't like the topic. I was fearful of the response. That was when it hit me why I refused to write. I was fearful. I became a writer for man's approval, rather than for an audience of one. And as soon as there was disapproval, I withered away.

Let me be clear, there's wisdom in what and how to post. Some folks post content just to stir the pot (Christian Bloggers included), and others specialize in blogging about controversial things. Some websites are meant to equip the majority of the body of Christ as culture turns, and some are meant to call out the hypocrisy of the church. And some had a vision for where they were going, only to come back to square one (me).

I'm in process. I'm not sure what I want to write about. I don't know if I want to keep just with the theme of escapism. What I do know is that I want to write for the Glory of God. I want to process through life with a Gospel-centered lens. And I want to engage with people who both agree and disagree, without backing down from the beauty and truth of the scriptures, but also seeking to understand with compassion and grace.

In all of this, I'm learning to write again. I'm learning to write for a specific audience. The audience isn't you. It's not just for me, either. I'm learning to write for an audience of One. To God be the glory and honor forever.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Self-Righteousness Kills Love

"Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her." - Jesus, talking to the pharisees concerning a woman caught in adultery.  (John 8:7)

I was recently talking to Heather and others about some struggles I had been having with another person.  It was someone I had known for a long time, and, to be honest, was annoyed that I was having to deal with another selfish interaction from this person.  I finally said out loud, "Why can't they just get their freaking act together!"  

The words barely escaped my mouth before I realized the implications of that statement.  

It implies that I have my act together 

It implies that I am NOT selfish

It implies that I am my own savior

As I started to process this more, I realized the graveness of my current belief.  If I truly believe that I am better than people because I have done something to earn even an iota of my standing with God,  John 1 says I am a liar and do not practice the truth (vs. 6, 8, 10).  It means I'm deceived in how much I truly owed God.   Matthew 18:21-35 speaks directly to this:

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants.[g] 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.[h] 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant[i] fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii,[j] and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers,[k] until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

This passage is convicting because it is an illustration of my outburst.  The Gospel says I've been forgiven an insurmountable debt because Jesus died on my behalf.  I am a wicked, desperate, rebellious sinner who was saved not on any merit of my own, but on the merit of Jesus' blood.  And here, someone annoys me for the umpteenth time, and I have the nerve to say "Get your act together?!"  How can I say that if the very thing Jesus said to me was, "you don't need to get your act together to be saved, you just need to follow me?"  
This is why self-righteousness kills love

Gospel love is, in it's very nature, sacrificial love.  It's rooted in a God who entered the muck and mire of human sinfulness, brokenness, and mortality to rescue a people that, quite honestly, weren't all that interested in Him.  Gospel love is patient (I Cor. 13), as God loved us even when we didn't show anything in return.  And Gospel love demands a response, but not a prerequisite.  

Self-righteousness destroys this, because it demands change as a prerequisite.  It demands change at your expected pace.  It demands tailored results... tailored to our timetables, our wants, our selfishness, our agendas.  

The Gospel does have an agenda, but it's one rooted in confidence that while we are transformed from one degree of glory to the next, God's acceptance is not found in having your act together, but in trusting that He'll re-make us in ways that we never thought possible.  

So how do we lay down our self-righteousness?  

By asking God to show us the depth and breadth of our own sinfulness

By gazing at the cross over and over again, realizing He died for you

By confidently knowing that in every relationship, you are the predominant cause of tension and frustration... and also confidently knowing that you are still loved and accepted if you trust Christ.

A couple days later, after my outburst, I was talking with a friend about how I was feeling from my earlier irritated attitude.  My response?  "I can't believe they have to put up with such a self-righteous jerk like me.  It's amazing that they would want to still love me."  It's such a great picture of the Gospel.

Because of this, my love for them has grown, and more importantly, my love for the Gospel has grown, hoping that this person, and others who don't know Christ, would see the deep love He has for sinners.