Monday, July 31, 2017


Recently, I was speaking with a physician in a difficult specialty, and he said that it was typically his religious patients who would rather not put things off. "It is usually the people of faith," he said, "that would rather just know." 

It struck me as an interesting statement. Most patients in his office would probably rather have no news than bad news, his work being what it is. Most patients would probably even be content to not know at all, but just to guess and to play around and to see if things can get better for them without having to say any so dreaded words. 

But the people of faith want to know. Sooner, rather than later. 

There's a certain tension for us people of faith around this idea of knowing. On one hand, we know what we know - we know that God is good, that God loves us, that God both created and redeemed the world. We know that the Word of God has been given to us so that we might know Him better. But there's this nagging little voice that always whispers, You don't really know. And it reminds us of all the things we can simply never know. 

That is the mystery of God. I'm not at all saying that God is unknowable; His Word promises otherwise. But we plainly confess that we see as through a glass, but darkly.  

And the unbelieving world calls us on it. They mock us for claiming to know something we could never prove (and thus, in the world's eyes, never really know). They chastise us for our arrogance about our knowing anything at all. They tell us it's all wishes and hopes and dreams, and these things are but the vapors of knowing. They aren't real knowledge at all. 

Yet we build our lives around this knowing and unknowing, this knowing what we cannot possibly know and knowing that we cannot know it. That's what faith is. It's believing beyond what we can see. 

Then we hear something like this from someone like this doctor - and this is something I've observed in my own ministry and heard from others, as well - and it just brings this tension to the surface all over again. People of faith are a people confident in their unknowing, but they are the ones most determined to know. 

Maybe it goes back to what I was saying last week about seeking being finding. Maybe our mere willingness to ask the questions is, in itself, our answer. I don't know. 

Maybe it's a lot of things. Maybe it's that we have nothing to fear. Maybe it's that we have everything to gain. Maybe it's because we know that our God answers our prayers, and we just want to know for sure what to pray for. Maybe it's because we believe in the sanctity of life and our responsibility to care for it, even our own, at all costs. Maybe it's because we believe in healing, but we cannot be healed unless we know we are sick. 

Maybe it's because we embrace the opportunity to know something we never knew before. Maybe it's because we know that in knowing something new, we will likely discover something new about the unknowable. Maybe we understand that when our lens shifts, we see something in the heartbeat of God that we never could have understood before. 

Maybe we're actually quite restless in our knowing unknowing and we're just desperate to know something for sure, for real. 

Maybe we're just a people who believe we can only find the answers if we're willing to ask the questions.

Who knows?

This world talks a lot about how little we people of faith know. It laughs at us. It mocks us. It belittles us for our faith. But if this doctor is right, we are the people least afraid of knowing. We are the ones least intimidated by the answers. We are the ones least willing to stake our lives on what we do not know.

So perhaps we know something after all.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Please Play on the Lawn

If it's true that those who seek understand, and if we're all just trying to figure all this out, then why are we not doing a better job of figuring it out together?

There has always been an "in-crowd" among God's people, for whatever reason. First, it was the Levites and the priests, who thought they were somehow special because of their place in God's community. Then, there were the Pharisees, and we all know how that turned out. But even after the institution of the Church, as the disciples and apostles traveled throughout the region spreading the Good News of the Christ who came to, among other things, tear down the walls of the in-crowd and let all peoples flood into His courtyard, we still see that there's something taking shape, even as early as Acts 5.

"The believers had a common faith in Jesus as they met on Solomon's Porch. None of the other people dared to join them, although everyone spoke highly of them." (v. 12)

Excuse me? The message of redemption for all, the testimony of those who had walked with a Man who showed no favoritism, the very beginnings of a radical new faith are taking shape, and they've already set themselves up at a distance from others? The new Christians have staked out Solomon's Porch, and no one dares to join them there?

That ought to make us weep. It ought to make us weep, but it probably doesn't because honestly, most of us are still doing the same thing.

We're acting like this God thing is something special, and it is, but we're acting more like it makes us something special. We're acting like it's something just for us, like you'd have to be one of us to understand it. We act like the gatekeepers of the Kingdom, making sure that anyone who might dare approach the throne of God know that we are the ones who have it all figured out. 

We want the world to look at us and think highly of us, like we're doing something favored that the rest of the world can't do. And the early church had it. They met on Solomon's Porch and everyone thought highly of them, but no one dared try to come to the porch to chat. No one dared try to sit in on their meetings. No one dared pretend that Christianity was an open door. Note that this verse says absolutely nothing about what's happening in Solomon's Foyer.

Heavens, no! For we are the keepers of the door, so we dwell and we dialogue on the porch.

Forget that our Savior Himself tore open the curtain of the Temple. Forget that He broke open the graves. Forget that He shook the very foundations of the earth so that all of the holy things that had so long been done in secret would be done now in the open, not just for all to see, but for all to be a part of. Forget all that. For we are the keepers of the door.

And we shall die on this porch.

I don't know what it is. I don't know why God's people have done this throughout their history; I don't know why we continue to do it. Jesus came and went to the outsiders, and as soon as He's gone, those who "had a common faith"in Him - those who wholeheartedly believed - started curmudgeoning. Get off my lawn.

It's almost like Jesus didn't just tell them a story of amazing Grace through the witness of the woman, the leper, the blind, the arrogant, the afflicted, the lame, the Samaritan....

I gotta tell you - I just don't get grace without these witnesses. I don't understand without their testimony. Everything I know about God, I know through the broken, through the beaten, through the belittled. Everything I know, I learned from someone who would probably never dare to join me on Solomon's Porch. 

Unless, of course, I invite them. 

Please, please, please - for the sake of us who love God, who have a common faith in Jesus, who ache for the kind of love and grace and forgiveness and hope that He lived for - please play on the lawn. Trample the grass. Catch frisbees. Chase fireflies. I'll come play with you. And if we get a little tired, that's okay. Come on up to the porch, and we'll pour ourselves a couple of glasses of Living Water. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Seeking to Understand

Most of us seek in order to understand. We believe that if we set out on a path toward the answers, we will one day arrive and know all that it is that we've wanted to know. We believe this about God, especially, and that's why we spend our lives attempting to grow in the faith, to know more, to understand better this God who created us, called us, and calls us home to Him. 

We even hold onto verses that promise that "he who seeks, finds" as proof positive that if we just keep at it, we'll get there. It may not be until this life is over (which is the popular Christian idea), but we'll get there. We will find what it is that we seek?

But what if the seeking itself is the finding?

There's a little verse tucked away in Proverbs that changes the way that we should think about what it means to seek. "Evil people do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand everything." (28:5)

That verse says so much, but what we have to notice right away is what it doesn't say: it doesn't contain that little word that we love so much to add to our Christian faith. It doesn't say will. It doesn't say those who seek will understand everything. You know, maybe one day. When God wants us to. Those who seek do understand everything. 

So there must be something about the seeking.

It's got to be a humility thing. That's all I can figure. Because the Christians who are so confident that they actually understand everything, the ones who are so sure they're right on all accounts, are those that it's so often clear to the rest of us that they have no clue. But those who confess that they're just doing their best, that they're just trying to figure this all out, who plainly admit that they might be wrong - that the revelation of God is indeed developing - they're the ones who most seem to have their finger on the pulse of this whole thing. And what is it that they're doing that the first group of Christians is not?

They're still seeking. They're just trying to find God and the holy in this world. And in an honest, humble, faithful effort in such seeking, perhaps they have found it and do not even know. 

I'm struck by all of the things that I seem to understand when I'm just trying to find God's heartbeat in this world, things that I could never have figured out on my own or by sheer hard work. It's when I'm looking for God's creational intent that I discover brokenness and understand what it truly means. It's when I'm searching for God's tears of grief that I figure out heartbreak. It's when I'm seeking some kind of real authority that I understand the false voices of the world. It's not because I've necessarily found God, that I would know fully and well what creational intent, grief, or authority are in any way that I could put them into words or anything like that; it's just that in looking for them, I am better able to see all that they are not. 

Maybe it's the same way with God Himself. In seeking Him, our eyes are open to better understand all the things that are not Him...and precisely how and why they're not. Only in seeking the God who will never fail us can we truly understand all those things that let us down time after time after time. Only in seeking the God who loves us can we honestly look at something and say, "That's not love." Only in looking for God can we find Him, but with our eyes wide open for holy things, it becomes piercingly clear what is nowhere close. So we look around and know more than maybe we thought we knew because at the very least, we can say, "That's not it." 

That's not it. That's not what I'm looking for. That's not what I'm after. And all of a sudden, all of the shadows start to come into the light and I don't know, maybe it does make sense. Maybe the best that we really can do is not so much to find.

Maybe it's just to seek. 

Those who seek the Lord understand everything.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

God's Will

The persons in the Gospels who came to Jesus, the psalmist who prayed from the depths of his heart, essentially everyone in all the Scriptures knew that the God to whom they prayed was already working on it. They trusted that God already was who He said He was, that what they were asking for in accordance with His character was already in progress.

The persons of the Scriptures believed in a God named, "I Am."

The persons of today, not so much.

Christians of today have become far too acquainted with a little idea called "God's Will," and God's Will is something that almost always is put somewhere in the future. God's Will is whatever God will do whenever He feels like it, but not usually today. Almost never today.

And this is how we pray. You hear it all the time. We hold the hand of someone who is battling against some vicious cancer, and we pray for "God's Will" in "God's time" - God's future time when He "will" decide what to do. We don't pray for God's healing right now. We don't pray for God's presence in this moment. We don't pray for or to "I Am."

Or we present our child before the altar or the congregation, intending to dedicate him or her and bless this child in the name of the Lord. In doing so, we pray this beautiful prayer over our children, entrusting them to God's care and praying for God to guide them and to use their life "as they grow." Not today. Not in our arms right now. But the expanse of their life as it stretches out before them, particularly, we think, in those days when they are able to do something. We seem to forget that God is in our children's lives right now, even as those children are dependent upon being in our arms. Because we've given them to God's Will, not God's now.

This is how we're living our lives, and we're calling them holy. But it's not what we ever see in the Scriptures. It's not the God we see revealed in His own Word. It would have been a completely foreign concept to the people of Israel, to the Jews and the Gentiles in the New Testament, to spend their lives of faith living tomorrow instead of today. That's not what God called them to. That's not what God said. And that's not what God promised.

We're so hung up on heaven, on this idea that everything God wants to give us exists only in paradise. Only in the life that is after this one. Only tomorrow. And our hang-up on heaven is killing us. It's killing us! It's convincing us of precisely what we already know - "God will God's Will" - instead of the very thing that His entire testimony is meant to remind us - "God IS."

At the burning bush, God Is. Long after their years, God IS the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When the baby Jesus is born, He is named Immanuel - God IS with us. Not God will be with us. God even tells us that He is the same yesterday and today and forever, but most of us are reading our Bibles to discover the God of yesterday, holding out the hope of Heaven in the God of forever, and completely forgetting that this very same God declared that HE IS today.

No wonder we're stuck praying all these polite little powerless prayers. We're looking right past "I Am" in devotion to "God's 'Will'."

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Faith is not polite; it is bold, courageously holding onto the promises of God. But neither is it demanding, and that is the danger we face we when decide to stop saying "please." Our own boldness may grate against our good manners, and we may start to believe we're telling God what to do. Or worse, we might start thinking we can tell God what to do.

Don't be fooled - there's not a beggar in the Gospels who demands anything from God. There's not a psalmist who prays a single word with a sense of entitlement. Even Job, who knows that he is undeserving of the troubles that have come his way, does not insist upon deserving something better. Not once in all the Scriptures does a faithful man turn to God and say, "You owe me."

Rather, what we see is men and women taking God at His word. What we see is them understanding who God is, who they are, and how this dynamic is supposed to play out in the lives of the faithful. What we see is not them demanding things for their own sake; they are simply crying out for God to be who He's said He is. And they are trusting in that.

It's the way that we call a doctor when we are sick. We know that the doctor is trained in the science of medicine, and we trust that he knows how to help us get better. It's not demanding to ask a doctor to speak when we are sick. It's exactly what we'd expect them to do. It's the way we call a lawyer when we're in legal trouble, the way we call a pastor when our hearts are aching. It's the way that when the pipes break, we call a plumber. We need not demand that the plumber fix things; we called him because we expect that he can and will. After all, that's why he became a plumber.

So it's not demanding of us to expect from God the things that He's promised to do. It's why He's God.

But we have to understand what else we are tempted to do that we don't see in the biblical witness. Specifically, we're prone to tell God when and how to act in accordance with His character and promise. The characters in our testaments don't do this. A few times, they have their suggestions, but they are perfectly content, really, to let God do God the way He wants to.

For example, the father comes to Jesus and says that his child is sick, and Jesus turns to go to the man's home. The man says, "Oh, no, no. That's not necessary. I know that You can just say the word." So Jesus speaks the word. Did the man demand that He do it this way? Not at all.

Jesus takes the blind man aside and rubs dirt and spit in his eyes. This wouldn't be my favorite way to be healed, but the man doesn't stop Him. The man doesn't say, "Oh, no, Jesus. When I asked You to heal me, I didn't mean like this." Did the man demand that He do it differently? Nope.

In fact, in all the Gospels, the only man who ever demands that Jesus do something differently that He intends to do Peter. And when he talks back to the Lord, Jesus tells Him without mincing words, "Get behind me, Satan."

See, Satan is demanding. The faithful are simply trusting. They take God at His word and are confident that He is doing what He's promised to do.

Which leads to an interesting commentary in and of itself...(stay tuned).

Monday, July 24, 2017


There's one little word missing from the Gospels that ought to change the way that we, as Christians pray. That little word is "please." Of all the men and women who came to Jesus, begging for His healing, longing for His touch, aching for His forgiveness, perhaps only once did any of them say, "Please." (And then only perhaps because the details on that particular story differ between tellings and only one telling includes the politeness of the asker.)

Even in the Psalms, known for their deep, heartfelt prayers to God, "please" is conspicuously absent. David, who boldly asked for whatever he wanted in the name of God, who asked for redemption and for the persecution of his enemies, who confessed his sins and pleaded for forgiveness, did not insert a "please." 

So why do so many of our own prayers begin this way?

"Lord, I just ask you to please...." "God, please...." "Jesus, I know it feels like a lot to ask, but if you would please...." 

Dear demons, please get out of my life. Thank you in advance. Sincerely, me. 

I get it. Most of us were raised to be polite. We were raised to treat others with this kind of respect, knowing that whatever anyone does for us is essentially a grace because we should never expect favors, never count our chickens before they hatch. We should always say please and thank you because we're essentially putting others out, and it shows that we recognize this and respect both their time and their free will. 

But that is not at all how we're called to relate to God. Not in the slightest bit. Bold faith doesn't have time to be polite. It's too busy believing. 

And God wants a lot of things from us, but respect isn't one of them. At least, not in the way that we often want to give it. God wants our honor. God wants our faith. God wants our trust. He wants us to believe in Him, to know Him, to love Him. Can you imagine what the church would be if an unbeliever walked through our doors and asked, "What's this all about?" and we said, "Oh, we respect God very much." 

Respect is idol worship; it's not the deeply relational bond that God desires to have with His people. 

But here we are in a Christianity where most of us can't seem to pray at all without this measure of respect, where we buffer our requests with "please" and think that that's doing something for our faith. It is.'s killing it. What would happen if we would stand on the sides of the road and cry out to Jesus the way that the blind men did? Not "please give us our eyesight back," but "have mercy on me!" 

What would happen if we pushed our way through the crowd and reached out and touched Him? Not pushed our way through to ask permission to please for just a second touch Him, but just pushed through and touched Him? What would happen if we prayed the way Jesus prayed to His Father - "if it be Your will" instead of "please, God..."? 

What would happen if we prayed like it was a promise and not an inconvenience? What would happen if we prayed like we believed instead of wished? What would happen if we prayed like we were children of a loving God rather than a bother? 

It would change the way we pray. And it would change the way we encounter Him when we do.

This is not the time to polite. It's the time to be bold. Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Weapons of This World

Jesus turns away the sword; the Rock of Ages has no need of the weapons of this world. David refused Saul's armor; the weapons of this world made the mighty warrior clumsy. And it's not just these two. All throughout God's story, He demonstrates again and again that His battles are not won with the weapons of this world.

It's how Gideon brings down Midian with a bunch of clay pots. It's how Samson kills the Philistines with a jawbone and flaming foxes. It's why the walls of Jericho fall to a shout. Over and over and over again, God shows that it's not the world's weapons that win battles.

But here we are, and most of us buy into the idea that we have to fight the way the world fights if we ever hope to win them over. It's why we have churches with business plans, Christians who won't stop until they reach the corner office, the faithful falling into traps of cynicism, sarcasm, and passive-aggressiveness. 

It's...ugly. It's unbecoming of a people of God. And it makes us just as clumsy as a young David wielding a far-too-big sword. We just can't fight this way.

We'll never win.

We'll never win if we go running head-first into hard walls, thinking that by sheer power and strategy, they will fall. We'll never win if we hold both hands on the sword without a light to see by. We'll never win if we buy into the myth that the dullest sword is a danger to the sharpest faith.

The world will never see who God is if His people profess to be nothing more than the best swordsmen. Who is this God of yours that He makes you no more than any other soldier of this world?

Who is this God of yours who speaks love but who makes you speak only the best cynicism? Who is this God of yours who proclaims so-called truth, though your passive-aggressiveness makes the world have to dig for it? Who is this God of yours who has given you the victory, though you continue to fight so hard? Who is this God of yours who has made you somebody, but you refuse to believe it until your name is on the desk? Who is this God of yours....

At every turn, when we try to fight with the weapons of this world, we show our God to be false. Plain and simple. We show that our God is nothing more than we are able to make of Him by the world's standards, by the world's definitions. And the world isn't stupid - they see this more clearly than we do. 

But show up with clay pots. Show up with jawbones. Show up with trumpets, with buckets of water, with vegetables. Show up with a Cross bearing down on your shoulders. Show up with the weapons that are not of this world and all of a sudden, this world sees what God is really made of. Not because we showed up to fight.

But because He did. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Giants Fall

It should come as no surprise to us that the warrior Jesus need not fight with swords; God's been setting that story up since way back in the Old Testament.

It's the story of David and Goliath all over again. Except this time, it is God who fights like David.

Remember this story? David is the small little shepherd boy who comes to check on his brothers on the front lines of fighting against the Philistines. While there, he discovers that there's actually not much fighting going on. The Philistine champion, a Goliath of a man, steps forward every morning and challenges any man of Israel to a one-on-one battle for victory, but there are no takers, which means the two armies have essentially been staring at each other from opposite sides of the trenches for weeks. 

David, who has essentially zero experience fighting men, but has a bit of a background in wildlife extermination services (he has killed a bear and a lion in defense of his sheep), steps forward and says, basically, "I'll go." So Saul outfits him with a shield and a sword, which are too big and make the courageous David clumsy. So he casts them off, picks up a couple of smooth stones and says, "These'll do." He stands against the giant with rocks, and he wins.

Fast forward to Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who comes to check on His people on the front lines of fighting. They're struggling against a Roman occupation that doesn't know what to do with them and a Pharisaical leadership whose burden is far too heavy for Israel to bear. Every day, Israel does her best to be the people God has called her to be, but in the face of such opposition and obstacle, she's not really gaining any ground. 

Jesus, who spends His time loving men, not fighting them, steps forward and declares, "I'll go." And come He did. And the men of this world who were so long waiting for a warrior do their best to outfit Him with the weapons of this world. They try to give Him a sword. Again and again and again, they try to convince Him that this is what He needs. But the sword is not what Jesus wants. This is not a battle to be won by the sword. So He pushes them away.

And then the Rock stands against the giants, and He wins.

Right? It's the same old story, just recast into a different light. We start with a shepherd, end with a Rock, and giants fall because of it. We wouldn't dare say that David wasn't a warrior, so how could we possibly conclude that Jesus wasn't? He's simply another one who does not fight with the weapons of this world.

He doesn't need to.

And that, too, is a good reminder for the rest of us who stand on this side of the trench and call ourselves warriors. 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Touch of Humility

The authority that Jesus used to fight for those whom God had given Him is the same authority that He gave to the disciples when He sent them out to heal the sick and cast out demons. And it is the same authority He's given to us to fight for the "least of these" in the name of His love. But the disciples learned an important lesson when they went out with His authority, and it draws us back into the very heart of Jesus Himself. 

It's not hard to think that the disciples were like many of us would be - arrogant. Given all authority on heaven and on earth, given the power to heal the sick and to cast out demons, given the very power that Christ Himself wielded so awesomely, it's easy to assume that this authority went quickly to their heads. Not only were they part of the inner circle, but now they were part of the power play, and the people who had been coming to Jesus were now coming to them. While they had heard so many call out the name of Jesus from the sides of the road, now, those voices were calling out their names as they traveled through the land Jesus had sent them to.

Hey, maybe some friends were even dropping persons through their roofs. We just don't know. We aren't told what those journeys looked like, what the disciples did or how they did it while they were out on their own. 

But we are given one recap of the disciples' adventures when a man comes to Jesus and begs for a demon to be cast out. "Your disciples tried," the man says, "But they were unsuccessful." And after Jesus speaks what may have been similar to the disciples' own words and the demon is finally cast out, the disciples gather around Him. How'd you do that? How come we couldn't?

And Jesus says, "This type of demon can only be cast out by prayer and fasting."

What Jesus is really saying is that the disciples seemed to have forgotten one key component to wielding authority: humility. They had forgotten that the authority and the power that they had did not come from themselves, that it was dependent upon the One who had given it to them (prayer is the relationship with this One), and they had forgotten that even if they had all authority in heaven and on earth and all the power that came with that, there was still something in them that would not be satisfied by that (fasting reminds us of what we truly ache for, something which cannot be fulfilled by anything but God). 

That's how I think we can be reasonably sure that at some point, the power went to the disciples' heads. Because in this moment when authority failed them, Jesus says the problem was not authority, but humility.

It's also an invitation to go back over the way that Jesus wields authority through the Gospels and to see the absolute humility in His own actions. Quite often, Jesus is asked (usually by Pharisees), "And just who do you think you are?" You know, forgiving sins and all that. And every time, Jesus responds with a quiet display of power that shows humility, not arrogance. He doesn't say, "I'm the Son of God, for crying out loud!" He never says, "Hey, watch this: I'm the man." He never brags, "I am the stuff" (fill in your own less-Christianed word here, if you so choose). He always says, "I am the Father's Son, doing the Father's will, in the way that the Father chooses because it is the Father who sent me." Not exactly in those words, but that is the tone of His reply.

And He backs that up with prayer and fasting. He's always sneaking away to pray, always taking time to talk to God. He's always bringing the relationship that He has with the One who sent Him to the forefront, always making sure He stays in His proper place here. And He consistently reminds everyone, disciples included, that nothing in this world satisfies Him. He doesn't rely on this world to fulfill Him. His satisfaction comes from somewhere else. So we often see Him turning away what the world would give Him and seeking the Lord (fasting).

It's important for us to be able to trace this humility through Jesus's ministry, particularly through His authority and to see how important it is for these things to be held in balance with one another, especially as we attempt to fulfill our own ministry to "go and do likewise." The authority, He has given us, and it exalts us over the demons of this world. The humility, we must bring on our own, that we never forget that God is still over us. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

All Authority

The reason it's difficult for most of us to think of Jesus as a warrior is because the battles He won don't look like much of a fight. Blindness is lifted, lameness is healed, demons are cast out, and it doesn't look like He's really done much of anything - no blood, no gore, no sweat, no swords. Just...words.

Some warrior....

But that's the beauty about who Jesus is. He doesn't have to get into all of that. His war paint is the very flesh that covers His holy countenance. And the weapon He wields is absolute authority. (Or what the Scriptures often call "all authority," as in "all authority on heaven and on earth.") 

The very concept of such authority blows our minds. The very idea that such an authority even exists is difficult for us to grasp. Because authority is an idea that has suffered severely in our culture (and perhaps for a very long time, but we'll get to that tomorrow.) 

Our culture says that you only have as much authority as others are willing to give you. You might be the boss, but if the employees don't listen to what you say, you have no authority. You might be the parent, but if your children don't heed your words, you have no authority. You might be an expert in your field, but if the masses don't care what you have to say, then you have no authority in saying it. In today's world, authority has become subjective - it's a deference we pay to one another when we feel like it, but it's nothing on its own.

That's why it's so easy for this world to look at Jesus, even to look at Him speaking with such authority, and think it's got little, if anything at all, to do with Him. Whatever Jesus was able to do, it was because the people in His time let Him do it, not because He had the authority to do it. And that may have been all well and good for them, but we - today's people - aren't so blind, so sheepish, so gullible. This Jesus, He has to prove Himself to us. 

Which He can only do if we let Him.

It's not just modern persons who have this problem with Jesus; the Pharisees are showing signs of it even as His contemporaries. Every time Jesus forgives sins, the Pharisees gasp and say, Who does this man think He is? In other words, what authority does He have to do such a thing?

It's the same question we're asking today, this question about authority, but here's what we have to notice: unlike the earthly authority that we sometimes afford one another, an authority that is limited by our willingness to submit to it, Jesus's authority does not depend upon what men think of it. 

He forgives sinners whether the Pharisees think He can or not. 

And everywhere we turn in the Gospels, that's the kind of battle we see Jesus fighting. That's the warrior side of Him coming out. On every page, in every story, on every street, Jesus is wielding His absolute authority for the sake of those who believe in Him. He forgives sins, casts out demons, heals ills, washes wounds, and all by a simple word. He fights for the sake of every single one that He meets, but He needn't draw a single drop of blood. 

Which makes it all the more remarkable that He would spill it. 

Monday, July 17, 2017


When you think about Jesus, what comes to mind? 

The cross, sure, but some Christianized - rather than Christlike - version of it. You know, polished silver or gold. No blood. Perhaps it is His long hair and sandals that first come to mind, or the seemingly unpredictable nature of His actions. Maybe you think of the ragtag group of disciples that He brought together around Him. Maybe you marvel at the miracles He performed.

Maybe when you think about Jesus, you think about all the things God promised about Him and all the things the people were expecting - King of kings, wonderful counselor, mighty God, Prince of Peace. Messiah. Immanuel. Rabblerouser. Son of David. Son of Man. Son of God.

What would you say if I said "Warrior"?

That's not the image of Jesus that we often have, not in the slightest. Jesus? A warrior? He never once picked up a sword. In fact, when one of His disciples picked up a sword, it was Jesus who healed the man wounded by it. He never once stormed His disciples into battle; He walked them into open doors. Violent mobs often gathered around Him, but He never once fought back. Never even raised a fist. Never even raised a finger.

Everything Jesus did had this quiet sense of calm about it, even in the midst of raging storms. Even when the winds were blowing troubled, even when the seas were violently tossed, even when the disciples were screaming and the crowds were pressing in and the pitchforks were being lit, Jesus is just sort of...Jesus. There's nothing war-like about this man, so how could you ever mistake Him for a warrior?

And yet, read the Gospels again. Go through every story. Pay attention to every encounter that Jesus has with the persons who have sought Him out, those who have stood and called His name, those who were brought before Him, those who fell at His knees. Every single one of these persons, Jesus fought for. 

For the blind men pushed to the outskirts, who won't stop crying out His name even when the crowds tell them to quiet down, He fights. He makes sure they are heard, brings them to the front, guarantees that the crowd sees them. For the social outcasts pushed to the margins, those who wouldn't be given a second thought, He fights. He makes sure they are known, that the people can't stop thinking about what they've done. For those caught in their own nets, trapped in their own stories, He fights. He pulls on a loose thread here, a tough knot there until they know there's a way out. 

Over and over and over again, Jesus makes sure that there's a victory. Wherever He goes, He leaves a win in His wake.

That's not what we often think about when we think about Jesus. We think about more tender things, like grace or forgiveness. We think about love. We think about gentleness and peace and the overwhelming unshakableness of who He is. But make no mistake about it, this tender Son of Man is also a fierce Son of God, and everywhere He goes, He's fighting for someone. Fighting hard core. 

Even without ever touching a sword. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Quiet Lives of Faith

Those who are called to preach the Cross must also be willing to carry it. That does not mean, however, that only pastors are called to bear the Cross; Jesus says we all are, every believer. It's part of what it means to follow Him. But in a world that is so starkly divided between secular and sacred, most of us have forgotten what that means. 

Instead of living quiet lives of faith, we're living lives of quiet faith. And that's not at all what Jesus called us to.

A quiet life of faith bears its Cross constantly, but so naturally that it's unobtrusive. Passioned faith is a constant companion, but it is not a siren or a flashing light. There's nothing to draw attention to the Cross of the quiet faithful except for the grace and dignity with which they bear it. It's the way that love poured out of Jesus on the road to Golgotha, stumbling under the weight of the heavy burden, but all eyes were on Him. Not on the Cross. 

No one was looking at the burden He was carrying. No one was looking at the giant piece of wood. They were looking at the blood trickling down His face, the tears mixed with sweat as He set His eyes on Calvary. They were looking at the quiet way that He was carrying Himself - and His Cross - and the way that it pointed to nothing else but love. Pure, undefeatable, indefatigable love. 

That's not the Cross that most of us carry. It's not the way we carry it. Instead of bearing our Cross on our shoulders, we bury it in our closets, going in for a visit whenever we have time or whenever we need a touch of the sacred or whenever it seems pertinent to be a person of faith. We keep our Crosses tucked away, so that no one should see us carrying them. So that no one should see us burdened by a living Love. Were it not for our occasional mention of it, no one would know we even had a Cross.

That's what I'm talking about when I talk about a life of quiet faith. Most of us are living with our Crosses cleanly tucked away so that when and if the world sees them, it's not faith; it's fashion. We don't speak dignity and grace in the way that we carry them, and we certainly don't speak love.

It would be as if those on the streets of Jerusalem that morning saw nothing but the beam of wood. It would be ask if Christ need not have been there at all, as if the blood and sweat and tears gave no depth, no emphasis, no meaning to the wood. Ah, there it is. That terrible, terrible cross.... What a horrible thing that is. What a terrible death. What a violent punishment. 

These thoughts require no Christ. They require no blood. They require no tears, no sweat. No dignity, no grace. They just are. 

And that's what the world sees of our quiet faith - it requires nothing. It just is.

No wonder they're not convinced.

What we need is to be a people of God who are unashamed to carry our Crosses, in public and everything. Who don't buy into the world's division between secular and sacred because all life is God's grace and every single moment is a breath of faith for those of us living it. This isn't some fashion accessory, something we pull out of the closet because it happens to go with our outfit. No, this is a calling, the burden of faith. And this world needs to see us carrying it, not as a billboard or a siren or a statement, but quietly, as an act of love and obedience, with dignity and grace.

This is true faith. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Burden of Leadership

When God pares down Gideon's army by sending all the fearful men home, Gideon stays. He's probably the most fearful man among them, demonstrated by a story that is written by fear at almost every turn, but God's mercy on the scared does not extend to their fearful leader.

God's grace for him is different.

And that's essentially true of everyone who is called to lead in God's work in the world, whether an Old Testament judge, a New Testament apostle, a stranger in a strange land, you, me. When God raises a person up to a place of position, the rules change a little bit. There becomes, by necessity, another way to go about it. 

Imagine if there wasn't. Imagine if God's mercy were the same for the commander as for the soldiers. Imagine a scene where Gideon amasses this army of 32,000 men to go and fight the Midianites and then God declares that anyone who is scared can go home...and Gideon leaves. We'd be left with 10,000 men standing around wondering what to do next. They hadn't heard God's call; they'd heard Gideon's. It was Gideon who was leading this sacred journey. Without him, it's just a war. 

Another example of the shifting burden of leadership takes place in Acts 16. Not long previously in Acts, the councils had determined that it was not necessary for believers in other parts of the earth to become circumcised when they came to faith. It was a foolish burden that some of the Jews had been trying to place on the converts, but the council would have none of it. Then it's decided in chapter 16 that Timothy will become part of the missionary efforts...and they circumcise him.

What gives?

Grace is different for those who are called to positions of prominence or power or influence. Grace is different for the leaders in God's kingdom. Imagine if it wasn't. Imagine if Timothy had to do nothing special in order to become a leader in the early church movement. Imagine if all it took from him was the same thing it took from anyone else - to just declare his belief and go out and live it. All over the region, you'd have men claiming to be leaders in the early church and you'd have factions and fragments going every which direction because there would be no outward sign that the man was committed to more than himself. As imperfect as circumcision was, it was nevertheless a bold statement that a man was giving everything to God. Starting with his foreskin.

It's the story of Christian leadership, of sacred, holy leadership, from the very beginning of time as we know it. Anyone who has been called by God has had a burden to bear for it. His grace has always been different for those called to pour it so freely on others. When the fearful go home, scared Gideon must stay. Though the believers do not have to be circumcised, anointed Timothy does. 

And the pastor who preaches the cross of Christ must also carry it.

Imagine if he didn't....

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Irrational Fear

Gideon's track record in fearfulness tells a powerful tale of just how irrational fear is and the crazy sorts of backwards things it can make us do.

When we first meet Gideon, he's threshing grain in a winepress. These are not familiar terms for most of us, who buy our grain already threshed and our wines aged, but what's important to know is the blueprint of these places. A threshing floor was a large, flat, open area of land that was good for beating the wheat to separate it. It was usually specifically built and might be ringed by rocks to set it apart from the rest of the farm property, but there wasn't a lot of shelter for a threshing floor; it was simply wide open (and had to be). A winepress, on the other hand, consisted of two large vats for pressing grapes. So there was at least some equipment lurking around there. When we talk about Gideon hiding in the winepress, we're likely talking about Gideon hiding in one of these vats.

Go back for a second to this story (Judges 6) - Gideon was hiding in the winepress, threshing his wheat there because he was afraid of the Midianites, who had already stormed through Israel and destroyed most of the crops. This enemy army was wreaking havoc on Israel, and Gideon was trying to preserve both his meager measure of grain and his very life. He feared what would happen if the Midianites came upon him on the open field of his threshing he crawls into an enclosed vat.

At least in an open field, he has a fighting chance of making a getaway! If they find him in the winepress, he's trapped.

Then God tells him to tear down the altars of his father, the offensive altars to the Baal gods. And here again, Gideon is scared. He's so scared that he won't do it in the light of day, lest he get caught in the act. So he waits until the dark of night and sneaks out to tear down the altars.

...Most persons would be afraid of the dark! Not only that, but without much light to see by, he's more exposed to anyone who might catch him because even though he thinks they cannot see him, he cannot see them. Once again, in an effort to escape his fear, he's trapped.

And then comes the most ridiculous scene of all. He's standing on the edge of the Midianite camp with his God-selected 300-man army, poised and ready to defeat the enemy and claim a victory for Israel. But he's still scared. He's still not sure about all of this. So God tells him that if he's scared, he can sneak into the Midianite camp and just listen to what they're saying about him. Then, he will know that this whole adventure is legit. 

So Gideon - fearful, afraid, scared-out-of-his-shorts Gideon, leaves his 300-man army behind and sneaks into the enemy camp with just one soldier to see what they're saying about him. It doesn't make any sense! He's afraid to fight them, but he walks right into the midst of their camp without backup? This seems like a good plan to him? This seems like the right response to fear? 

At every turn, Gideon is afraid. And at every turn, his fear leads him to do something more dumb than whatever just facing his fear would have led him to do. He's afraid to be found in the open field, so he hides in an enclosed vat. He's afraid to be found out in the day, so he destroys idols in the night, when he cannot see anyone who might sneak up on him. He's afraid to fight the enemy, so he strolls leisurely into their camp to catch a bit of their conversation. And at every turn, he's probably completely unaware how foolish his fear is making him. He probably doesn't know how ridiculous his response to fear is.

It's irrational. But then again, fear almost always makes us do irrational things. 

That's why it's best we just own our fears, then face them. That's why it's best we don't let fear change what we do. Because most of the time, what seems like a good idea in response to fear is actually incredibly silly and puts us in greater danger than what we were afraid of in the first place.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mighty Warrior

It is an interesting, and important, insight to look at Gideon's story and realize just how many men showed up to fight who were also scared to do so, but do you want to know the secret about this whole thing?

Gideon was afraid, too. 

That's right - the total number of men in Gideon's army who were afraid was not twenty-two thousand. It was twenty-two thousand...and one. In fact, if we go back just one chapter in the book of Judges (from chapter 7 to chapter 6), we can easily see just how scared Gideon is, even before God calls him to lead Israel into battle. 

When the messenger of the Lord appears to Gideon in verse 12, Gideon was beating out wheat in a winepress. Read that again, carefully. He was beating out wheat in a winepress. You don't have to be a Catholic to know that there's no wheat in wine. So what is he doing there? 

He's hiding.

He's hiding from the Midianites, who have been ruthlessly oppressing Israel for quite awhile. The raiding armies have destroyed Israel's crops, stolen and murdered their livestock, ravaged their land. Whatever tiny little bit of wheat Gideon has managed to both grow and harvest, he doesn't dare let Midian get their hands on, so he's hiding in a winepress, beating his wheat, trying to scrape together enough for a loaf of bread or maybe two. 

And by the way, this is one of the most hilarious scenes in the Bible if you let it play out in your head. Here's Gideon, this complete nobody in the nation of Israel, beating out the tiniest measure of secret wheat in a winepress, and the messenger of the Lord comes to him and says, "Hail, Mighty Warrior!" Gideon looks around panicked. He's in this winepress hiding from the mighty warriors. The messenger of the Lord greets one? Where is the Midianite lurking? Gideon cannot possibly imagine that the messenger means him. 

After a quick little back-and-forth, Gideon figures out that this is a messenger of the Lord and that he is, somehow, the mighty warrior, and the messenger of the Lord commands him to tear down his father's altar to the foreign god, Baal. And here again, we see how scared Gideon is.

Gideon took ten of his servants and did what the Lord had told him to do. However, he didn't do anything during the day. He was too afraid of his father's family and the men of the city, so he did it at night.

He's standing in a winepress, beating out wheat, talking with a messenger of the Lord who has already proven himself through one miraculous consuming fire, coming to terms with the idea that he might, in fact, be the mighty warrior the messenger was talking about, but he's still too scared to even tear down a single altar to a false god. 

But he does it under cover of darkness, his father seems okay with it, and he goes about amassing his army, of which 69% are sent home before they even get their boots wet because they confess to being afraid. Gideon's afraid! His boots aren't wet, either, but they're shaking. Yet, of the 22,001 scared men in Gideon's army, he is the one scared man to stay.

When God's finally whittled his troops down to a manageable 300 men, He tells Gideon to attack. The time is ripe! But if you're afraid, the Lord says. 

Right. ..."If." God knows Gideon, and Gideon's got a track record on this particular question. If you're afraid, sneak into the enemy camp and listen to what they're saying about you.

So here we are with an army whittled down to less than a third of its enlistment by the simple question of fear, yet the commander of these forces is probably the most fearful man there. But he shows up, too. That says something about this mighty warrior, doesn't it? 

It says something about his God, too. 

Monday, July 10, 2017


Before Israel had kings, she had judges - men and women who were raised up at just the right time to deliver Israel from herself once more and turn her back to the Lord who loves her. One of these judges was Gideon, and the story is a good one, although it's a bit of a mess from beginning to end.

One of the things that's interesting about Gideon's story is the scene where he is amassing his army to go and fight against Midian, who have been oppressing Israel for quite awhile as a result of her disobedience. Gideon, in the way that men always tend to do things, brings together as many soldiers as he possibly can, wanting to amass the biggest army he can. Then God tells him he's got too many soldiers, and he needs to send some of the home.

The first way that God pares down the army seems fairly simple: anyone who is afraid can go home. 

It's that simple. Scared? You're free to leave. Unsure about this whole thing? Here's your ticket out. If you are afraid to fight Midian, you're dismissed. 

And at that, the story goes (Judges 7), 22,000 men went home. 

Twenty-two thousand men were afraid. Twenty-two thousand men admitted to being scared to be a part of this army, at this particular time, at this particular place. When they've all turned and gone home, Gideon is left with just 10,000 men. Ten thousand. That's a fraction of what he started with, and not even a big fraction. Want to put some numbers on this?

Given the opportunity, 11 out of 16 men admitted to being scared. 11 out of 16 men went home. That's roughly 69% gone, just like that. That leaves 31% of the army Gideon thought he had amassed for himself. That's less than a third. 

Of course, if you know the story, you know that Gideon's army gets even smaller by the time he actually engages Midian in battle, down all the way from 32,000 to just 300 men as God pares down the numbers yet again at the river. But we're not going that far. Let's just stay with where we are right now - 22,000 out of 32,000 men are afraid. 11 out of 16. 69%. 

Those are big numbers, but here's another number that we should also look at: 32,000 out of 32,000 men showed up. 16 out of 16. 100%. Every single man that Gideon summonsed to be in his army, every single one that was of fighting age and was therefore expected to show up...showed up. Those who were not afraid and those who were scared. 22,000 men showed up to fight even though they were afraid to do so. 

That says something about those men. It says something about Gideon, perhaps, as a leader. It says something about the Lord. It says a lot of things, but I think it also says something about fear. 

We live in a world that tells us we don't have to do things if we're scared. We don't even have to try. Responsibility? What's that? Forget about it. Community? Ha! We don't owe anything to anyone else. Calling? God would never call us to do something we're afraid to do. He just doesn't work like that. 

We have all of these narratives that we tell ourselves in order to justify our not even showing up. We have all of these excuses we give because we're scared - and that doesn't even mean we're scared persons in general. Maybe it's just this. Maybe it's just this one time and this one place, maybe it's just this one thing. But by and large, most of us (11 out of 16? 69%? 22,000 out of 32,000 of us?) get scared and simply don't show up.

That's what I love about this story from the judgeship of Gideon. These men showed up. They showed up even though.... And God, our amazing God who says countless times through His Word, "Do not be afraid," acknowledges their fear. He knows it. He could have sent them home without a word, picking and choosing the men to stay and the men to go the way we sort through t-shirts at Wal-Mart, trying to find our size. He could have sent them home, knowing they were afraid but never acknowledging it. 

Instead, He's that God - that God who spends His entire Word trying to convince His people not to be afraid - who says, "But I know you are. I know you're afraid. I know some of you are still scared." And that doesn't mean He's always going to let the scared go home. That doesn't mean He accepts fear as an excuse. 

It just means He knows we're a people sometimes afraid. And given the chance, He'll speak to it. 

But we have to show up first. 

Friday, July 7, 2017

Never Changing

Every year, I read the Bible all the way through. Preachers in pulpits all across the world preach from the same liturgies. The seasons of Lent, Easter, Pentecost, Advent, Christmas, etc. come just at the same time, just as they always do. And it doesn't take long for even Christians to grow weary of this seemingly-cyclical faith. 

Always the same things, always the same times. Always the same words. Always the same stories. Always the same God. 

It seems like a recipe for complacency. It seems like a recipe for reduced effort. It seems like a very good reason why we should all only have to do all of this stuff once - read the Bible once, hear the sermons once, celebrate the seasons once. After all, if our God is never changing, why bother to do it more than once?

Because our never-changing God is also always new. That is His beautiful paradox.

Every time I read the Bible, I discover something new inside of it. Not because God is somehow changing, but because I am. Because something catches my heart in this season of life that went right past me last season. When I hear that sermon for the fourth time, my life is different than the first time I heard it (I hope), or even the second or third. So something new jumps out at me. When the Advent season predictably begins again, I find that for different reasons, I'm ready for a season of anticipation and waiting.

But it's not just that my life changes. It's not just that my circumstances are different. Some things about our never-changing God are just simply new.

He's never worked in the world in precisely the same way He works in it today. How could He? He's never had this world to work in until exactly now. He's never spoken in the voices that He speaks through today. How could He? They haven't lived before now. He's never done precisely the thing He's doing today because until this very moment, today didn't exist. And so our never-changing God is always new. His completely-predictable character is always engaged in entirely-unpredictable love. 

Isn't that amazing? 

So I listen because I hear His voice differently, and I speak because He's speaking anew through mine. I pray because I seek Him in different ways, and I'm comforted because He comes to me in radically unexpected ways. I worship because my heart sings a different song depending on what's going on in my life, and He floods my heart with praise in the most beautiful way that's never been done before because until this life, He's never had my heart to work with. 

Christians are so easily bored by our liturgies, so easily wearied of our ruts and routines. But there's absolutely nothing boring or weary about our God. There's nothing so old that it's not made new in every breath, nothing so predictable that it can't take our breath away in an unexpected moment. Nothing so routine that it can't echo fresh through a voice that God has never used before. Never used because this moment is its own, and God is doing something radically new in it.

He always has. He still is. He forever will. 

Our never changing God, who is always doing a new thing. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

On Calling

If you're anything like me, you've invested a lot of time and energy into figuring out what God wants you to do with your life (for His glory, of course). And if you're anything like me, you go to bed a lot of nights not feeling like you're anywhere closer to that call than you were when you woke up that morning.

The trouble is that there are far more voices in this world than just one, and it's so easy for others to speak distraction into our lives under the guise of holy work. It's so easy for others to say, "Oh, but I see this incredible gift in you for ______," even when the very thought of ______ leaves us dry.

Those voices are different in different seasons, sometimes even coming close to the heart of what God's truly called us to do. Sometimes enticing us into the almost, but not quite of calling. And that's what's dangerous.

It's so easy to jump at the opportunity to be good at something. It's so easy to get excited about something that it seems that others are excited about for you. When someone says they know exactly where you fit in this world, it's easy to want that to be true because isn't that what we all want? To know exactly where we fit in this world? And all the better if we fit somewhere where we are doing something good for God.

Something good, but not necessarily holy.

See, not everything we do for God is holy, no matter how much we want it to be. And I think that's one of the key clues that can help us figure out where it is God truly wants us to be - when we start to feel something holy about the place where we stand. When we recognize, in awe, that our shoes are an abomination here, then we know we're standing on holy ground. When that quiet little whisper breathes a sigh of relief, we know we're where God wants us to be.

It's not always as glamorous as what the world may seem to offer. It's not always as adventurous or exciting; at least, it doesn't always seem that way on the surface. But it's always beautiful.

It's something I wrestle with a lot because there are so many things I could be doing in this world. Good things. But I don't want to waste my life on good things; I don't want to spend my days chasing the wind, as the Spokesman from Ecclesiastes would put it. I want to do holy things. I want to do sacred things. I want to do the things that God has uniquely created me to do. I want to kick my shoes of not at the end of the day with weary toes, but at the beginning of the day on holy ground.

And as I continued to let these questions, these passions, burn inside me recently, feeling the tension between a good thing that sounded adventurous and rewarding and exciting and a holy thing that felt blessed, but quiet, a little whisper inside my heart said this:

Are you looking for a challenge or are you looking for calling?

And that's it, isn't it? Are you looking to push yourself toward something good or are you looking to offer glory to something holy? Do you want to do a special work or a sacred one?

I want to do a sacred one. Thankfully, that's the very work to which God calls us. 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Okay, wait...yesterday, I said that if someone is distraught by their nakedness, troubled by their hunger, or worried about their worth, then their faith wasn't working for them as well as they'd thought. Does that mean that Christians aren't experiencing these things? Does that mean that Christians should not expect nakedness, hunger, and doubt? 

Not at all. 

It means that Christianity, uniquely among worldviews, has a way of dealing with these realities that is meaningful for its faithful. It has a way to respond to the troubles that we all face in a way that meets them head on, respects them, but refuses to be held by them. The problem with faith in other things is not that it doesn't answer life's troubles, but that it can't; Christian faith can.  

Not a lot of Christians will admit that. They'd rather say that Jesus solves all their problems so that they don't have any any more. They'd rather say that faith is stronger than the Fall, that they're perfectly fine and don't even know the meaning of the words "trouble" or "distress." But those Christians are lying, and they are presenting a picture of the faith that is just not accurate. Jesus Himself promised that in this world, we would have trouble. How did we become a church proclaiming anything else? 

But what Christianity does is it refuses to let these troubles dictate their own rules, and that's the difference. When you're naked, this world tells you that you must be clothed. It makes sure at every turn that you feel your shame until the shame just becomes unbearable and you start shutting parts of yourself off, sewing fig leaves over your life until your story is completely hidden behind a bush. Christian faith acknowledges nakedness, then offers a reminder that wide-open, shameless living was always part of God's design. It feels shameful, but it's not, and there's no need to hide. Then, instead of sewing fig leaves over your story, God weaves your story's threads into a garment of glory. All of a sudden, everything that made you feel so exposed makes you feel so beloved. 

When you're hungry, this world tells you to work harder. It tells you to put more food on your table. It tells you to eat, as though you hadn't already thought of that yourself. Because the world says that your highest glory is to be satisfied, and if you are not satisfied, then you are not living your most glorious life. Christian faith acknowledges hunger, but then it uses that to draw you in to the table of God. You're supposed to be hungry because this world, this life, cannot satisfy you. And only when you recognize that you cannot be satisfied can your hunger be glorified...and glorifying. 

When you don't know what you're worth, this world tells you to give everything you've got until you figure it out. Put yourself out there and see how you measure up. Try harder, go longer, dig deeper until you've made something of yourself, and then you'll know exactly what you're worth. Christian faith has already declared your worth, and it's because Jesus gave everything He's got so that you wouldn't have to figure it out. He just told you. He stretched out His arms and said, "You are worth this much." When you start to question who you are, ask Him; He knows. 

All of a sudden, all of these things - all of these difficult, troubling, terrible things that we all have to deal with in a fallen world - they're not solved, but they are answered. They are answered by Christian faith in a way that is deeply meaningful and doesn't require you to figure it out on your own. It is declared. It is stated. It is given. 

There's no other faith that does that. Not faith in science. Not faith in peace. Not faith in self. Not faith in "having no faith." Any other thing you can believe in in this world will leave you to answer your own questions. Only the Christian faith can say, in a way that matters, "It is finished." The answer is known. 

So it's not that, as Christians, we don't have troubles in this world. We have them. I have them. Lord knows I have them. Jesus promised we would. But it's very much that Christian faith is the only meaningful way to respond to these troubles, the only legitimate way to make sense of them. For everyone. For anyone. 

Even, yes, for you.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Faith for All

Most persons - inside the church or outside of it - aren't very quick to believe that the church has anything practical to offer them when life gets tough. They scoff at the idea that the church should be on the front lines of real, meaningful intervention. But those outside the church add an additional challenge to a living, active faith that's willing to step in:

They have no interest in the faith at all.

The culture itself, at least for most "developed" nations, has been tending toward secularism for awhile now, trading in the very roots of its development for a theology that requires no God at all. And when we who believe that God still has something to offer this world put Him out there, the world shakes its head. No thanks.

Your faith may work for you, but it's not for me. Your faith isn't for everybody. You can't just shove your faith down my throat; I don't want it.

And as Christians, at this point, most of us back off. Our culture has taught us that these voices are right, that this is the "truth," relative as it may be, and that our faith really isn't for everyone. 

But Jesus kinda said that it is.

Jesus kinda said that anyone who comes to Him will find rest. Jesus kinda said that anyone who follows Him will find glory. Jesus kinda said that anyone who seeks, finds; anyone who asks is answered; anyone who knocks will be welcomed in. God kinda said that anyone who believes shall not perish, but have eternal life. 

So tell me again how my faith is not for everyone. (There are a bit of semantics to be played with here, as it's quite accurate that my faith is not for everyone. My faith is for me. It is based on my personal experience with a self-revealing God and the promises that He's given to the collective we and to the individual me, as fulfilled and being fulfilled through the unique circumstances of my life. So my faith is not for everyone, but my Lord is. He said so Himself, and I don't doubt Him on that.) 

Any man, pressed far enough, reveals his faith. The question is not one on the merits of faith at all; everyone believes in something. The question is on the merits of faith in the Lord, and it is this that these voices are calling out. Your Lord is not for everyone. 

My faith is working fine for me.

Except the obvious discrepancy is that if your faith was working fine for you, you wouldn't be distraught right now by your nakedness. You wouldn't be troubled by your hunger. You wouldn't be worried about your worth. If your faith, whatever you believe in, was really working for you, we wouldn't be having this conversation because you would have no need.

But the truth is that only the Lord offers a faith in which you have no need, when the Lord Himself is your Shepherd (Psalm 23:1). And then you say that He cannot be your shepherd because you are no dumb sheep. You don't have to be a dumb sheep; you can be a smart one, and He'll still be your shepherd. Only a fool looks at his reflection in the mirror and sees the mop of wool on his head and says he could not possibly be a sheep.  

We could travel down this road quite a ways, but I think we've gone far enough to start making the point - this world is so quick to call time out, so quick to push away anything that's got to do with religion, anything that's got to do with faith. And it's not about faith or religion, it's about this Lord, this God that they say they're not willing to believe in. This God that they don't want. 

This God that desperately wants them. 

They say that it's not for them, that it doesn't work for them, that it's not meaningful for them. But God Himself said something very different. He said, I am for you. Any one of you. He said, I'm working things together for good through you, with you, for you. Any one of you. He stretched out His arms and died and declared, This is meaningful for you. Any. Single. One. of you. And that's the voice we need to be hearing. That's the voice we need to pay attention to.

Because no matter how many times this world declares that our faith is not for them, it doesn't change the absolute truth that our God is. And we ought to be shouting that from the rooftops. 

Monday, July 3, 2017

The Spirit of Naaman

There's a story in the book of Kings about a brilliant military commander afflicted with leprosy who hears about a prophet of the Lord and seeks healing through him. The story is Naaman's, and it's a powerful illustration of precisely the kind of tension that I've been talking about for the past week - the tension between what the world can offer and what the Lord/church can.

Naaman hears about this prophet and seeks permission to go, which he is granted by the king who has him in his employ. He travels far and wide to reach the man he's heard about, and the prophet tells him to go and wash in Israel's river, and he will be clean.

Naaman is instantly offended. He's got rivers at home. He's got rivers at home that are far and away cleaner and better and bigger and brighter than Israel's nasty river. He came all this way for the man of God to do something to heal him, not to have him send him away on some silly little mission to wash himself. He's got a thousand objections to this seemingly simple act, all of which have to do to what we today would call an entitlement mentality: he expected something "better."

This is exactly what we're seeing in a world where we have so many systems set up in our societies to care for the needs of human beings. We offer them Jesus, but they're offended. Why should they wash in faith's dirty river - where hypocrites and judgment and arrogance lurk - when the world has so much more to offer them? They've got options. They've got resources. Faith? presses against man's expectation that he deserves "better." 

It's a challenging position to be in as a person of faith, particularly as one who believes strongly in the power of a living faith. And I think that Naaman's servant's argument no longer holds water, which makes it even more a treacherous place to stand.

See, Naaman's servant offered a sober voice and said, "If the prophet had asked you to do something difficult/strange/outrageous, you would have done it. But because he asked you to do something simple, you're offended. You're upset." This was enough to convince Naaman to go down to the river.

Not so today, I don't think. Today, if you try to lay out apples to apples, setting side by side the expectation and the offer, I don't think many understand. I don't think they respond. Tell them that they are willing to do the forty-two different things that the world has to offer them rather than the one offered by faith, and they will simply say, "Yes. Because I know that the forty-two work." 

This world would rather count calories and count carbs and count pills and count costs than to walk down to the river of faith and wash themselves clean. 

I don't know what the answer to that is. I don't know how to change the world's mind. I don't know how to get them to hear the call of the prophet to wash, except to say that I, for one, will be by the river. 

Please come and join me.