Friday, November 30, 2018

The Letter and the Spirit

We are a people for whom the law has been fulfilled and whose sin is no longer imputed to us, by the grace of Christ. Do we then live sinless lives, or do we sin all the more because we know it is not counted against us?

Paul raises this very question, and to the latter, he says, By no means! But what remains brings us back to the two questions we've been asking for the past two days - is it possible for a man, post-Adam, to live a sinless life and how, then, shall we live under righteousness, rather than law?

We started in Romans 5, where Paul brings up all of this law stuff to begin with and introduces the idea that men between Adam and Moses were ruled by death, but not by sin, not having the law. And we know that we are ruled by life, by not by death, the law having been fulfilled. Which leaves us with something in the middle that we must figure out if we want to answer the questions that remain for us.

Continue on into Romans 7:6, and we see that Paul has pressed deeper into it for us. He declares, we were once bound by the letter of the law (which revealed and imputed sin to us), but now, we are bound only by the spirit of the law. That is, righteousness.

As we read these words, we can't help but notice that it boils down to the question we were all asking ourselves twenty years ago - what would Jesus do?

In terms of righteousness, it is a question we have gotten painfully wrong far too often, and it seems we are on track to continue missing the point. Asked today what Jesus would do, many Christians would say that He would "just" love people. That He would affirm them. That He doesn't really care what we do and that He just purely loves.

But to say that is to miss the point of the fulfillment of the law entirely. Jesus did not come so that there would be no standards in our living; He came that we would live up to the standard of righteousness. And righteousness does not come without truth, without faith.

So it's not enough to simply say that we are who we are and that Jesus loves us anyway. Rather, we must live lives that declare that Jesus loves us and that this love inspires us to be better. We must live lives that recognize that love underlies all that we do, but that truth underlies love. And that grace walks in tandem with both.

The kind of righteousness that fullfilled-law living calls us to does not live blindly to the world, as though nothing that happens here matters; it lives eyes-wide-open to the possibilities, to hope, to the promise of what this world can be, what God intended it to be. It sees the brokenness of human nature and loves it anyway, but does not tolerate it.

And it hears the whisper of God and obeys.

That's the crux of it, really. That's righteous living. It was Abraham's righteousness when he heard the whisper of God calling him up the mountain with his only son, Isaac, and his obedience was counted to him as faith, as righteousness. It was Jesus's righteousness when He lived by the whisper of His father that didn't bow to the shouts of this world, and His obedience was counted to Him as righteousness.

So it is with us. Our righteousness will be our obedience when we have eyes to see more in the world and a heart to follow the whisper of God. When we have faith to believe and to trust and to hope and to know that this is the Lord, and it is He who we serve, for it is He who we love and He who loves us. That is our righteousness, and the spirit of the law is fulfilled in it.

How, then, should we live? By the whisper of God and by the grace of Him.


Come back next week as we begin a series of Advent reflections. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018


In Romans 5, Paul talks about men who lived without sin, for they lived also without the law, which would have imputed sin to them. We saw yesterday how without the law to hold us accountable to a certain standard of conduct, we could not be responsible for sin - we would not have a clear definition of what it is.

We find ourselves living in much the same place today, the place of those who lived between Adam and Moses - we no longer live under the law, which would impute to us our sin. In fact, we know that our sin is not imputed to us; it is borne by Jesus Himself to absolve us of it.

But neither do we live in a time where death reigns, either, as it has since Adam's first sin in the Garden. Rather, we know that life reigns, and life abundant, and life everlasting, by the resurrection of Christ.

In other words, the entire game has changed.

And this raises an interesting question, perhaps conundrum, for those of us who seek to live the faithful life in times such as these. What is the faithful life? What is God-pleasing? If we have not the law to guide us, given that the law has been fulfilled and that we no longer live under it, and death no longer reigns, how then shall we live?

Indeed, it's the question we're all trying to answer.

We still talk about sin and righteousness, as though they are real things (and they are), but we have more trouble today determining what is sin and what is righteousness. Some might point to the law and say that sin is sin, as it has always been so it shall always be - it is wrong, therefore, to do such things. But we recognize that in certain places, we have broken with the law and declared that what was once unrighteous is neither harm nor foul today. For example, tattoos. We're not getting into knock-down, drag-out fights over whether tattoos are sinful or not, despite the old Law declaring that they are.

Yet we will put our righteousness on the lines when it comes to, say, murder or homosexuality. These are still sins, we say, because the Law declares them to be sin. Never mind that it is the same law we dismiss when it comes to tattoos or to putting an enclosure around the roof of your home so that no one falls off. Those outdated laws are totally different, we say, from the law of moral conduct like murder and homosexuality. Totally different, even though they were written on the same parchment.

Still others will say that since we have not the Law, we have only the example of Jesus, and the example of Jesus is to love. So we should not worry about right and wrong, about sin and righteousness, but we should worry only about love. This has led us to embrace a Jesus who requires nothing of us, who doesn't care what we do, who affirms our every breath and being as though all things are equal before His eyes, and we know that that's not really the case, either.

In fact, we know that has never been the case. For even those who lived without the law, those whose time was between Adam and Moses, were concerned with righteousness - their own, in particular. They did not, of course, have grace, but they also didn't have Law, so grace would not have made much sense to them. There is something about righteousness, then, that is valuable beyond what either law or grace can give us.

Paul says very plainly that just because we do not live under the law, this does not mean that we should just go about sinning since it is no longer imputed to us. By no means! Paul declares.

Which brings us back to the question: how, then, should we live?

In righteousness.

The challenge is figuring out what righteousness is when it does not depend upon law nor upon grace, in a place where life, not death, reigns even though death lurks, with nothing but the example of Christ - which we cannot take out of context and cannot twist into something lesser than it is - to guide us.

Paul has a word for that, too. (Stay tuned.) 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


Is it possible for a man, post-Adam, to live without sin? 

Most of us would say, no. Once Adam sinned, he ruined it for the rest of us, and now, we are a bunch of hopeless sinners, except for Christ. We cannot help ourselves, we say; sin simply rules our beings in a way that it didn't before one little bite of fig in the Garden just after the very beginning of all things. (And yes, it must have been a fig, not an apple.) 

Given the example of Christ - a sinless man post-Adam - we remain unconvinced. Essentially, our argument against the sinless life of Christ being possible for the average man is, well, He cheated. He had the full spirit of God in Him that kept Him from sinning, and we, who do not have the full spirit of God in us, cannot and should not be held to the same standard. 

That is, after all, why He's Jesus and we're not. 

But what if Adam's sin didn't impute sin to the rest of us? What if Adam's actions, for the rest of us who came after him, have nothing to do with our sin nature and everything to do with our death nature? 

That seems to be what Paul is saying in Romans 5. Adam's sin did not make us all sinners; it made us all temporal beings. Temporary. Subject to death. It has nothing to do with whether or not we are sinners; it has everything to do with whether or not we'll die. 

As it should. The real consequence of Adam's sin is that he was banished from the Garden. And we, by extension, have been banished, too. The Garden is where the Tree of Life dwells - eat from this fruit, and you will live forever. Unable to eat from the fruit, you will surely die. And so we, who have no access at all to the fruit of the Tree of Life by virtue (or vice) of Adam's banishing, will surely die. 

Does that mean we have to die sinning?

This question drags us into the law, at least a little bit. Paul says that it is the law that imputes sin to us. "Imputes" is a fancy word that means, essentially, that it makes us responsible for it. Without the law, we didn't know what was right or wrong, God-pleasing or non-God-pleasing, and so if we had done anything without knowing that it was wrong, we could not be held accountable for it. Take a three-year-old who takes a candy bar from the store. He doesn't understand that it's wrong because he doesn't have a concept of legal or illegal; he just wanted the candy. We would not throw the three-year-old in juvenile detention for taking the candy bar, but if he were thirteen, we certainly would. The thirteen year old has the law in a way that he can understand it, so he is bound by it. 

But the law didn't come about until Moses. Prior to that, then, men were not culpable for their sin because they did not know that it was sin. How could they? There was no law to tell them. Now, Paul tells us that it's not necessarily about sin, but death, for men who lived even without the law (sin) still died, from Adam to Moses. 

Even, Paul says, those who were not sinners. 

"Death reigned...even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression...." (Romans 5:14)

That means that there were men who were not sinners. At least, there were men who were not sinners prior to the law that could possibly tell them that they were. But it could also mean that there were men who were not sinners, even if they had had the law to tell them. We cannot know for sure. What we do know for sure is that, sinner or not, every man died (save Enoch, of course, who is a special case all his own).

Which brings us back to the question of the day: must we be sinners? Is it possible for a man, post-Adam, to live without sin?

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Who? What?

There's another difference in the way that we tell the story of God and the way that the prophets and apostles told the story of God. It's not just about whether we tell it from the beginning, over and over and over again in its fullness; it's about the pronouns we use when we tell it.

We live in a world that's all about facts and data. When you want to get to know someone, you ask for more facts and data about that person. You may ask what they do for a living. You may ask what they believe. You may ask what kind of family they have. But that's about where you'd stay - in the whats.

We tell God's story the same way - the "Who" we want to introduce in the "what"s and the "that"s, as though that's enough. What God did. That God did it. Again and again, as though it's a chain of events, a sequence of God data that, once memorized as sort of a timeline or an autobiography, will reveal all that we need to know about who God is.

But if you look at the Scriptures, at the way the prophets and the apostles and the witnesses tell God's story, it's always in the "how"s. Go ahead. Read it. It's the way they branch the story out from the whats. 

The prophets remember that God rescued us in Egypt, how He called out Moses to be a leader of the people, how He revealed Himself to Pharaoh in power and in strength. We remember how He gave His people a king, choosing David to serve Him. The apostles talk about how He came as Christ to dwell among us. How He met Paul on the road. 

They don't remember that He did these things, although this seems to be enough for the modern Christian; they remember how He did them - a calling to life, a living memory, a scene unfolding before their very eyes, not a mere fact to be recalled. 

It's a subtle but important difference. And maybe you're thinking that it's just semantics, that there's nothing to it but words. Maybe you're even thinking that it's all in the translation, that the Bible uses the word "how" in the same way that we might use the word "what" or "that." That it's six of one and a half-dozen of the other. But that's just not the case. 

The human brain processes a how differently than a what. And more importantly, the human heart does, as well. 

Take any story and see how a how changes it. Remember that time that you were sitting around the lunch table with good friends? That you laughed so hard that milk came out of your nose? Maybe now, you're embarrassed to think about it. You don't need a reminder that milk came out of your nose. But remember when you were sitting there, how you laughed so hard that milk came out of your nose? The how makes it happen all over again, as if you're reliving it, and now, you're laughing - maybe at the same joke, remembered. 

Or remember the funeral of your loved one, that your uncle gave a beautiful euology? That was certainly a moving event. But remember how your uncle gave a beautiful eulogy? All of a sudden, you're hearing it again and you can't help but notice tears forming in your eyes. 

The how changes the story from a mere fact to an event. 

And that's why when the prophets and the apostles tell the story of God, the story of Jesus, they always talk about the how. They talk about the happening. They talk about the manner in which things occurred - not merely that they did, but how. Because this is what's revealing of God's character. This is what shows us His heart. This is what confirms for us His presence.

How now, Christian friend? How now? 

Monday, November 26, 2018


There's an interesting phenomenon in the Scriptures, first with the prophets and then the apostles, and that is this: every time one of the men of God begins to tell the story of God, God's people, Jesus, his own transformation, whatever from the very beginning, the story is recorded in full, as though we do not know it. As though we have never heard it before.

It's exceptionally common in the Old Testament, where prophets often spoke of God's intervention for His people, Israel, from the time of Egypt, then track back usually to the promise to Abraham, the sons of Jacob, Joseph's captivity, and onward to the Promised Land. 

Luke does it in Acts. When Stephen is accused, he stands up and tells the story of God's people, and Luke recounts it in full. Then Paul, when he is accused, tells the story of his own conversion and then, when Paul is accused again, he tells the story of his own conversion once more. And Luke records them both in full. That means that Luke tells us three times the conversion of Paul. 

It's not how we usually tell stories, not today, anyway. We'd be more prone to say something like, "And then Stephen stood up and recited the history of the Jews from the time of Abraham, Jacob, and the Exodus, to the crowd, men of God who already knew the story well and were pleased to hear it from him...until he got to the Jesus part." 

Or we might say, "And then Paul told them how he was converted on the road to Damascus, the whole story." 

And we'd say that that was enough. That readers would get the gist of it. That it was sufficient to call back to mind the general happening and to get everyone to know what we were talking about. 

But God's story, when it is told, is never told in the brief. It's not enough to say, "And then, we told the story of God." 

Perhaps that is our problem.

We have forgotten how God's story is told, that He requires it told in the details, in full color, in complete recognition and remembrance of how He was in it. We are a people who are prone to say, "And then God showed up" and think that's sufficient. Or to say, "We remember that God was there" that one time. You know, that one time that He was there. Remember? 

Oh yeah, that one time. 

But everyone already knows the story, we say. Why do we have to tell it again? We know how God freed the Israelites from Egypt; we read it in Exodus. We know how Jesus blinded Paul on the road to Damascus; we just read that four pages ago. Why do we have to read it again? 

Why can't Luke just say, "Then Paul told them the story again"?

Because God's story is not an "again." It's living and active, dynamic. It has to be told in a way that it comes to life, for God has come that we might have life and have it abundantly, not that we might have stories or a good story or a bunch of facts to know.

When we talk about God, we're supposed to bring Him to life. He's not just a story. He's not just a history. He's not just something that happened and then a new thing happened and now something different is happening. He is alive. He's not a cliff note. 

And that means that every time we tell His story, we tell it in full, in living color. Never shortened. Never suggestive. Never, eh, you probably understand what I mean. Never, eh, that's the gist of it, give or take. 

Shine a light on that story. Tell it with all the gusto of a four-year-old in the living room with a boa draped around her shoulders, putting on her first show. Tell it with the fire of a five-year-old showing off his best ninja moves. Tell it with all the passion of a prophet or an apostle, who never left a single word out but wanted the world to know, without a doubt, who God is. 

He is the Lord who....

Friday, November 23, 2018


You've probably heard this one before, maybe even said it yourself: nothing surprises me any more. 

It's a sentiment we express when the world seems to have hit a new low. When the headlines are more shocking than they were yesterday. When younger and younger children bring guns to school, when younger and younger children taken their own lives, when animals are chained on shorter and shorter chains, when the bones of hunger protrude further and further from the flesh, when crime escalates. Whatever it is, we just shake our heads and say, of course. Nothing surprises us any more. 

Except, of course, that that's not exactly true. 

When we say it, what we mean is that nothing about human nature surprises us any more. Nothing about men is shocking. We are so accustomed to and familiar with the depravity of a broken humanity that it phases us less and less every time we see it until it doesn't surprise us any more. Men are broken. They are perverse. They are depraved. It is what it is. 

But give us something good in the world, and we can hardly believe it. It's so entirely unexpected that it takes us by surprise, somehow. There was a story a week or two ago about a young man and an older woman, two complete strangers, sharing lunch at a McDonald's. And it went viral. Because who would ever have thought they'd see such a thing? 

Not us depraved human beings. That's for sure. 

And we're talking here about genuine acts of good, not those that are done for show. Not those that are over-the-top extravagant and that expect to be noticed. We're talking about genuine, authentic, quiet acts of good that are taking place around us every day, but that we miss them because we expect them not. And when we do see them, they surprise us. 

But even that is not all, for as surprising as genuine good is in the world, there is something more surprising still - genuine God

When was the last time you saw God active and working in the world? When was the last time you saw someone healed, a life restored, a relationship repaired, a heart turned? When did you see a miracle? 

The truth is that we've come to expect these things less and less, and so when they happen, they surprise us all over again. We can hardly believe it. We're actually quick to dismiss it, finding it some kind of brokenness of depravity rather than a real inbreaking of Heaven. On occasion, perhaps, it's so undeniable that it takes our breath away, that we could never just dismiss it, but we never really accept it and certainly don't expect it. It seems the work of God, who is active among us, is always a surprise.

Do you see what's happened here? We are living in a time and place where we take for granted, take as a given, human nature with all of its failures and foibles, but we trust not in the power and presence of God or even good. We say we are not surprised by anything, but the truth is that we are surprised by the very things that are most real, most true. We are surprised by the things we ought to consider givens - the goodness of God, for example - and unphased by the illusion of what we think we know. 

What would happen if the goodness of God didn't surprise us? What would happen if we lived our lives expecting good and beautiful and holy things to happen? How would it change our perspective if the real shocker of our existence was our own depravity? 

After all, how can men so loved by God, so special in all of Creation, so endowed with the Holy Spirit be so incredibly depraved? That's the surprise, no matter how often we see it in the headlines or how commonplace it becomes. 

Yet God loves us all the same, and that should be no surprise at all. 

Except, of course, that it seems that it is. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018


The question of the day will be, what are you thankful for? 

Most of us will look at all the little things we have in our lives, all the things that make our lives worth living, and we will say - this. I am thankful for this. I am thankful for my family, for my friends, for my job, for my home, for my dog, for my freedom, for my salvation, for my Jesus. Pressed to do so, most of us can rattle off a list of things that make our lives better and say, yes, I am thankful for this. 

But here's the real question, the one that ought to challenge the way that we live: what would someone looking at your life say that you're thankful for?

Not what would someone looking at your life say that you have to be thankful for, but what would someone looking at your life say that you are thankful for? In other words, what are you living like you're thankful for?

The hard truth is that for most of us, the answer is...nothing. For most of us, despite all the good things and simple joys that we have in our lives, we are living empty of thankfulness. 

We say how thankful we are for warm coats when the weather's turning, but the truth is that we throw them onto our backs every day without a single thought about it. We say that we're thankful for a roof over our heads, but none of us celebrates paying the mortgage every month. We say that we're thankful to live in a land of freedom, but then we try to strong-arm others into sharing our beliefs and values. We say that we're thankful for our friends and family and loved ones, but if we're honest with ourselves (and with them), we take them for granted, too. 

All of the simple joys and tremendous blessings that we have in our lives have become so commonplace for us, so much a part of just the way that things are, that although we should be thankful for them, we're really not. At least, we're not living like we are. 

We're living like they're givens. Like we deserve them somehow. Like we're entitled to them because, well, they've always been there. And now, we couldn't live without them. 

This is something I have been thinking a lot about, particularly as November has moved along and a lot of persons have engaged in social media's "30 days of thankfulness." I've seen friends and family listing each day all of the things that they're thankful for, many of them the other human beings that they have in their lives. And I wonder, do those other human beings know - on April 12, on July 27, on December 1 - that you're thankful for them? Do they get the sense every day that they are a blessing in your life and that you couldn't do it without them? 

Or are they just friends and just family and just, well, "here" 364 days a year? 

I wonder the same thing about Jesus. A lot of us say we're thankful for Him. But does He know that? Does He know that on a day that's not today, when we are pressed to say it out loud? Does He know that on a day that's not our best day? Hey, does He know that on a day that's not a Sunday? 

Today, as we sit around our tables and share what we're thankful for - and particularly with so many of those things and persons around our tables with us - I challenge you think about how your life would look different if someone from the outside looking in could tell that those are the things you're thankful for. 

What if you lived like you're really thankful for them? Not just today, but every day? 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Dust on Our Feet

Here's another simple act of faith that we don't seem to be very good at: shaking the dust off our feet. Jesus told His disciples to do it in the Gospels, when they went into a town and were not embraced and accepted. In Acts 13:51, we see the apostles doing it - shaking the dust off of their feet as they left a place that wasn't interested in what they had to say.

You'd think we'd actually be very good at this, given the world that we live in. From a consumer's point of view, it's a disposable world; from a personal point of view, we might say it's a rebootable world. If something's not working out or if something breaks, you just ditch it and replace it with something new. 

Job not working out? Quit and find a new one. Marriage too hard? Get divorced. Car broken down? Buy a new one. Fridge on the fritz? Time to replace it. Computer slow? Upgrade! Dog got old? Take that puppy to the pound and trade it in on a younger model. We spend our lives throwing old things out and bringing new things in like it's nothing at all. 

Believe it or not, there are still persons in this world, entire generations still alive, who believe that when something breaks, you fix it. When it's hard, you work harder. When it seems to be broken, you make it work. When it's dead, you raise it back to life. 

But the only place that today's dominant generation does that is, well, the places where they ought to be shaking the dust off of their feet - the places of unacceptance.

It's a hot issue in our culture today. In fact, it might be the issue in our culture today. If someone is not accepted for who he or she is, if he or she doesn't "feel" wholly accepted - in other words, if the world doesn't wholeheartedly approve of everything that he or she does - this is a time when Jesus would tell His disciples to shake the dust off of their feet and move on .

But the culture tells us this is the place to dig our feet in and take a stand. And most often, we do. 

We insist that everyone appreciate us. We insist that they recognize us for the things we want to be recognized for. We demand, in the very same breath, that they both value what makes us unique and accept that we are just the same as they are. We absolutely refuse to live in a world that doesn't accept our religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, economic status, education level, preference in coffeeshops, favorite color, or the way we tie our shoes.

We find it completely unacceptable to be unaccepted on any count, counting it the greatest offense to be rejected, all the while throwing away anything and everything that doesn't suit our fancy any more. 

In our disposable world, we've surrounded ourselves with so much trash that if someone rejects us, we can't help but think that we must be trash, too. And that just won't do. 

But that's not what's happening, and it's not what Jesus preaches. He doesn't say that you should accept that the world thinks you're trash (it doesn't, even though our culture preaches that it must be so). He says that you should accept that you won't be accepted everywhere. There are some peoples on this earth who just don't want what you're selling, and it's got nothing to do with you; your message is just a miss with them. It's not on their radar.

There's no reason, He says, to stay and try to shove it down their throats. If you do, they'll only come to hate you and your message. (And if that's not the truth, I don't know what is - just look at our headlines.) Not only that, but you will exhaust yourself and work the pain of rejection deeper and deeper into your own soul until you either burst out in unmitigated anger or you pull inward in unbreakable despair. 

We're doing this as Christians, demanding that the world hear our Gospel in places where it's just not interested right now. Demanding the world hear our Good News where we want to tell it, be that in our lawn displays or in our legislatures. And the world is getting weary of us shoving our message down their throats; they hate us and our Jesus. And why shouldn't they? 

We need to get better at doing what Jesus commanded us to do, at doing what the apostles did when they went out to spread the Good News: shake the dust off your feet. Let it go. Not everywhere in the world is ready for you, and you have to know when it's time to move on. Time to take a different turn. Time to find a different audience or a different place. It's true for us when it comes to our religion, and it's true for us when it comes to the other things we're all fighting about these days. 

Contrary to what our culture tells us, it's not the time nor the place to dig in and take a stand; shake the dust off your feet and walk away. 


(This in no way means that we do not attempt to bring the message of Christ to those who have not heard it or that we do not continue to pray for and to pursue those whose hearts might be receptive to it. But we have to know where our battle lines are and heed Jesus's wisdom on this. If we don't, we're doing more harm than good - to ourselves, to these places, and to His message.) 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Simple Faith

A lot of the time, we make faith harder than it really has to be. We spend our time wondering what it is that God would have us to do, wrestling with what it means to live a life of faith, agonizing over how God wants us to live, as though it's some great mystery, some big puzzle that God expects us to figure out. 

It's something you never see in the Scriptures. Not once. The people of God always seem to be clear on what it is that God wants them to do. They don't always just do it, of course, but that doesn't change the fact that they know what God wants them to do. 

Jonah, for example, knew that he was supposed to go to Nineveh. Abraham knew he was supposed to sacrifice his son. Noah knew he was supposed to build an ark. Jesus knew He was supposed to die. Paul knew he was supposed to preach to the Gentiles. Not once do we see any of these guys trying to "discern the spirit of God" and figure out what He wants them to do; they already know. 

They only had to discern their own spirits. 

Yet we think that discerning the spirit of God is not only the first step of the Christian faith, it is the highest step of the Christian faith. We think it's what we're supposed to spend our time, even our lives, doing - figuring out God. Figuring out what He wants. Figuring out what He's planned for us. We never get around to discerning our own spirits because we don't have to; we're too busy pretending that God is elusive and that faith is hard. 

This past weekend, my local news shared a story of a man who donated part of his liver to a baby girl he didn't know. He'd never met her, didn't know anyone in her family, didn't know anything about this girl. And the reporter asked him why he did it. His answer was profoundly beautiful.

"God loves her. God has a plan for her life, and He values her. I just decided I was going to stand in agreement with that." 

Done. He just shut up. Simple. 

That's the kind of simple faith that God calls us to, and it's really not hard. That man didn't have to take days or weeks or months or years to figure out what God thought about that little girl. He didn't hem and haw and pray and seek and knock and discern and argue and second-guess and wonder and wander and whatever. He knew the heart of God, the heart of God made clear what God thought, and the man decided that he could just believe that God is who God is. Then, he acted on it. 

What would your life of faith look like if you believed it was really this simple? (Spoiler alert: it is.) What would you do differently if you didn't have to figure God out, but just had to get on board with what is already clear? What would it change for you if you knew God's heart so well that God's will was not elusive? What if you didn't have to discern God's spirit all the time, but only had to discern your own?

What if faith is not hard?

It's not hard. Not as hard as we make it. In fact, it ought to be the simplest thing in all the world. (Note: I did not say "easy." Just simple.) All we have to do is know God, love God, trust God, and stand in agreement with Him. 

What would your life look like if you did just that? If you decided today to stand in agreement with God and just did so? 



Monday, November 19, 2018

Creature Nature

There's a mouse in my basement, and as much as that doesn't sound like a great theological insight, it actually has been.

You see, humans have developed all kinds of products to get rid of mice. And not just mice, but all kinds of pests - insects, wildlife, etc. We have humane traps, where bait is set up inside of a cage and the offending animal wanders in but can't walk out. We have humane-for-the-human mouse traps, where bait is placed inside and the mouse is spun around and whiplashed, but the human doesn't have to actually look at the thing.

And we have lots and lots of poison. Poison for everything! Poison that you can just...set out...and the mouse, insect, wildlife, whatever will come right up and eat it of its own volition, not knowing it will die later. In fact, it's even illegal to accidentally leave human products like antifreeze sitting around outside or spilled on the ground because even domestic animals (like cats) will come right up and drink it, thus killing themselves and leaving you on the hook for animal cruelty. 

Again, what does all of this have to do with theology? More than you'd think.

Because most of us read the Genesis account, and we think what fools Adam and Eve were. They had everything! They had it all going for them! They walked with God in the cool of the day, for crying out loud. All they had to do was obey one little rule - don't eat from this tree. That's it. One tree in all of creation that they couldn't eat from, and in the very next breath, what do we see them doing? Eating from that very tree! What morons!

Actually, what creatures.

You could probably say the same thing about the mouse or the insect or the wildlife or even the cat. There's a whole smorgasbord of edibles out there, stuff they could eat and nourish themselves on. If they want to live, all they have to do is not eat the poison. Yet, every time, the animal will eat the poison if it's available and unknowingly kill itself. It can't help it. It seems it's hardwired to do so, not because it has a death with but because it is indiscriminate in its instinct. 

And that is our problem, too. It's not really that we have a death wish. It's not that we want to sin and separate ourselves from God. It's not that we look at something and say, oh, yummy! Sin! Not at all. And yet, there's something in us that just isn't as discriminating as it needs to be, something that looks at what's available right there in front of us and decides, you know, that looks pretty delicious. That looks good to me. And look! It's right there, easy for the taking. 

Munch, munch, munch. 

It just amazes me how easy it is to kill a mouse, if that's what you so desire to do with it. It's as simple as setting out the poison and the dumb thing will come up and eat of its own volition. I have the same thoughts about the mouse that are so easy to have about Adam and Eve - doesn't it know better? Seems simple enough. If you want to live, don't eat the poison. But the mouse eats the poison every time. 

And so do we. If the world sets out the poison, most of us will come right up and eat it. Invite us to sin, and we will. We've shown that over and over and over again. It's something about our creaturely instinct, something that's insatiably hungry and indiscriminating. Don't we know better? We should. It seems simple enough. It is. 

If you want to live, don't eat the poison. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

Flesh and Spirit

When it comes to Christ, God in flesh, our perspective is limited by our own flesh, yet we still look to both the Lord and the mirror to determine what it means that God is like us - and that we are called to be like Him. But when it comes to those things that are essential to His nature, to those things that are the Spirit of Christ, rather than the flesh of Him, looking at the human before us is of little use.

Unless we look into His eyes.

In America, we are trained not to look each other in the eye. It didn't used to be this way, but this is how it is now. You shouldn't look someone in the eye, for any number of reasons. It's too intimidating. Too intimate. Too time-consuming. Too shame-inducing. I would venture to guess that the number one reason we don't look others in the eye is not for their comfort, but for ours. Most of us are too ashamed or insecure to look someone else in the eye, for we know that when we do, they may be looking back into ours. 

Yet we must look Jesus in the eye if we are to discover what is most essential about Him, what is most sacred and holy and wonderful and beautiful. His flesh is pretty amazing, but His eyes...His eyes reveal His spirit, and that is breathtaking.

When you look Jesus in the eye, you'll see His gaze fixed on Heaven. You'll see the passion and tenderness with which He sees all that can be in a world that is far from it. You'll see how unwaveringly He looks into eternity and believes that it doesn't have to wait until forever; it is possible today. 

When Jesus looks at the blind man, He doesn't see just a blind man. He sees a blind man who can glorify God through seeing anew with healed eyes. He looks at the lame man and sees him dancing. He looks at the deaf and whispers gleefully into his ears. He looks at the broken and sees wholeness, restoration. He looks into the world and sees Heaven. It's amazing. 

It's what tells us how He does it, how He doesn't get jaded by everything that's going wrong here, everything that's not as it's supposed to be. It tells us how He keeps believing - He believes precisely because He sees. You can't see that in His hands or in His feet or in His heartbeat; you can only see it in His eyes.

Of course, it is inherently dangerous, I suppose, to look Jesus in the eye, for the same reason it's dangerous to look anyone in the eye - you may discover that He's looking right back into yours. And our natural inclination in broken flesh is to break our gaze, to turn away. 

But if you fight that urge, something incredible happens.

You may just see what Jesus sees in you. 

It's pretty cool, we think, that Jesus came in flesh. It's cool enough, actually. He looks like us, walks like us, talks like us. If we ever needed a God to connect with, here He is. It's all we ever needed, we think of Jesus, and for many of us, it's enough. God in flesh. Okay. Cool. 

But when you look into His eyes and see His Spirit, He becomes so much more than mere flesh. And when you look into His eyes and find Him looking back into yours and you see what He sees in you - the restoration, the redemption, the wholeness, the healing, the Heaven in you - that image He can't let go of, the one that drives His Spirit, the one that unwaveringly sees beyond what's broken in front of Him - it changes everything. Absolutely everything. 

When you look into His eyes, you start to believe there's something more to this Jesus, something His flesh just doesn't capture. And when you look into His eyes and see Him looking at you, you start to believe that maybe there's something more to you, too, something your flesh just doesn't capture. And you can't explain it, perhaps, you can't even really comprehend it, but you want to be like that. You want to be who Jesus believes you are, who He already sees in you. 

You never would have known it had He not come in the flesh.

But you also never would have seen it if you hadn't seen His Spirit.

So don't let your view of Jesus get hung up on what you see in the flesh or in the mirror. There's a lot more going on here, a lot more than meets the eye. Unless, of course, you look up and meet His eye. And then....

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Peace of Christ

Now that we've laid the foundation for how it is that we come to believe whatever it is that we believe about Christ, based on a reflection of our own flesh and our estimation thereof, it's time for another question about this Jesus of ours. 

Was He a harsh man or a gentle one? 

The same factors are at play here as are at work in the introvert/extrovert question we've been asking this week. If you are one prone to harshness or even cynicism, then you are likely to see how often Jesus speaks harshly against others, particularly the Pharisees. In fact, you'll see that the more you turn pages in the Gospels, the more Jesus is crying out, "Cursed are you!" and turning over tables in the Temple and asking, "How long must I put up with you?" It comes as no surprise to you how often Jesus seemed frustrated and even fed up with this world, and why should it? You likely feel the same way about the world you live in. 

On the other hand, if you're a reconciler, if you're a person who tries to stay positive in this world, if you're someone who believes that love is soft and quiet and unassuming, you're more likely to see how often Jesus reached out and touched this world, healing it. You're more likely to talk about quiet moments when He stretched a lame man's arm, spoke with a woman at a well, stopped to talk with an unclean woman, straightened the back of one stooped over, opened the eyes of the blind, etc. All this healing Jesus did in the world? Of course He was a gentle man! Look at all the gentle love and tender mercies He put out into the world. And your life motto is probably something like "Go, and do likewise." 

Now, it's interesting here because only in one case is the opposite true. If you tend to think yourself too harsh, too judgmental, too negative or if you've heard feedback in your life that says you might be these things, and you have come to disvalue them in yourself, you are likely to see the gentler, more tender side of Jesus, the same way that an introvert who does not value his or her disposition is prone to see the opposite in Jesus as a catalyst to draw him or her into a way of living that is perceived to be more desirable. 

But if you think yourself too gentle, too positive, too rosy-eyed for this world, and if you find this an undesirable trait in yourself, you are no more likely to see the harsher side of Jesus than you previously were. You would not look at Him turning tables and cursing Pharisees and think to yourself, "I need to be more like that."

Because, of course, that is not a socially valued trait in our society. At least, we wouldn't say that it is. No one wants to be angrier (despite what mass media is trying to get us to be). No one wants to be more violent. No one thinks himself too gentle and decides that he ought to be more intimidating. In this case, the opposite that we see in Jesus is too extreme for our human sensibilities, and we begin to seek ways that we can find Him less gentle, but not necessarily harsh. 

Isn't there some middle ground?

And indeed, there is. 

In fact, it's what we're all looking for, really, though most of us would never know how to put words to it. We want a Jesus who truly is a Man of peace the way that He says He is, but we have trouble reconciling the two extremes that we see in Him with what we conceive of as true peace. How does a Christ who is always upsetting things, always turning them end over end, claim anything even remotely similar to peace? On every page of the Gospels, He's stirring things up! For better or for worse, He's ruffling feathers. Yet, we are told that He is a Man of peace, and we must therefore reconcile this, for the sake of our faith. 

Thankfully, it's not so difficult. Well, perhaps easier said than done, but simple nonetheless.

When we come to questions like this, questions that center on who Jesus claims to be and not on who He reflects in us, things that are central to His nature rather than neither really here nor there in ours (the introvert/extrovert question, for example - neither is "better" than the other and neither is essential to God's nature for Him to be who He claims to be), we must look not to the flesh of Jesus, but to the spirit of Him. 

What's that? How do you see the spirit of a man? Of any man, let alone of the Son of Man? 

It's easy. Shift your gaze from His hands to His eyes....

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

More Like Christ

It is a dangerous, but vital, piece of information that we now have, seeing how our own experience of the human flesh shapes - either positively or negatively - how we perceive Jesus, our God who came in human flesh bearing image to us and to His Father. 

It is dangerous because it forever limits what we understand of Him, and we may be prone to believe that what we understand is in fact not limited, but complete. We know everything about Jesus, we say, but the truth is that we only ever know that to which we can relate in Him. There are things in Him to which we cannot so easily relate, even in the negative, and these things, we not only do not know, but we do not know that we do not know. 

This leads us, as is the custom of men, to make bold declarations about what we know about Jesus, as if what we know is the totality, and to get in arguments with one another because others may see something more or something different in His flesh than we see. 

It also leads us to have a limited view of Him, and this is the most dangerous of all, because it convinces us that Jesus was just like us. Wholly and completely exactly as we are. 

We are told in the Scriptures that this is true, that Jesus came in the flesh to be like us, but it is a deceptive theology the way that we do it. For we tend to think that Jesus is already perfectly like us, and if He is perfectly like us (based on our limited understanding of Him according to our own fleshly experience), then we are already perfectly like Him. And all of a sudden, our Lord can require nothing of us, for we are already perfect. 

It's the greatest deception, and Christians everywhere are falling for it. We believe that we are already what Jesus would desire us to be, if we are confident in ourselves, or if we are not confident in ourselves, we believe that we can never be what Jesus would desire us to be. Therefore, we have nothing to change about ourselves, nowhere to grow, nothing new to engage in. We're perfect, or imperfect, just as we are, and there is nothing that will make us better or worse for it. 

And now, we have a Jesus who looks like us, but we do not necessarily look like Him, and we have told ourselves that this, this is the central ideal of Christianity. 

It is far from it. 

This dangerous piece of information is also, however, a vital one, for it reminds us with every breath that there is something about Jesus we do not understand because we do not possess it. And if there is something about Him we do not understand because we do not possess it, then the only way that we can come to know more of Jesus is to grow to become more like Him in the ways we do not yet understand. Thus, we become Christians who push ourselves to be more like Him and rather than seeing Him as essentially like us, we try to see ourselves as becoming more like Him. 

And this is truly the central ideal of Christianity. That we would be more like Him. 

This idea is the sword of the whole thing, sharp on both edges. On the one hand, the way that we perceive Jesus often leads us to assume that He is essentially like us, to see ourselves in Him to the extent that we can convince ourselves that we are already perfect and that our Lord desires nothing more of us. (Or in the case that we find ourselves imperfect in this reflection, that our Lord desires too much of us, and therefore, nothing is required, either.)

But on the other edge, if we are aware of the limits of our perception, then and only then can we truly begin to see where we need to grow and change. We begin, over time, as we invest ourselves into seeing more of Him by being more like Him, to see Him in ourselves, to the extent that we begin to truly understand the beauty and the glory of the incarnate Christ. And we become disciples precisely by nature not of what we know, but of knowing what we do not know and then seeking to learn. 

Philosophical enough for you?

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Broken Places

Yesterday, we looked at an interesting phenomenon by which you are more prone to see in Jesus what you see in yourself, creating a blind spot for that in Him that you don't relate with as easily. We used the example of introverts and extroverts, particularly in how each conceptualizes of Jesus spending the majority of His time. But did you know that it's not that simple?

(It never is.)

It's true that if you're an introvert, you're more likely to see Jesus stealing away to the mountains to pray and that if you're an extrovert, you're more likely to see Jesus surrounded by the crowds. But...if you're an introvert who doesn't understand or value your introversion or if you're an extrovert who doesn't understand or value your extroversion, you're more likely to see just the opposite!

If you're an introvert who doesn't understand the sacred value of solitude for yourself and you're more likely to describe yourself as, perhaps, shy or reserved, you're more likely to see all of the time that Jesus spent with persons because you think you ought to be more like that. You're more likely to see how He handled the crowds, and you become, in essence, an extrovert by sight because that's what you think you should be, and Jesus shows you how to do it in a way that you think you desire, but that still seems exhausting to you (because you're not actually shy and reserved, but introverted, and that's just how it is). 

By the same token, if you're an extrovert who doesn't understand the sacred value of socialization for yourself and you're more likely to describe yourself as, perhaps, loud or show-offy, you're more likely to notice all of the times that Jesus steals away for some time to Himself because you wish you knew better how to do that. You're more likely to see Him retreating to the mountains and you become, in essence, an introvert by sight because that's what you think you should be, and Jesus shows you how to do it in a way that you think you desire, but that still seems boring to you (because you're not actually loud or show-offy, but extroverted, and that's just how it is). 

This is yet another reason why we have to be so careful and conscious about what it is that we see in Jesus. At any given point, we are seeing Him in reflection of ourselves - for better or for worse - and either way, it creates for us a blind spot about Him. And in this case, a blind spot about ourselves. 

It's extremely important, not just because of what we are able to know about Jesus and what we are prone to miss, but because of how it shapes what we believe about Him. If you are an introvert who values your introversion or an extrovert who values your extroversion and you see in Jesus a reflection of yourself as you are, you're likely to think that Jesus loves you and that He approves of you and that you share this deep and amazing bond with Him (which is, by the way, entirely true). 

But if you're an introvert who doesn't value your introversion or an extrovert who doesn't value your extroversion and you see Jesus in a reflection of all that you aren't, you're likely to think that Jesus is disappointed in you and that He condemns you and that there couldn't be a greater chasm between the two of you (which is, by the way, entirely not true). 

Do you see why it matters?

What we believe we see in Jesus - God in human form - and how we interpret it in light of our own experiences of ourselves and our human nature is central to what we will believe about His heart. 

In fact, I would go so far as to say that persons that feel tension with God, who constantly believe that He is disappointed in them, who believe that He is vengeful and condemning and vindictive, are persons who have not come to terms with something inside of themselves, something about the sacred way that God made them, and they are seeing that in negative reflection in Jesus and thinking it must be Him when really, it's them. We are the ones who create distance between ourselves and God. Always. It's never the other way around. 

Thus, we must pay attention to how it is that we see Him and how our hearts perceive it. For how our hearts perceive Him, from their own broken places, is how we will receive Him in those same broken places. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Who is This Jesus?

Who is this Jesus? It's a fascinating question to ask any disciple, for the answers that you will get will all be slightly different based on our own human experience. In fact, if you think you know quite a bit about Jesus, the next question to ask yourself might be what you don't know about Him, what you can't see as clearly because it runs counter to your own spirit. 

Right off the bat, you probably raise an objection. No! What I know about Jesus is based on who He is, not on who I am. What I know about Him comes straight from the Scriptures, so it must be wholly and objectively true! I can say who Jesus is because the Bible tells me who He is. 

And yet...

Let's just start with a simple question, then. Was Jesus an introvert or an extrovert? 

This is an interesting question to ask in a group because you will immediately find that persons fall into one of two camps (clearly, since there are two possible answers). Extroverts will note the tremendous amount of time that Jesus spent with others, followed by the crowds, surrounded by twelve men (at least), healing and teaching and preaching and feeding, and they will say that clearly, Jesus was an extrovert. Just look at the way that He loved the people and spent all of His time with them! 

Inevitably, however, if you give it enough time (really, give it enough time because introverts tend to be slow to speak in a group), someone will pipe up and say, "But wait a minute." It will be an introvert, and he will present a case for Jesus being just the same as him - introverted. After all, look at how often Jesus tried to get away from the people. Look at all the time He spent on the mountain, by Himself, praying to the Lord. Look at how many times He tried to retreat, sent His disciples on ahead of Him, sat by the side of the road to take rest. Jesus was clearly an introvert, he concludes. 

How can you miss that?

The interesting thing is that the same persons who will argue passionately for Jesus being either introverted or extroverted have often missed much of the other argument in their own reading of the Scriptures. That is, the introvert is prone to believe that the majority of Jesus's time was spent retreating, and the extrovert is likely to have sensed that most of His time was with the people. 

The introvert will have noticed that He spent at least some of His time with the crowds, primarily because it creates for the introverted Jesus a need to get away, something that is not lost on someone who recharges best in his or her own solitude. The extrovert, however, will likely not have noticed how often Jesus retreats to pray. He doesn't need to. An extrovert is recharged by being with people, so having crowds around Him all the time is sufficient for the extroverted Jesus to maintain His energy and spirit. 

It's a fascinating experiment, really, but it points to this truth: when it comes to reading about God in the flesh, most of us are prone to reading more intently and more intensely those things about Him that connect most deeply with our own flesh. That is, we are predisposed, it seems, to see ourselves in Jesus. 

That's not to say that this is a good thing or a bad thing, in and of itself. We can, of course, take it too far and believe that Jesus is exactly like us in every possible way and thus limit His humanity to only our experience of it. But for most of us, it's not so devastating. The point of bringing this to light is to say that most of us have a blind spot when it comes to Jesus. There are things about Him we just don't see as clearly as others.

And we ought to keep that in mind. 

We ought to keep that in mind because this is where the mystery lies. This is the key to the whole thing. There are things about Jesus, and things about God, that are beyond our ability to simply comprehend them. It's why we have to keep reading, have to keep praying, have to keep digging into what we know, in order to find what we do not see right away. We have to keep our minds open and read with new eyes as often as we can, figuring out what it is that we're likely to miss and then being deliberate about not missing it. 

There's probably more to Jesus than you ever knew. Does that surprise you? Does it bother you? Maybe it doesn't. Maybe the Jesus you have, the Jesus you know, the Jesus you love is enough for you. The truth is that in general, He is. For most of us. 

But what if He was more? 

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Little Boy's Lunch

There is a story in the Gospels, and it is very well known, about a little boy with a lunch pail who gives what he has to Jesus so that Jesus can feed the thousands with it. A loaf and two fish, a mere bite of food. 

You'd wonder, when that little boy was asked to give his lunch to Jesus, if he thought that he was just feeding Jesus, which would be honor enough in itself, wouldn't it? After all, it is a meal fit for one, and for a grown man, a little boy's lunch may be just a small snack, but it's something. So maybe the boy gives his little pail to the disciples thinking he's feeding Jesus, with no idea at all what Jesus is about to do with it. 

And we should notice that when it comes to pass that Jesus takes the little lunch and breaks it and breaks it and breaks it and feeds the thousands, the little boy whose generosity started it all gets not even a thank you, at least not one that's recorded in the Scriptures. And when the baskets of leftovers are collected after the meal, there's no mention of giving the little boy his measure back - or, as the Scriptures often promise, more than his measure. 

The truth is that most of us don't even think about the little boy; we're too focused on Jesus and the thousands. We're too into the breaking of the bread to think about where it's come from. We spend too much of our time marveling at the miracle to consider the humble gift that started it all. Jesus fed the thousands, but He had to have something to start with. We know it's the little boy, but we read right past it to get to the good stuff. 

But we shouldn't. 

Because we are that little boy.

Each one of us is the little boy on that hillside, carrying with us our normal things, our natural things, the kinds of things that we have day-to-day just because that's what we need. Each one of us has our lunch in a little pail, that little bit that's enough for us, that's nourishing for us, and that we're willing to share with Jesus when we think we might be feeding Him.

For a lot of Christians, that's the pinnacle of faith - feeding Jesus. Giving Him what little we have, what small bit we have to offer, for Him to appreciate and for Him to know that we're invested in what He's doing. Of course we give our little lunch to Jesus if He's hungry. That's what our little lunch is for!

What we less often realize, mostly because we aren't necessarily looking for it, is what Jesus does with our little lunch. What we less often see is how many times He breaks it and breaks it and breaks it and feeds the thousands with our meager gift, with baskets of leftovers to boot!

We never could have imagined it. Never thought our little gift would go that far. We thought it was just enough for Jesus, but Jesus always makes it more. 

And sometimes, it doesn't always seem that we get our measure back, even when there's plenty leftover, let alone our measure pressed down, shaken, and measured more. And you know, even more rarely do we get credit for it. It never comes back on us. (And it shouldn't - it's God's glory, not ours.) But very rarely does anyone come and say, "Thank you." Thank you for being that little boy. Thank you for bringing your humble gift. Thank you for giving your little lunch to Jesus, for He fed me with it. 

Yet, if He asked tomorrow, we'd do it all again. Sure, Jesus; You can have my lunch. It should be just enough for You.

Oh, it is, My child, He answers. Just enough, and infinitely more. 

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Fishers of Men

When Jesus called the first disciples, they were out on the sea, fishing. He called to them, "Come, follow me! I will make you fishers of men!" And what we see in the passing by on the sea is that He has done just that.

We saw yesterday that the way that Jesus passed by the disciples on the sea just as the Lord passed by Moses on the mountain shifted the emphasis of leadership and mission from the high places where God dwells to the common places where men live. But it is more even than that. 

You see, it was the people who sent Moses to the mountain. It was the people who told him to be their representative, to be the one to brave the holy places for them, to go up and meet with the Lord and tell them what He said to them. It was the people who demanded that Moses become the keeper of their holy things, that he be for them a man of God, that he "protect" them from the glory of the Lord by always and only bringing it to them second-hand. 

Entirely the opposite is happening with the disciples. In the case of the disciples, it is the Lord who is sending them to the sea. It is He who told them to go and be His representative, to be the one to brave the dusty, dirty places for Him, to go down and minister to the people and tell them about Him. It was the Lord who demanded the disciples share the holy things, that they be men of God for the sake of the people, that they wrap them in the glory of the Lord by always and only making it real and vital and near for them. 

And that they, in turn, make more disciples who will go down to the sea. 

It's a seismic shift. At the most crucial moment in the history of Israel, the people were begging their leader to go to the mountain, to enter into the presence of the Lord for them, to represent them and to make them a holy people by doing everything right. 

Yet at the most crucial moment in the history of the world, the Lord was begging His disciples to go to the sea, to lead the people, to enter into the mess of living for Him, to represent Him and to make them a holy people by doing the right things. 

This is critical for us, as modern disciples, to understand. It's absolutely essential that we understand what this means for us. Because the truth is that most of us think that being a good disciple means going to church, being involved in church-y things, reading our Bibles and praying and growing in the Lord. We think that being a disciple means going to the mountain, that what the world wants from us is for us to be holy for their sake. 

But that's just not the truth. The truth is that being a good disciple means getting out there, loving others where we live, sharing with them the Gospel and praying with and for them and growing them in the Lord. Being a disciple means going to the sea; the Lord wants us to be holy for His sake. 

And the world needs us to be. 

The world needs to know about our Jesus, and we're living in a time when increasingly, it doesn't seem to care. We're living in a time where our culture pushes us toward the mountain and says that if we want to be holy, that's fine - there's the mountain. Go live on it, or whatever. But Jesus continues to call us to the sea. He continues to tell us that the mountain is good for retreat and recharging, but our calling is not to the high places; it's to the common ones. So get back down there and do good work. Do holy work. Make disciples. Love people.

For we are, as He promised from the very first, fishers of men. Time to cast out our nets.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Mountain and the Sea

Something else interesting is happening when Jesus plans to pass by the disciples on the sea the same way that the Lord passed by Moses on the mountain. As we saw yesterday, He is indicating to them the kind of leadership that they are supposed to have among the people, the leadership of Moses, but He is also indicating to them the place where they should have this leadership - the sea.

Moses led from the mountain. Back in the early days of Israel, the mountains were of great significance to the people. They were towering obstacles, but they were also holy places - the people knew that the mountains stood between them and the promise and that God dwelt on the mountains. In fact, God became so associated with the mountains that the biggest argument between the Jews and the Samaritans, notorious for their tensions, was which mountain God dwelt on and therefore should be worshiped on. 

Perhaps this emphasis on mountains began when the Lord first appeared and called Abraham to climb one. There, on the mountain, He met the faithful man. And on the mountains of the wilderness, He met Moses and passed him by. 

It's important to understand that for a people like Israel, the mountain wasn't of any good use (except, of course, for its being holy). They were a pastoral people, meaning they tended herds of animals, and you can't just climb your animals up a mountain; the best land is in the valley anyway. And when you're moving, you can't just drive your herds over the mountains; you have to go around. And what little you are growing for your own consumption doesn't usually grow well in the rocky soil of a mountain; you need fertile land. And in the case of a mass exodus, the mountains tend to obscure your view of the Promised Land. So there's not a lot of love, necessarily, between Israel and mountains, but it is from the mountain that Moses leads.

What a stark contrast to the disciples and the sea!

In the region in which Jesus ministered, the sea was a source of life for the people. The people ate a lot of fish from those seas, in case that isn't evident enough from the Gospels. A little boy carried two fish in his lunch pail, for example. And a number of the disciples were fishermen by trade, which means that they depended upon the sea for their very lives. Fish were sold in the marketplace, which meant the sea was part of the region's overall economy. And the people used boats to travel from one place to another as needed; it was nothing at all when Jesus got into a boat and went elsewhere. Others simply followed Him. The sea was as natural to the people of the region of Jesus as was any street in Jerusalem. 

It should be said, however, that with the sea being so mundane, so routine for this people, not many thought to think of it as holy. The mountains in Moses's time - towering and intimidating and obstructive - were a great muse for reflection on the holy. After all, when you're faced with a mountain, what do you have to do but to think about how desperately you need a very big God? And if you have a very big God, what better place to place Him than on the mountain?

But the sea was common. It just...was. It was so boring to the people that they probably didn't even notice it. 

Until and unless the figure of a man comes walking to them on it. 

And now, the disciples are all ears, as we should be also. Now, they want to know what it is that the Lord, who left them for the mountain (when He stayed behind to pray) now comes passing by them on the sea. 

What it means is simply this - it's Jesus's way of saying to them, "I'm moving your holy ministry." I'm moving the place you do things. No longer will you lead from the mountain, from the holy places, from the towering glories. Now, you will lead from the earth, from the dirt, from the streets, from the common places. Now, you will lead from the places where men dwell, not the places where God dwells. 

Your ministry is about to get dirty and very, very real. Are you ready for it? 

What once seemed so far away, so forbidden is now so very near, so present and freely given. For God is the God of the mountain, and Jesus is the Lord of the sea. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Like Moses

So we have in the Scriptures these two powerful moments where God wants to pass by those who have already seen Him face-to-face, in a way that will reveal more of His glory to them. The first is Moses on the mountain; the second is the disciples on the sea.

Most Bible scholars will tell you, and with good reason because there is some truth to this, that when you see something happen once in the Bible and then happen again, there is an inherent connection between the two events. The Scriptures themselves testify to this to some degree, comparing Christ to Adam and Christ to Jonah, for example. 

The question then becomes, what does God's passing by of the disciples indicate about them, knowing that He passed by Moses in the same way? And what does it indicate for us?

Quite clearly, the answer is that Christ believes the disciples to have the same anointing on their lives as Moses, the same calling when it comes to His people. It's really not that much of a stretch to get there; it's rather really natural. The disciples become the leaders of the people, those who have met with God and seen Him face-to-face and who then become voices of authority in His movement among the people, bridging the gap between Him and them.

They are the ones who can see what no one else can see. They are the ones who know what no one else can know. They are the ones given the vision not only for God's glory, but for God's promise. And as we march on toward the Promised Land, it is the disciples and their testimony that guides us and that reminds us at every turn that the Lord is with us. 

But it's more even than that, for we know that Jesus called not just twelve to be His disciples, but that He called all of us to be His disciples. We are disciples made by disciples who are making disciples, and that means that all of us have upon our shoulders the mantle of Moses. We are all called to be this kind of leader.

We are the ones with the eyes to see Jesus in the world. We are the ones with the vision for not only the glory of God, but the promise of Him. We are the ones with the testimony of what it's like to see Him face-to-face, for we have gazed upon the Cross and we know it well. 

And that means that we are the guides through this messed up, crazy, broken world we live in. We are the ones who ought to be calling out, who ought to be hearkening toward something better. We are the ones to whom others ought to be running for judgment and guidance and wisdom. We are the ones who ought to be keeping His story forefront of all that we, as a people, are doing. Of all that we are. Of all that we ever will be. We are the ones who know, better than anyone, His promise, who ought to be sharing it. 

The Lord passes us by as His disciples, where more of His glory than ever we could have imagined is revealed, and we are Moses to a wandering people. We are Moses in a wondering world. 

Isn't it time we lead like it? 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Passed By

There is this thing in the Scriptures that God does from time to time, and it's one of the more interesting things we see Him do - in both the Old Testament and in the New. It is called "passing by." 
When God passes by, it is a way for a person with whom He is engaged to see more of Him without seeing the fullness of Him, to get a glimpse of something He wants to show them without it being fully revealed, lest they be blinded and condemned by having seen it. For we know that the Scriptures tell us that no man shall see God face-to-face and live.

It's interesting, then, that two of the most well-known instance of God passing someone by occur with persons who have kind of seen Him face-to-face. Or at least come the closest to it.

In other words, God uses His passing by to reveal more to those who already know the most about Him.

The first comes with Moses, back in the Exodus narrative. Moses has been meeting with God on the mountain for quite some time and begs to see and to know more of Him. He knows so much already, but he wants to know everything. He's seen so much, being wrapped in the cloud of God's glory and covered in the smoke of the presence of God, but he knows that there's something more to this God, and he begs to see it. 

Here is where God comes passing by. He takes Moses and puts him in the cleft of a rock, shielded on both sides and tucked securely away so that there is no way for Moses to falter or fall upon seeing the glory of God. And then, the Lord sweeps by him in this passing by, and Moses catches sight of more than he's ever known, catching only though the backside of the Lord, but the full glory of it. 

Moses, the man who has met with God and seen Him face-to-face to such a degree that his own face glows in the radiance of the glory of God, has now seen more of Him in the passing by of God Himself. 

The next time this most prominently occurs, it actually doesn't. Jesus has sent the disciples ahead of Him in a boat while He held back to pray by Himself. In the middle of the night, He comes walking to them on the water, and the Scriptures tell us that He wasn't actually walking to them - He was intending to pass them by! He was intending to do the same thing to the disciples in the boat that God did to Moses on the mountain, but He was spotted before He could actually do it. 

And here are these men, these twelve men who have had the privilege of not only seeing God face-to-face, but traveling with Him, talking with Him, ministering with Him, and this God that they know, in the form of Jesus, still wants to pass them by - an act that will reveal even more of Himself to them. 

It really sparks the imagination, doesn't it? What more could they come to know of Him? They've watched Him eat, they've done His laundry, they've heard Him speak. Yet there is still something more of the glory of Jesus. We know because He was going to pass them by with it. 

There's some interesting stuff going on here, beyond what this mere introduction has captured. And it's important interesting stuff, particularly for those of us who would call ourselves disciples. So we're going to take a few days and look at what it means that the Lord has chosen here to pass His people by. What does it mean for us? 

First, of course, is that if we want to be included in the Lord's passing by, we must be a people who know Him intimately already. That much is clear from the examples above. But what else? 

Stay tuned. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

A Healing Touch

We are living in unpredictable times. Turn on the news, and you're bound to see yet another headline of yet another unbelievable act being perpetrated in an unexpected place. It's not that our world is somehow more evil today than it has ever been; it's just as evil, no more and no less, than it was six days in with just a serpent in a garden. It's just unpredictable, as there are so many crevices and crooks and crannies for this evil to hide and then burst out unexpected.

I had to write a prayer this week, just days after a man burst into a synagogue and took nearly a dozen lives, for no other reason than his own personal hatred of the persons he believed would be there. I say believed because often, a person who claims to hate an entire group of persons based on one characteristic has nothing more than a caricature of those persons in his or her head, not a real understanding. 

Anyway, the prayer that I came up with took me to the garden. Not Eden, but Gethsemane. The night before Jesus was crucified.

Because the truth is that I think a lot of us are like Peter was that night - we want to be militant about it. We watch the news, read the headlines, and we want to grab our swords and go out swinging. In our passion, in our zeal for a better world, it seems only natural that we could make it so by force. By taking this world by storm and cutting out its broken places, chopping it up into blood and guts and vengeance or at least, vindication. 

But Jesus wouldn't have it. In a moment in which the sides were warring, when the passion of His disciple took over in an act of violence, even vindictive violence against the passion of the violent, Jesus reached out and touched the man whose ear was bleeding. He reached right into the flow of blood and stopped it, with just a touch. With mercy, with compassion, with grace, with something bigger on his mind than the us vs. them that was taking shape among the olive trees, Jesus reached out and touched His enemy tenderly. 

And told His disciple to put the sword away. 

My prayer - the prayer that I wrote this week and the prayer that continues in my heart - is that we, as followers of Jesus, would do likewise. 

Our world needs this kind of touch from us. It doesn't need more swords. It doesn't need more blood. It doesn't need more violence or vindication. What it needs is mercy. What it needs is grace. What it needs is healing. And we can't do that with a sword. 

We can only do that with tenderness, with a touch. We can only do that by reaching out, even to those who seem to be in the "them." We can only do that when we listen to our Lord and put our swords away so that we can really and truly engage the human beings around us, on a most meaningful level. 

May we become those who reach out, right into the flow of blood, and stop it. With just a touch. 

With mercy, with compassion, with grace, with something bigger on our minds than the headlines could ever capture. With tenderness. 

With love.