everyone and anything

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“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

I’ve repeated (and contemplated) that statement a number of times since the beginning of the New Year.

The first week it just sort of came out.

It was Sunday.

I was bringing the first sermon of 2016 to a close.

And, boom!

There it was.

It wasn’t planned.

I did’t have it in my notes.

It hadn’t crossed my mind until the moment it came out of my mouth.

“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

The Kingdom in inclusive, not exclusive. Everyone is welcome.

Right?

I mean we believe that to be a valid statement.

Correct?

And in the Kingdom (the reign and rule of God) anything is possible.

Isn’t it?

Do you agree with me on that?

No matter who you are, where you come from, the guilt of your past life, the burden of your present circumstance, the anxiety of the future, God is the God of transformation. He’s the God who creates beauty out of ashes. Life out of death. Light out of darkness. He’s in the making all things new business. It’s what He does.

“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

Is it a true statement?

Satan whispers in our ears that it’s not true. It’s not valid. It’s not real.

And so, maybe the question we should ask is not: Is the statement true?

(Because it is!)

Perhaps a better question is: Do you believe it to be true?

(Do I believe it to be true?)

Because enveloped within the answer to that question lies divine reality, purpose, blessing, and peace.

“In the Kingdom of God everyone is welcome and anything is possible.”

Glory to God!

Jason

to be Christian, but not a disciple

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“Once when Jesus was praying in private and His disciples were with Him, He asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’ ‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’ Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And He said, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ Then He said to them all: ‘If anyone would come after me, they must deny themself and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Luke 9:18-23)

This is one of my favorite passages. For so many reasons…. When Jesus asks the disciples who the crowds understand Him to be, to be honest, I don’t think He’s really concerned with their answers. Certainly He knows what their responses will be, the generalizations of the masses. The presuppositions of those who have heard of His ministry. And so the disciples respond with the understanding of others. “John the Baptist?” “Elijah?” “Maybe a prophet from long ago who’s come back to life?” Jesus wanted them to say it. He wanted them to mentally process it. He wanted them to verbalize it. But then He asks the question to which He truly wants an answer. “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” Of course it’s Peter who responds with the belief of those who are closest to Him: “You are the Christ of God.” “You are the Messiah.” “You are God, in humanity, who’s come to redeem the world!”

You see what Jesus truly wants an answer to is personal. “What about you? Who do you say that I am?” I think we’re tempted to think that this is a verbal acknowledgement. And although included, I think it’s much deeper than that. Who we believe Jesus to be is profoundly revealed in our fidelity to Him. In our commitment to the cause of our Savior. In our beliefs. In our faith. In our priorities: How do I spend my time, my energy, my money, my life? Am I faithful in every way? To my Lord? To my spouse? To my family? Am I kind to my children? Do I cultivate faith in them? Am I a trustworthy friend? When others look to me are they convinced that I believe Jesus to be the “Christ of God”?

It is for this reason that Jesus calls for His disciples then and now to deny ourselves. To die to ourselves and take up our crosses of sacrifice daily.

Then and only then will we be capable of fully following Him. Fully following.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to fully belong to Him and to be fully committed to Him. Half-hearted Christianity is not Christianity.

Is it possible to be Christian, but not a disciple?

Who do you say Jesus is?

Does your life confess what your lips acknowledge?

Glory to God!

Jason

blessing

blessing

“…pronouncing a blessing puts you as close to God as you can get. To learn to look with compassion on everything that is; to see past the terrifying demons outside to the bawling hearts within; to make the first move toward the other, however many times it takes to get close; to open your arms to what is, instead of waiting until it is what it should be; to surrender the priority of your own safety for love – this is to land at God’s breast.” – “An Altar in the World,” Barbara Brown Taylor (p206)

Glory to God!

Jason

covenant community

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We tend to pride ourselves on being self-sufficient. As Americans it’s in our DNA. We began out of a desire for freedom. Not just freedom of religion (or freedom from religion) or “give me liberty or give me death”or “no taxation without representation” but out of a desire for the freedom to forge our own way. “We don’t need your help.” “We can do it on our own.” (I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but as a Texan especially, this “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” mentality is just a part of who we are. Right? Cross that river? No problem. Run that race? Sure thing. Climb that mountain? Ya’ll watch this!

There’s nothing that MacGyver can’t do with a Swiss Army knife and a paperclip, or that Bear Grylls can’t overcome with a piece of paracord and flint. And we like it!

We don’t rely on others very well. Do we?

And yet Christ’s church is designed as such that we are to 1) rely upon God and 2) to rely upon one another. We are to share life with one another. To share our triumphs and our defeats.

But in order for me to walk along side of you when you are hurting or struggling or grieving, or in order for you to walk along side of me when I am in those shoes, one thing is required that we too often don’t have an ample supply: vulnerability.

We do self-sufficient.

But we don’t do vulnerable.

And this is a problem.

When we don’t open up to God or to one another as covenant relationship through Jesus is designed we find ourselves stubborn, needy people. In need of love, support, guidance, rebuke, challenge, but too stubborn to accept. And the results are disastrous.

What is vital is humility. Humility that plunges the spiritual depths.

What is indispensable is Jesus. The example of Jesus and the spirit of Jesus.

To practice discipleship. Following Christ and following Him together.

And to embody an openness that intimacy with God and closeness with one other reveals.

It’s God’s design. It’s what God wants. But is it what we want?

The minister/spy/martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “The church only exists when it exists in community.”

The first question to ask is: Do we believe that statement to be true?

If we do, the second question is: What are we doing to foster covenant community?

Glory to God!

Jason

top five books of 2015

This year’s “top five” (technically six) are near and dear to my heart. I always attempt to read broadly. This year I’ve especially seemed to have read from a broad spectrum of books. Most all of the ones that I read this year could have made this list. However, these were particularly engaging (and renewing)….

51ACcP3EhHL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen is a book of hope. It reveals not only our capacity for ministering out of the healing the Gospel of Jesus provides, but the design of God as we minister out of that God-ordained healing. In a world defined by it’s brokenness, believers are defined by the healing that only those of the Kingdom embrace. If you are familiar with Nouwen then you know that every word of his writings centers upon spiritual formation and spiritual renewal. The Wounded Healer is no exception. If you are not familiar with Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer is an excellent place to begin.

for calvinismI thoroughly enjoyed reading two books designed to work in tandem with one another:against calvinism For Calvinism written by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger Olson. Horton is professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Olson is professor of theology at Truett Seminary at Baylor University. Both men are friends, and wrote the forwards for one another’s book, each being fully respectful of the other’s theological perspective, all the while making a concise case for their own systematic theology and belief system (note the tulips full of life on the left and wilted to the right). Whether Protestant or Catholic, Reformed or Arminian, Hyper-Calvinist or Remonstrant to the core, one of the brilliant aspects of these two works is the call to fully understand and respect where one another’s beliefs are founded, even, and especially, when we do not agree with the conclusions drawn.

surprised by hopeSimply Christian, Simply Jesus, and How God Became King are some of my favorite books by NT Wright. Wright’s hardwired academic posture and intentional pastoral heart are evident in his writing and ministry (I listen to Wright’s podcast constantly in the car). Surprised by Hope has possibly edged out How God Became King for my all time favorite book from my friend Tom’s pen. Surprised by Hope (a play on CS Lewis’ Surprised by Joy) is not only extremely readable (Wright can tend to be unashamedly very academic) but also super applicable and engaging for today’s postmodern/postChristian culture. Don’t allow the subheading “Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” deter you. You won’t agree with everything in the book (if I only read those I full agreed with I’d only read me), I don’t, but you will indeed be challenged to think more critically in regard to the Kingdom of God and our role as those who are so blessed dwell within it.

interior castleWhen I propose these books each year I will often acknowledge that they have not all been written within the previous year or even previous several years. The Interior Castle is 427 years old. That’s probably a record for this venue. In The Interior Castle (El Castillo Interior), Teresa of Avila describes how, upon entering the “castle” (sense the concept of protection, safety, peace) through prayer and meditation, the human spirit experiences humility, detachment, suffering, and, ultimately, self-knowledge, as it roams from room to room. As we progress further toward the center of the castle, we come closer to achieving indefinable and perfect peace, and, finally, divine communion with God. Like her contemporary John of the Cross (cf. Dark Night of the Soul) Teresa is a Renaissance mystic. Out of the ancient mystic worldview we catch a glimpse of the contemporary call to spiritual discipline, humility, and to be overwhelmed by God.

eager to loveI’ve intentionally read much over the last number of years in pursuit of better understanding of, and better practice of, spiritual disciplines. My first book Renaissance: The End of Religion and Beginning of Something New focused on spiritual formation. My current work, Fortress: Timeless Spiritual Disciplines for Contemporary Christian Life, centers on spiritual disciplines (I’m only about a year into writing and still have several more before it’ll be released into the wild). I say all of that because much of my reading is bent in the direction of spiritual practices. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr portrays the “alternative way” of following Jesus as revealed in the life of Francis of Assisi: one that disregarded power and privilege and held fast to the narrow path of the Gospel of Jesus. Rohr helps us look “beyond the birdbath image of the saint” to remind us of the long tradition founded upon his revolutionary, radical, and life-changing embrace of the teachings of Jesus. Rohr draws upon Scripture, insights from psychology, and literary and artistic references, to weave together an understanding of the tradition as practiced by Francis of Assisi. Rohr, a Franciscan priest, depicts how his own worldview and theology are firmly grounded in this way of life and teaching, and provides a perspective on how this “alternative way” to God can deepen and enrich our spiritual lives.

Well, there you have it. This year’s top five.

I read more than a dozen other books this year.

But if you ask me, these five are a perfect place to start.

Glory to God!

Jason

a bit of a sabbath rest

JesusStatue

I’ve been away from the blogosphere quite a lot lately (as if you haven’t noticed). With our move to Rockwall (which has been a house of healing for us), the busyness of family (everyone is doing fantastic!), the commitment of ministry (God is alive here!), and working on my next book (see the “my book(s)” tab above), I simply haven’t had the capacity to invest much time in this space. My plan is to take a bit of a sabbatical, post a “top five” in December of the books that I’ve read this year, and then reboot in January. “Talk” to you soon. God is faithful.

Glory to God!

Jason

anyone

water“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37).

Anyone.  Anyone who is thirsty.  Anyone.  Anyone who thirsts.  Anyone who has become dissatisfied with a lifeless life.  Discontent with existing but not living.  Anyone.

Jesus stands on the last and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles and declares that for those who are spiritually thirsty, living water is a present reality.

During the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles there were two primary ceremonies.  One was the Festival of Lights in which lamps were lit all around the Temple courtyard on the final night commemorating the restoration of the Temple by the Maccabees during the intertestamental period.  It is as the light of these lamps floods the Temple grounds that Jesus stands and exclaims, “I AM the Light of the World.”  Earlier on the final day of Tabernacles was the water libation ceremony in which water would be poured out before the people upon an altar symbolizing the water from the rock in the desert wandering (Exodus 17) through which God saved and provided for His people.  It is during this ceremony that Jesus stands and declares, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture reveals, streams of living water will flow” (John 7:37-38).

Ripples in the Blue WaterA few chapters earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus had spoken similar words to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink the water I give them will never thirst again” (John 4:13-14).

“This water” (I envision Jesus motioning toward the well).  Physical water.  The water of this world.  Or “living water.”  The choice is ours.

Why do we continue to believe that this world has anything to offer that satisfies?  Why do we find ourselves returning to the well of despair?  The well of heartache?  The well of futility?  Rather than drinking deep from the well of life?  The living water of the Kingdom of Jesus.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8a).

“As the deer pants for streams of water so my souls longs for you O God.  My soul thirsts for the Living God” (Psalm 42:1-2a).

Living God.  Living water.  Life that is life.  Life that is filled.  For anyone who is thirsty.  Anyone.

Glory to God!

Jason