you are not alone

“God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him.  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:16b-18).

There’s a lot that has brought the Apostle John to this point in his first letter.  There are those who feel as if they have the market cornered on God and who readily belittle others who they consider as “less spiritual.” John writes to encourage those who are taking criticism and who are truly seeking to have high view of God and humble view of themselves.

The theme of “love” is a thread that runs throughout John’s literature.  John assures that the very nature of God is love.  The Apostle affirms that love is not only the foundation of our relationship with the Father, but is foundational in our relationship with others.  With both those whom we agree and those we do not.

Everything of course is encompassed within Jesus’ beautiful message: “God so loved…” (John 3:16).

But here in 1 John, the Apostle moves from “love” to “fear.”  “There is no fear in love.”  “Perfect love drives out fear.”  The connection to love (and context of John’s message) is enveloped in relationship.  Relationship with God.  And relationship with others.  And what I believe our Father through His servant John hopes to communicate with us in this is that for those who are in a right relationship with God fear is not a part of the equation.  The perfect love of God revealed in the Gospel of Jesus drives it away.  However, if we were to be honest, we each, very often, have our fears.  And even though John is speaking of eternity and how there is no fear (“condemnation” to use Paul’s word – cf. Romans 8:1) for those who are in Christ Jesus, I wonder what might be weighing on your heart and mind right now?

I wonder: What is it that you’re afraid of?  What is it that is causing you concern right now?  What is it that is weighing you down?  What is it that is keeping you up at night?  What is it that is dividing your attention?  What are your fears?

Because the message of Jesus can be summed up in these words: “You are not alone.”

Jon Walker in his book, Costly Grace, writes: “Fear whispers in our ear that we face danger alone, that God is unaware of our plight and that Jesus is unavailable in our time of need” (p217).

You are not alone.  You can trust God.  You can trust our Father.  You can trust Him.

You are not alone.

Glory to God!

Jason

the pursuit of God

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For all of its immenseness (yes it’s a word – all I had to do was hit “ignore” on spell-check!) the Bible, although a lifetime of study only scratches the surface, entails an extremely simple story.

God creates humanity.  Humanity rejects God.  God relentlessly pursues humanity.

The overarching story of Scripture is the redemptive work of a God who would not let us go.

Whatever the expanse between us and God, He will traverse the gap.

Our God is a pursuing God.

He pursues us with His grace, with His mercy, with His love.

The Gospel message itself is of a God who relentlessly pursues us through Jesus.

Glory to God!

Jason

making room

 

“The church would be great if it weren’t for all the people.”

“Leave the church and get closer to God.”

“Jesus, Yes.  The church, No.”

I understand where those who make such declarations are coming from.  Or at least, I grasp what would evoke such statements.

Most often they originate from a moment of frustration.  At times, after years of effort.  These words are spoken out of angst and anguish.  Out of the burden and desire to unreservedly worship and praise and serve a perfect God in our complete and total imperfection.  These feelings and emotions are generated out of a belief that we make faith much more complicated than it was ever intended to be.

However when we look intently to the paradigm of the Kingdom, we become acutely aware that we need one another.  We cannot be all that God intends for us to be without Kingdom relationships.  Without Christian community.  We are greatly impeded in our ability to live up to our potential as believers without journeying through life together.  Without loving one another.  Encouraging one another.  Challenging one another.  We cripple the communal design of the Gospel and Kingdom when we do not develop intentional Christ-following, Kingdom-centered relationships.  Much of our journey of faith is based upon our own individual relationship with God.  Our own willful choosing to be His people every moment.  However, without Christian community we hobble our spiritual development and Kingdom impact.

What is needed is grace.  Not only God’s grace to us, but His grace from us.  God’s grace in us, freely given to others.  Openly extended to others.  We have to make room.  To allow room.  Each of us do.  To make room in our hearts for others.  The problem is that we are seldom aware of our own Pharisaical tendencies.  Relationships are not always easy.  But they are always healthy when they are focused upon Christ.  And when focused upon the greater purpose of the Kingdom.

Glory to God!

Jason

not of this world

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Covenant with Christ radically shapes our worldview.  Covenant overcomes our culture.  In order for us to be as missiologically effective as Kingdomly possible we have to transcend our biases.  To overcome our presuppositions.  To place Christ at the center of our life and paradigm of life.  To see others not for where they are but for where they could be.  To view each and every person on the planet as created in the image of God.  As valuable.  Not only valuable to God.  But valuable to us.  This way of thinking is not of this world.  It is altogether other-worldly.  It is Kingdom thinking.  Kingdom processing.  And it runs contrary to our natural tendencies.  Left to our own devices we create a religiosity that places ourselves at the center, rather than Jesus.  If and when we do, suddenly God likes all the things we like and hates all the things that we hate.  Suddenly God accepts all of those we accept and rejects all of those whom we reject.

Our Master however calls for radically different senses.  To have “eyes that see and ears that hear.”  To consciously acknowledge and actively participate in the Kingdom of God.  Conquered and empowered by the Gospel of Christ.  Congruent with the Holy Spirit.   It is a Kingdom in which we as believers are to pledge our complete and total allegiance.  A Kingdom not of this world.  A spiritual Kingdom.  As a viable part of this Kingdom we therefore view life and all that it contains through the lens of faith.  We willfully engage life desiring unity with God and His Word and His Spirit.  Intentionally striving to get in Jesus’ Way, and at the same time, to get out of His way.  To anticipate the breaking in of the Kingdom.  To see every facet of life from the perspective of the Messiah.  To be so in tune with the voice of God that His counsel and direction are unmistakable and undeniable.  To be one, in harmony, in unison, and in sync with the magnificent, spiritual, harmonious, powerful, radical Kingdom of God.

In The Pursuit of God, A.W. Tozer asks (and answers), “Why do the ransomed children of God (that’s us) know so little of the habitual, conscious communion with God which Scripture details and offers?  The answer is our chronic unbelief.  Faith enables our spiritual sense to function.  Where faith is defective the result will be inward insensibility and numbness to spiritual things.  This is the condition of vast numbers of Christians today.  No proof is necessary to support that statement.  We have but to converse with the first Christian we meet or enter the first church we find open to acquire all the proof we need.  A spiritual Kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it.  God Himself is waiting for our response to His presence.  The eternal will come alive the moment we begin to reckon its reality.”

Glory to God!

Jason

always before me

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“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…” (Psalm 51:1-3).

King David.  The man “after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22; cf. 1 Samuel 13:14).  The David of David and Goliath.  Confesses, “My sin is always before me.”

My sin is always before me.

My sin is always before me.

“I can’t get away from it.”  “It consumes me.”  “I am overwhelmed by it.”

And yet, over time and by God’s grace, he does get away from it.  And it ceases to consume him.  The burden is removed.  David becomes overwhelmed not by his sin but by God’s grace.  And finally, finally, he breathes a cleansing sigh of relief, as his sin is no longer always before him.

When we consider Psalm 51 in it’s entirety, we witness God doing for us that which we cannot accomplish for ourselves.  Taking away that which positions us in conflict with Him and with ourselves and with others.  And allowing us to not be defined by our sin, but rather, to be defined as men and women after His own heart.

“Praise awaits you, O God, in Zion; to you our vows will be fulfilled.  O you who hear prayer, to you all humanity will come.  When we were overwhelmed by our sins, you forgave our transgressions” (Psalm 65:1-3).

“My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.”

Glory to God!

Jason

another way of life

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In January of 1863 Abraham Lincoln made public his intentions to abolish slavery in the United States, in the form of the Emancipation Proclamation.  Civil war erupted.  Lincoln was soon assassinated.  And it wasn’t until December of 1865, nearly three years later, that Lincoln’s dream was realized as the 13th Amendment of the Constitution was passed, abolishing slavery.

Word soon spread throughout the country.  From Capital Hill into every state of the south the headlines of every newspaper read, “Slavery Abolished!”

Yet something happened that no one had expected.  Something that no one (especially in the north) could have imagined.  A war had been fought.  A president assassinated.  A law had been signed.  However many slaves in the south, who had been set free, willfully chose to remain with their masters.  To, in essence, continue to live as slaves.  Many for the rest of their lives.

And the question that began to be asked was, “Why?”  Why would once enslaved men, women, and children who had been freed, emancipated, why would they continue to live in bondage and in fear.  As brutal and as cruel as their old master was, why would they willingly choose to work in his fields, live under his oppression, and remain under his thumb?  Why after being liberated, would so many choose the security of slavery, over the risks of liberty?

The answer?

Because they knew no other way of life.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.  Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a child belongs to it forever.  So if the Son has set you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36).

I wonder if that might hit home for some of us?

Glory to God!

Jason

a wretch like me

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“Where would I be without Christ?”

If I were to pose the question, and have you ask it of yourself, what thoughts immediately come to mind?

(I’ll wait a few moments for you to think and carry this through a bit).

“Where would I be without Christ?”

We all approach a question like this from differing perspectives. From varying backgrounds. Some were raised with a Christian worldview. Others come to Christ much later in life. But regardless of the journey, surely we’ve come to a maturity of faith that recognizes our reality in Jesus. And in our understanding of who we are in Christ, do we ever consider who we would be were it not for the Lord in our lives?

Without Christ we are lost. Lost. Lost to ourselves. Lost in ourselves. In our sin. In our own depravity. Perhaps a sober consideration of past failings brings us to an inkling of who we would be were it not for the Spirit of Christ. And I believe it can be extremely healthy to recognize who you and I would be without Him. The reality that without Him we would be morally ruined. Spiritually bankrupt. When we come to this conclusion, we in turn are better enabled to minister to those who are indeed outside of Christ.

The Apostle Paul opens our eyes to who we are outside of covenant with God when he writes, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were…” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). However, praise God his pen continues, “But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v11).

The wonderful question that comes out of Paul’s message to these Christians is: “Who can be saved?” And the answer that wonderfully springs to life in verse 11 is: “Anybody!”

Do we see those who are outside of Christ for their lostness? Are we aware that they are who they are and do the things that they do and live the way that they live because they’re lost? How else do we expect them to live? They’re lost! Do we see them in and for and through their lostness?

If so, does it elicit compassion or disdain on our part? In our heart of hearts, are we filled with the loving kindness of God for them? Or is there a slight (or not so slight) hint of contempt?

Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found. Was blind but now I see.

Glory to God!

Jason

top 5 books of 2017

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It amazes me how quickly this year has passed by. For whatever reason, for me, 2017 has absolutely flown by! That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it really has.

Practically everything I’ve read this year has been from CS Lewis. Everything. I’ve always been a CS Lewis fan but wanted to be intentional in reading books from his pen this year, as well as what others have said about his life and work.

If you’re looking for a place to start with CS Lewis, start with The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is a fictional work in which Lewis, through his vivid, brilliant imagination, allows us to peer into the spiritual realm of darkness. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis grants us access into the “correspondence” between the “elder devil” Screwtape as he communicates to the novice Wormwood on how to best derail his “patient” (his assigned human) and turn him against “the Enemy” (God). I’ve read Screwtape a number of times over the years. Over a decade ago I told my friend Kevin that I was not interested in reading anything fiction: “I’m an academic I don’t have time for that nonsense.” Kevin replied, “But surely you’ve read The Screwtape Letters?” He was appalled when I said that I had not and immediately sent me a copy in the mail. I read it in two days. And I was hooked! Each and every time I’ve read it since it draws me in. What a concept! Since reading Screwtape, I’ve ventured in to the lands of Lewis’ Narnia, as well as Tolkien’s Shire and Middle Earth. These adventures are dear to me.

The next stop should be Lewis’ Mere ChristianityBringing together Lewis’ legendary broadcast talks during World War 2 Mere Christianity provides an unequaled opportunity for believers and nonbelievers alike to hear this powerful apologetic for the Christian faith.

Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life is Jack Lewis’ autobiography. And when you read it you’ll find out why family and friends called him “Jack.” In Surprised by Joy, Lewis takes readers on a spiritual journey through his early life and eventual embrace of the Christian faith. He begins with his childhood in Belfast, surveys his boarding school years and his eventual atheism in England, reflects on his experience in World War I, introduces us to his friend and colleague JRR Tolkien, and then concludes with Oxford where he became “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” As he recounts his lifelong search for joy, Lewis demonstrates its role in guiding him to find God.

Another book that I thoroughly enjoyed this year was A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War by Joseph Laconte. I read this book just a couple of years ago but reread it anew recently. The subtitle of the work is: How JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918. One commentator writes, “The First World War laid waste to a continent and permanently altered the political and religious landscape of the West. For a generation of men and women, it brought the end of innocence—and the end of faith. Yet for JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, the Great War deepened their spiritual quest. Both men served as soldiers on the Western Front, survived the trenches, and used the experience of that conflict to ignite their Christian imagination. Had there been no Great War, there would have been no Hobbit, no Lord of the Rings, no Narnia, and perhaps no conversion to Christianity by CS Lewis.” I will say that A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and A Great War is not for everyone, but if you are a CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien fan you won’t be disappointed.

Another biography that I’d recommend is The Narnain: The Life and Imagination of CS Lewis by Alan Jacobs (Humanities Professor at Baylor). Tiersa and I went to the play earlier this year, The Most Reluctant Convert at the Eisemann Center and the actor who portrayed Lewis recommended Jacobs’ biography. From the description on Amazon: “Alan Jacobs masterfully tells the story of the original Narnian. From Lewis’s childhood days in Ireland playing with his brother, Warnie, to his horrific experiences in the trenches during World War I, to his friendship with JRR Tolkien (and other members of the ‘Inklings’), and his remarkable late-life marriage to Joy Davidman, Jacobs traces the events and people that shaped Lewis’s philosophy, theology, and fiction. The result is much more than a conventional biography of Lewis: Jacobs tells the story of a profound and extraordinary imagination. For those who grew up with Narnia, or for those just discovering it, The Narnian tells a remarkable tale of a man who knew great loss and great delight, but who knew above all that the world holds far more richness and meaning than the average eye can see.”

There are so many books from CS Lewis you could read and not go wrong: Narnia, The Weight of Glory, Reflections on the Psalms, The Four Loves, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, God in the Dock, and on and on and on. All are challenging and inspiring and timeless. But if you’re interested, these first five that I’ve listed by or about Jack Lewis are a great place to start.

There you have it! 2017’s top five….

Glory to God!

Jason

beyond me

If you have gotten anything at all out of following our Lord, if His love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care at all – then please, do something for me: Be united with one other, love each other, be one in spirit and purpose.  Don’t push your way to the front; don’t con your way to the top.  Get over yourself, put yourself aside, and help others get to know Jesus.  Don’t be obsessed with getting your way.  Forget yourselves and see to it that others see Jesus alive and at work within you. – loose paraphrase of Philippians 2:1-4

As our children grow we give them instruction and advice and guidance.  We discipline them, but for the greater purpose that they will themselves become self-disciplined people.  They make mistakes, we help them through.  They make good choices, we praise them for it.  All the while with the objective that they would become mature adults.

Certainly we never cease to be mom and dad to them.  I joke and say that my goal in parenting is to work myself out of a job!  But Tiersa doesn’t like it when I say it at all, so forget I said that….  🙂  We’ll never cease to be our children’s parents.  But the goal is that they would think for themselves.  That they would develop a healthy, mature perspective of life.  That they themselves would become God-honoring, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered adults (and if we ourselves are not God-honoring, Spirit-filled, Christ-centered how can we expect them to be?).  That they would see that the world is bigger than themselves, but that they play a significant, God-ordained role.

Scripture calls us to a big-picture view of God, but also to an objective view of ourselves.  To a mature way of processing life.  To seeing life through a Christ-like lens.  To having Kingdom insight and Kingdom vision.

The goal is one of spiritual depth.  Spiritual maturity.  To seek out and search for avenues in which our Redeemer might reveal Himself to others through us.  To demonstrate unity amidst diversity.  Love amidst conflict.  To get over ourselves but to be unable to get over what God has done through Jesus.  To put ourselves aside for the greater purpose of the Kingdom.  To not be obsessed with getting our way, but rather, to forget ourselves and see to it that others recognize Jesus in us.

To learn to: “Think beyond me.”

Glory to God!

Jason

Christ and culture in conflict

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Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”  “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied.  “It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me.  What is it you have done?”  Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my Kingdom is from another place.”  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.  Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king.  In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.  Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” – John 18:33-37

There is a collision between Christ and Culture.  When we respond to the call of Jesus and cling to the Kingdom of God it is required of us that we release the kingdom of this world.  The Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world are in conflict with one another.  They are opposed to one another.  Jesus declares, “My Kingdom is not of this world.”  And only to those who are of the Kingdom does that make any sense.

So why is it that so much of what occupies our thoughts is worldly?  Why is so very much of our focus upon the temporal?  Why do we give the worldliness of this world such an audience?  And how can Jesus so readily be relegated to an afterthought?

Do we recognize what is of the eternal Kingdom and what is of the temporal kingdom?  Do we elevate the eternal when we look to the day to day?  What I mean is that as we go about our day-to-day living are our minds and hearts in tune with what really matters?  Because in the grand scheme of it all only the things of God matter.  Right?  Why is it then that we spend so much energy focusing upon the minutia of the kingdom of this world, rather than the wonder of the Kingdom of God?

“You are right in saying that I am a king,” Jesus affirms.

But the question remains: Is He really your King?

Glory to God!

Jason