you’re blessed when…

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I say it often, and truly believe, if we would live the Sermon on the Mount our world would be turned upside down.  That you and I would be altogether incapable of external religiosity because of the inward attention the spiritual kingdom is given in these words of our Savior.  When our “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees” in heart-filled adoration rather than pious observation it is then and only then that the words of His message come to life.

How do you understand the Beatitudes (the Blessings) with which Jesus begins the Sermon (Matthew 5:3-12)?  How would you write them in your own words in such a way as to impact you right where you are in life and in such a way that is current and relevant to the world in which you find yourself a part?

I love the way Eugene Peterson does this very thing, paraphrasing in The Message:

  • You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.  With less of you there is more of God and His rule.
  • You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.  Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
  • You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less.  That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
  • You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.  He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
  • You’re blessed when you care.  At the moment of being “care-full,” you find yourselves cared for.
  • You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
  • You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
  • You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution.  The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
  • Not only that – count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me.  What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable.  You can be glad when that happens – give a cheer, even! – for though they don’t like it, I do!  And all heaven applauds.  And know that you are in good company.  My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.

When we internalize the message of Christ and realize that He is speaking to us (and not just “them”), it is then that things begin to change for us.  It is then that He changes us.

Glory to God!

Jason

weeds and wheat

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Jesus tells the story of a man who plants a field of wheat. But while everyone is sleeping an enemy comes along and plants weeds all throughout the wheat and then slips away in the night. As the first green shoots begin to appear the two look the same. But as the grain begins to form the workers soon realize the field is also inundated with weeds.

The farmer immediately recognizes what has occurred and that an enemy has planted the weeds right along side of his wheat. The farmhands are quick to ask if they should pull the weeds out from among the wheat but the owner knows what damage it would cause. “Let them both grow until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: ‘First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:30).

And Jesus says, “This is the Kingdom.” “The Kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field….”

He explains the One who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man, and those who belong to Him belong to the Kingdom. And the one who sowed the bad seed is the evil one. “The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels” (Matthew 13:39).

But here’s my question: Where do we fit in to all of this? If this is a portrait of the Kingdom – What’s our role?

To be wheat!

Right?

Do we uproot? Do we tear down? No! How much damage would that cause? How much damage has it already caused? No, our calling is to be wheat, in a field that is full of both weeds and wheat. To be wheat, and to show the field what wheat looks like.

And the amazing thing about the message of Christ is that the Gospel provides the way that a weed can become wheat. A complete metamorphosis. A change of state. A change of being.

In reality (if I’m not taking this parable too far) when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God, the Gospel should confront us of our own weediness (it’s not a real word but I like it!). The Gospel by design compels us to reckon our own weedy nature. Without the Good News of Jesus it is impossible to become or to be wheat.

The Gospel is designed in such a way that the message itself should and must compel us, and convict us, and radically alter our worldview so much so that we seek to live like the wheat we are called to be, in a world that so desperately needs to see what wheat looks like. The message of Jesus allows for the opportunity for weeds to become wheat!

Glory to God!

Jason

2016 “must reads”

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In recent years, as the end of December approaches and the year winds down, I enjoy thinking back over the previous twelve months and considering influential works along the way. Sometimes I intentionally read for sermons and classes and lectures. At other times I choose to read what I read because of the current book I’m working on. However this year, I’ve read a lot just for me. Yes, the knowledge gained finds its way into other areas. But for most of my reading in 2016, much has been simply for the enjoyment and the betterment of my walk with the Lord.

Here are a few I’d recommend if you’re looking for the same:

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learning_to_walk_in_the_dark-330How did darkness become a synonym for everything wicked, sinister, or wrong?

Barbara Brown Taylor’s “Learning to Walk in the Dark” is a wonderfully enlightening book (pun intended). Taylor is increasingly uncomfortable with our tendency to associate all that is good with lightness and all that is evil and dangerous with darkness. She asks, “Doesn’t God work in the nighttime as well?”

In “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” Taylor asks us to put aside our fears and anxieties and to explore all that God has to teach us “in the dark.”

Through darkness we find courage, we understand the world in new ways, and we feel God’s presence around us, guiding us through things seen and unseen. Often, it is while we are in the dark that we grow the most.

She writes, “Darkness is shorthand for anything that scares me…. I have learned things in the dark that I could have never learned in the light.”

Her book “An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith” is another you ought to consider as well.

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31ishk-jxpl-_ux250_This year I decided to invest in rereading Eugene Peterson’s five book series “Conversations in Spiritual Theology” which includes:

“Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology” (2005)

“Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading” (2006)

“The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways that Jesus is the Way” (2007)

“Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers” (2008)

and “Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ” (2010)

I first read each in the series as they we’re initially released into the wild. But they’ve set on my shelf for years. What a blessing to reread this series again!

No need for a seminary education. Simply devour the contents of each of these volumes.

Also, if you’ve not watched Eugene Peterson’s conversation with U2’s Bono (as if there’s another) via Fuller Theological Seminary you ought to check it out. Two of my favorite people.

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41domrv4ifl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Two books that I believe could be read together in regard to an ongoing Calvinism/Reformed and Arminian/Free Will conversation are “Young, Restless, and Reformed” by Collin Hansen and “Young, Restless, and No Longer Reformed” by Austin Fischer.

Both are written independently from one other. Neither collaborates with the other. But if you’re like me you have friends who are fall into one theology or another, or are somewhere in between. Seeking to understand where another is coming from, especially with those whom we differ, is far too often not our course of action. Shame on us!

Whether Reformed or Arminian, Hyper-Calvinist or absolutely Remonstrant to the core, faith should have nothing to fear from criticism.

(“For Calvinism” by Michael Horton and “Against Calvinism” by Roger Olson are two others that I’d recommend along these lines. See previous post.

Whereas Hansen and Fischer write their volumes completely independent of one another. Horton and Olson are friends and colleagues who not only love and respect one another, they write the forwards for one another’s book!)

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2751848_2936074_1477624764Tiersa ordered me an autographed copy of Brandon Hatmaker’s “A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith.”

The call is transformation from an anemic spiritual life based upon a limited understanding of God, into a faith of true depth, intimacy, and power.

Hatmaker explores eight essentials of Christianity: the Gospel, identity, Scripture, discipleship, Kingdom, mission, community, and justice. Along the way he introduces practical applications that tap into the richer life Christ has promised, individually and as a community.

He writes: “God wants more than simply to save us: He’s also determined to transform us, restore us, and use us to reveal the coming of His kingdom right here, right now.”

“Barefoot Church” is another book of his from a couple of years ago that I really enjoyed as well.

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MartinI’ve found both when it comes to scholarly work, and in regard to the practice of spiritual disciplines, I’ve learned a lot from Jesuits. From Ignatius (the original Jesuit) to Pope Francis – humility, simplicity, and obedience are qualities that draw me to the Society of Jesus.

“Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints” by James Martin SJ is a journey of fidelity and commitment to the Kingdom.

In this short book, Martin builds upon the discovery of the “true self” that Merton, Mother Theresa, Nouwen and many others have sought to live out and unveil.

As Merton describes, “The shedding of the grave clothes.”

Who we are in Christ.

Our identity and purpose.

Only when we lose ourselves do we find our true self.

Seems like our Lord said something along those lines….

I’ve read only a few books from James Martin SJ’s pen.

Peterson, Wright, and Keller – Merton, Nouwen and Rohr – Lewis and Tozer – Willard and Foster –  those are some of my “go-to’s.”

Martin may soon be on the list.

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There you have it.

The 2016 “must reads.”

Most years I’ll post the top five.

This year there are a few more than that for your consideration.

Glory to God!

Jason

this is my Gospel

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“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my Gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.  But God’s Word is not chained.  Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Timothy 2:8-10).

I wonder if we have this very same perspective, or if we are too far removed (in both time and even belief) from the early church?  Are these our priorities?  Are these words as central to us as they were to the first century apostolic mission?

As the Apostle writes to his protégé Timothy, the sword that will fulfill his destiny can practically be heard as it is sharpened in the background (Paul, of course, is soon beheaded for his faith).  And so as with much of what we see from Paul’s pen, there is a great sense of urgency in what he seeks to communicate in this final letter to his dear friend.

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.  This is my Gospel.”

“This is my Gospel.”  Now that’s a significant statement!  Is it not?

The word Gospel is utilized 96 times in the New Testament.  All but 20 are found in Paul’s letters.  76 times the Apostle Paul pens the word.  “Euangelion.”  “Good News.”  “Gospel.”  And each and every time he does, his intention is the same.  For there is no other Gospel that is Gospel.

This is my Gospel: “Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.”

How do we, how do you, understand the word “Gospel?”

How do we define it?

Is “our Gospel” more?

Is it less?

If it is, then “our gospel” is not “the Gospel.”

Glory to God!

Jason

the moment of the Cross

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“We have, alas, belittled the cross, imagining it merely as a mechanism for getting us off the hook of our own petty naughtiness…. It is much, much more. It is the moment when the story of Israel reaches its climax; the moment when, at last, the watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls see their God coming in His Kingdom; the moment when the people of God are renewed so as to be, at last, the royal priesthood who will take over the world not with the love of power but with the power of love; the moment when the Kingdom of God overcomes the kingdoms of the world. It is the moment when a great old door, locked and barred since our first disobedience, swings open….” – Dallas Willard, “The Spirit of the Disciplines”

Glory to God!

Jason

do we think enough of God?

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Don’t we find ourselves at times spiritually plateaued in our journeys of faith? And maybe not even plateaued, but rather, more like spiritually bankrupt? What do we do when we begin to feel this way? Maybe it’s found in the ebb and flow of faith. Maybe it only characterizes a small portion of time. Or maybe it is descript of decades. Years of complacency. No zeal. No excitement. No anticipation. No experience of God. What then? What next?

In his book Attributes of God, AW Tozer writes, A local church will only be as great as its concept of God.  An individual Christian will be a success or failure (in the Kingdom) depending upon what he or she thinks of God.  It is critically important that we not only have a knowledge of the Holy One, but that we truly come to know Him in all His majesty and wonder.”

Maybe what we “think of God,” as Tozer puts it, is directly related to our being spiritually plateaued or bankrupt.

Do we think enough of God? How much thought do we honestly give Him during the course of the day? How often do you engage in silent conversation with Him if even for a brief moment? How often do you pray? I mean really, really pray? Not as an aside. But heart and mind, engaged in prayer with our Father. How much time do you set aside in reading Scripture and being fed by God’s Word? How often do you read what others have written to broaden your concept of God? How many conversations do you have throughout the week with others who are seeking to be faithful to our Father as well? Do you seek out Christian insight from others who have faith? Because what we “think of God” is answered in questions such as these.

The Apostle Paul writes: I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.” – Ephesians 1:17

The question is: Do we really want to know Him better?

Or maybe in asking what Tozer had in mind: Do we think enough of God?

Somehow spiritual discipline has too often been divorced from faith. Faith is too often seen as mental ascent rather than a life characterized by discipleship. No wonder we find ourselves so often spiritually anemic.

Discipleship. Living cognizant of the presence of God. Spiritual discipline. A life characterized by faith and faithfulness. When our practice reflects our concept of God – it is then and only then that we will begin to know Him better.

Glory to God!

Jason

summit 2016

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I’ll be making my annual pilgrimage to the Mecca that is Abilene Christian University this week.

This is 16 years in a row that I’ve gone to ACU.

Although my degrees are from other institutions, ACU’s Summit, campus, profs, publishing, and spirit have had just as much of an impact upon my own spiritual life and ministry as my three alma maters have.

To me ACU has always felt like home.

The theme of the 110th annual lectureship is:

Love God, Love Your Neighbor: Living the Greatest Commands

We’ll hear from the likes of Jerry Taylor, Randy Harris, Landon Saunders, Sarah Barton, and Eddie Sharp, worship with thousands (and have coffee with a few), spend sacred time with close friends, and make a few new ones along the way.

Our God He is good and He is faithful.

And for the next four days I’m simply going to try to get out of His way….

Glory to God!

Jason

a great story

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One of the connections that God has made possible in our life as His people is the connection to the greater story.  We connect to the epic story of God.  Because we belong to Him through Christ, His story is ours, and our story becomes His.

The Apostle Paul writes, “You are sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ….  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 4:26-29).

We can trace our spiritual lineage to the promise and action of God at work within humanity because in Christ we are a part of the greater story.

Hebrews 11 is a chapter that we love dearly.  Great heroes of faith are placed before us systematically one right after the other.  By faith Noah….  By faith Abraham….  By faith Isaac….  By faith Jacob….  By faith Moses….  Immediately when their names are mentioned we know their stories.  We know their history.  We know the magnificent ways in which God worked through the lives they lived.  And yet somehow the writer of Hebrews declares that “only together with us are they made complete” (Hebrews 11:40).  Because the story lives on in us in radically revealed ways, as those who live this side of the cross of Jesus.

We love a story.

Think about the books we read or movies we watch or stories we tell.

We love a great story.

The Gospel is the greatest story ever told.

It is a story that continues to be told.

It is a story that continues to be written.

Because we are a part of it’s legacy.

Glory to God!

Jason