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

a win/win

If at the end of the day I were to ask you to give me an itemized itinerary of the events of your day and how they unfolded, you’d readily be capable of describing how the day progressed. For me, most mornings the alarm clock goes off and off I go. By 830am my two youngest boys are sitting in their desks at school. By 930 several days a week Tiersa has our youngest girls are in class and she’s in her classroom. I’m either in the office or at a coffee shop depending upon the day. Now that’s only a short timeframe, a couple of hours from start to finish in the morning, but a whole lot more went into that time right? I failed to mention whether or not the kids were in a good mood by the time they walked out the door or if I had to referee. Whether or not we left in plenty of time to get where we were going or had to break several laws of man and a few laws of physics to get them to school before the tardy bell rang (not that I ever do that!). I haven’t told you about all the things on my mind during that morning timeframe. Concerns. Commitments. Complications. From the things on my to-do list that I just need to get done, to things that I have no idea what to do about and am still waiting to see how God works through them.

My reason behind this is to acknowledge to you that as much as we are striving to simplify, as much as we are striving to keep the main things the main things, we live lives that involve some degree of complication. Some complications we can actively do something about. But the reality is, for other complications, we’re in a holding pattern.

Process these words of the Apostle Paul, “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by me and Silasand Timothy, was not ‘Yes’ and ‘No,’ but in Him it has always been ‘Yes.’  For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 1:18-20a

What Paul assures is that everything in life is a “Yes” when we’re in Christ. Everything is a “Yes!” That somehow amidst good and bad, calm and chaos, triumph and tragedy, when we are in Jesus, it’s all a “Yes.” It’s not that it’s all easy.  It’s not that it always makes sense. But somehow when we see life through eyes of faith everything is a “Yes” because God is God. And in Jesus, we are His people. And because we are His, everything is a “Yes.” So you got a promotion? It’s a “Yes” in Christ. So you lost you’re job today? It’s a “Yes” when you’re close to our Savior. The cancer is in remission? It’s a “Yes” in Jesus. Your counts are looking like the cancer has returned? It’s a “Yes” when in relationship with God.

Somehow when we are in Christ Jesus, everything is a “Yes.” If you are being faithful to God, it’s a win/win situation. No matter what complications you’re in the middle of. No matter how promising or how bleak a circumstance. In Him it has always been (and always will be) “Yes!”

Glory to God!

Jason

getting off the ladder

princess in front of mirrorWhen we are children, we think about what we will become.  Who we will become.  We dream of who we will be.  What we will do.  The things we will accomplish.

It’s doubtful that we’ve all become cowboys, astronauts, and racecar drivers.  We learn to adapt.  We change our minds.  We face setbacks.

ladderAll of this thinking, however, is on a physical level.  No matter how high we climb the ladder our view is seriously impeded until we begin to see life through spiritual eyes.  Only when we get off the ladder and begin to ascend the mountain of God does the view ever change.  Only when we ascend the mountain does our perspective change.

The Psalmist exclaims to God, “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (Psalm 139:13).

The Apostle Paul pens, “It is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).

And in Ephesians 2:10 he affirms, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

mountainRegardless of vocation.  Regardless of situation.  Regardless of circumstance.  Regardless of victory or defeat.  To begin to see every moment of life as God-ordained.  Christ-centered.  Spirit-filled. And Kingdom-embracing.

God meets His people not at the top of the ladder, but upon the mountain (Hebrews 12:22).

Too often we assess our value as to where we are on the ladder (physical), rather than how we are living up to our calling as believers (spiritual).

When we get off the ladder and begin to climb the mountain of God it is then that we not only begin to become acutely aware of our calling in life, but it is then, and only then, that we begin to achieve the very things that our Father has created us and purposed us to do.

Glory to God!

Jason

humility and discipleship

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One quality that really impresses God (and it’s not a very long list) is humility.  Humility is one of those things that just when you think that you’ve got it, you don’t.  And it’s one of those qualities of Jesus that is most evidenced in the lives of those who are genuinely seeking to imitate Him.

Jesus is fully God.  He steps into the world as Immanuel “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).  In Colossians the Apostle Paul is writing to address issues that have arisen in the church in which some are questioning the deity of Christ.  He affirms, “God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him (Christ), and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things” (Colossians 1:19-20a).

And yet he “emptied Himself” and became “obedient to death, even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8).  And for this reason we are called to have the very same attitude and mindset as that of Christ Jesus (v5).

Jesus always goes about being “God with us” from a position of humility.  It’s never a power play with Jesus.  The only One who actually has the right to demand everything from a position of power because of who He is, comes to serve and comes to show us what true love and humility look like.

Too often we’re not enough like Jesus.  We manipulate.  We force.  We coerce.  That’s not Jesus….

Jesus’ call upon our lives is if we want to be His disciples we must first deny ourselves.  And I believe humility plays a crucial role.

Jesus never forces Himself on anyone.  “Do you want to be my disciple?  Take up your cross and follow me,” He says.  “Do you want to come and learn and share and be a part of the bigger picture and the things that I am about in the Kingdom?  Good.  Follow me.”  Discipleship is a choice.  Following Jesus is a choice.  And humility is a choice.

When you are full of yourself, God cannot fill you.  Only when we empty ourselves can our God fill us.  Only when we empty ourselves of all pride and all arrogance and all selfishness… only when we “humble ourselves before the Lord” can He then lift us up (James 4:10).

Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in Spirit… (Matthew 5:3).”

Maybe that’s a good place for us to start as well.

Glory to God!

Jason

too easily derailed

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Imagine as Christ’s church our having to meet in secret because of persecution. We tend to trivialize the notion in our Western worldview but the reality is that much of the church of both the past and present was/is forced to gather together in secrecy for the valid fear of oppression and persecution (either by government or society and culture). The first century church and Christians today in Muslim and Communist countries have much in common.

Beneath the city of Rome lies hundreds of miles of “catacombs.” The catacombs are underground burial places where Christians often met for worship and fellowship. For the almost three hundred years after Christ, Christians sought asylum in this underground maze of tunnels beneath Rome seeking to worship God in community with one another and as they were in constant fear of Roman violence.

In these underground tunnels a common inscription has been repeatedly found. Many recognize the symbol as the Jesus or Christian fish (the Greek word ichthus means “fish”) but it served as an early acrostic, which stood for: “Jesus Christ, Son of God, our Savior.” (I avoid acrostics at all costs in preaching – but this one I have to let slide….) What we have as magnets on the back of our luxury SUV’s complete with seat warmers, originally served as a ray of hope in caverns of darkness (physically and spiritually) for the early church.

I wonder about our investment of the Christian life. If in our ease of worship and ease of faith we aren’t crippled in our commitment. Not that I’m praying for persecution. But in times of oppression in the church’s history valiant faith has abounded. Why? Because it forced our hand whether we were in with both feet or not.

Here’s my question: Are we? Are we all in? Are we completely, totally, whole-heartedly invested (heart, soul, and self) into the Christian life?

Luke records these words of our Savior: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).

We’re tempted to think that Jesus is talking about “them.”

I think it’s about us….

Steadfastness. Dedication. Investment. An investment of self. An investment of life.

We are too often too easily derailed.

We tend to take lightly the things we have not wholly invested in. The things we’re not completely committed to. Arenas in which no sacrifice has been required. The same is especially true of faith. For this reason Christ calls us to make every effort.

Glory to God!

Jason

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

cow, farming

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