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

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

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

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

“q” time

hourglassI wonder what is important to you?

Sometimes life gets in the way and what is urgent gets in the way of that which is important. The lines between what is urgent and what is important are often blurred.  A deadline that must be met.   A project that is past due.  A meeting that needs to be attended.  A person that requires your attention.  Are these urgent or important?  It very often might be that they are indeed both.

time bombOur priorities are easily revealed.  And it’s not as if the urgent mustn’t sometimes temporarily outweigh the important.  But the amount of time and attention we give to any particular person or practice tends to grant us insight into that which comprises our priorities.

We may say that our family is a priority to us, but if what our children see in us is that we are capable of granting all sorts of time and energy toward other people and other endeavors, and little time toward them, what does it communicate to them in regard to where they rate on our scale of priorities?  We may say (and even believe) that we love our spouse more than any other person on the face of the planet, but if we spend more time on the golf course or more energy at the office than we’d ever think about affording to them, what is communicated to them as to how intentional we are in validating the relationship that we share?  And what about God?  Where does He fit in?  We say that God is first in our lives?  Is He really?  How much focus is centered upon God during the course of your week?  Take church attendance out of the picture.  What attention does He receive?

tranquilSomehow we’ve found it extremely easy to con ourselves into believing that right theology equals right relationship.  The truth is, if our theology was right, we would find it all together impossible to think this way.

John Stott in his work, “The Living Church,” describes how on his calendar he would mark the letter “Q” on one specific day each month (Stott passed away in 2011).  The “Q” stood for “quiet.”  Once a month, on a day that he had designated and planned long beforehand, he would go to a quiet place.  Away from the office.  Away from the busyness of life.  Away from interruptions.  And he would spend 10 to 12 hours that day, by himself, “quiet,” with God.  One day a month with no agenda, other than “quiet” time with God.  Prayer.  Study.  Closeness.  Intimacy with God.  What does that say about Stott’s priorities?  What does it say about his desire to be with the Father?

What if you were to plan a “Q” day each month?  Or a “Q” hour each week?  Or “Q” time each day?

What would it say about your priorities?  How might it impact your walk with the Lord?

Glory to God!

Jason

the imagery of forgiveness

compassPsalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, has He removed our transgressions from us.”

Isaiah 1:18, “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”

Micah 7:19, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”

Jeremiah 31:34, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

snowGod reveals relationship in vivid metaphor.  Sin removed as far as the east is removed from the west.  The stark contrast of scarlet and snow.  Sins plummeting to the depths of the sea.  An all-powerful, all-knowing God choosing to forget, and remember our sins no more.

The imagery of forgiveness.

Our Father forgives.  He heals.  He restores.  He delivers.  He rescues.

Through divine prerogative and divine covenant and divine eyes He sees us not for our sin, not for our shame, not for our rebellion, but for who we are through Jesus.

seaHe sees us clearly and in such a way we often find it difficult to see ourselves.  As whole.  As holy.  As righteous.  As forgiven.

Galatians 3:27, “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”

He sees us through Jesus.

Glory to God!

Jason

jamming gears and Jesus

old large gears

“Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’  ‘Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied.  When He was accused by the chief priests and the elders, He gave no answer.  Then Pilate asked Him, ‘Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?’  But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge – to the great amazement of the governor” (Matthew 27:11-14).

Pilate is amazed.  He’s dumbfounded.  His gears are seriously jamming.  Jesus won’t defend Himself against His accusers.  He answers Pilate when he asks, “Are you the king of the Jews?”  But he won’t answer those who oppose Him.  And Pilate doesn’t get it.  He can’t fathom why in the world Jesus doesn’t answer them.  But that’s precisely why.  Because His Kingdom is not of this world.  And so He refuses to answer.

Jesus doesn’t answer because He is in complete control.  Of Himself.  Of the situation.  It may seem as if things are spiraling out of control, but they are far from it.  God is sovereign.  Jesus doesn’t answer because “as a sheep before his shearers is silent he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).  Jesus is fulfilling the plan of God, the purposes of God, in every way.  And He knows it.  Though His actions He’s fulfilling prophesy.  Intentionally.  Jesus doesn’t answer because His critics wouldn’t listen even if He did.  Would it change their minds?  Their hearts?  No.  And so He doesn’t answer.

One more crucial reason that I believe Jesus doesn’t answer is because He knows who He is as He stands before the Father.  He is complete.  He is whole.  He is without blemish.  Without defect.  Without fault.  And ultimately, it matters not what the critics think of Him; of who they believe Him to be.  What matters is that He fulfills the will of the Father in His life.  Beyond that, does anything else really matter?

Who we are in the Father’s eyes matters more than everything else.  When it is all said and done, it’s really all that matters.

Glory to God!

Jason

you are not alone

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“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

thinking of God

prayer

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?

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