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

the secret to happiness

What would it take for you to be happy? I mean life-is-good, smile-on-your-face happy. What would it take? Most often our response comes out of wherever we are for the moment. Whatever our aspirations are. Our goals. Whatever we’re struggling with. Whatever we’re worried about. Whatever brass ring that’s just out of reach. Whatever dark cloud looms overhead.

For some it’s money. There’s a pawn shop in Garland, Tx that has a sign that reads, “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but it sure pays the bills.” For others it’s status or accomplishment or house or possession. And I don’t want to diminish the things that often concern us. Maybe it’s the house that sits on a hill that you’re striving for. Or maybe, it’s simply the house you’re living in that’s falling apart that you’d repair if you could afford it. Maybe you have a dream car in mind. Or maybe, you’d just like to not have to pray that the car you have will start every morning. For many the answer is relational. And this is the most difficult one of all. The perfect marriage. The perfect relationship. How many marriages have fallen apart because one or both have come to the conclusion: “I’m just not happy any more.” How many relationships are on the verge right now of breaking up because of the sadness and apathy of one or both in the marriage?

How many times have you said: “When I finally get this job, then I’ll be happy.” “When I finally finish this degree, then I’ll be happy.” “When I pay off this loan, then I’ll be happy.” “When I….  If I….”

Have you found that contentment is illusive? What does it mean to be content anyway?

We seek happiness, and I know that some would argue that happiness and contentment are two different realizations, but I can’t help but think that if we could come to the point in life that we were content, we’d then be happy.

Perhaps no Psalm is more loved and more quoted than Psalm 23. It brings comfort and solace because it draws us into the arms of a Father who is so very welcoming and so very sufficient. In verse 5 David pens, “…my cup overflows.” In Scripture one’s “cup” is one’s lot in life. There is abundance in his life attributed only to God. It’s not a situational concept. It’s an internal one. An emotional one. A state-of-being. The blessings of living near the Father. A Father who lavishes His love upon us. His grace upon us. His goodness. His strength. He saves us, and then, renews us. What a description of abundance and belonging. “My cup overflows.” “It is overfilled.” “Filled to overflowing.” Because I belong to God!

The Apostle Paul writes, “I have learned the secret of being content…” (Philippians 4:12).

The secret?  Jesus!

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

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.

~

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

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

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

holy ground in waco, tx

City Lights at Night Worship Background

For the last 2.5 years Dr. Jim Martin has been the vice president of Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tn. Prior to this role Jim served in congregational ministry for over 35 years, 20 of those years being with the Crestview Church in Waco.

For the final five years that he was in Waco, Jim facilitated five one-year long discipleship groups, each year composed of 8-10 ministers from near and far.

I was blessed to be a part of one of those groups. We met once a month, usually in Jim’s home. We came together to disciple. To disciple ourselves and to disciple one another. To pray and to study and to grow and to challenge and to bring healing and to speak truth and to breathe life.

Each time we came together was sacred. Sacred space. Holy ground.

I didn’t realize it at the time (I understood how transformative our time together was for me, I recognized how truly blessed I was by Jim and by those were a part) but what I did not comprehend early on was that I had become a part of something sacred. Something transcendent. An alum of a moment in time that would be so meaningful and formational to me (and to so many others) for the rest of our lives.

And so yesterday, we gathered together once again.

Jim was going to be in Waco and orchestrated a reunion of sorts at Crestview for those who had been a part of the discipleship groups during those years in Waco.

And so what did we do?

We prayed. We studied. We grew in our faith. We challenged one another. We brought healing. We spoke truth. And God breathed life.

Exodus 3:5, “Take off your shoes, for the place where you are standing, is holy.”

Glory to God!

Jason

our brokenness

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Yesterday at Eastridge we completed a two month Sunday morning series that we called: He is Greater Than.

Basing the series off of the victory of David over Goliath, each week we sought to address real world Goliaths.

Issues our God equips us to overcome.

Over the course of nine weeks we affirmed that our God, He is greater than our fears, our inadequacies, our failures, our control, divorce, addiction, our sin. And then the final message yesterday: He is > our shame.

In each message, our hope was to established the truths that:

1) our God is sovereign,

2) He can be trusted,

and 3) His strength is made complete in our weakness.

In wrestling with these difficult, emotional topics over the last nine weeks as a church family; and in light of the recent reminders within the world in which we live of how broken we truly are, I have been (perhaps more-so than usual) acutely aware of how very fragmented and marred humanity is because of the Fall.

How very fragile and how very vulnerable we truly are.

And our innate, insatiable need for God.

Our view of God, our view of ourselves, our view of the world in which we live is crucial.

Perspective is imperative.

A God-given, Christ-centered, Spirit-fueled, Kingdom-ordained, Cross-shaped, Resurrection-powered lens with which we view everything is central.

I’ve actually had folks say to me, “Jason the world is more messed up today than it has ever been.”

And I want to scream back, “Are you kidding me?!

More messed up today? Than ever?!

Do you remember Apartheid in South Africa? The Killing Fields of Cambodia? Have you read about the American Civil Rights movement? Have you ever heard of Auschwitz? The Civil War? Slavery in the US? And that’s only in recent history. Do the cities of Sodom and Gomorra ring a bell?!”

More messed up today? Than ever? Hardly.

The world has been equally messed up since Genesis 3.

Equally.

And we have all needed God equally since Genesis 3.

Equally.

And if we have come to understand much at all from our God, it is within the most difficult, darkest moments, when all seems most oppressive and least hopeful, that He does His best work.

Isn’t that what we learn from the cross and resurrection of Jesus?

Somehow only through the cross and resurrection, only through the Gospel of Christ, does all of this brokenness, all of the effects of the Fall, begin to be healed.

My friend Jack Reese helps us to understand not only this broken state, but the God designed healing of this brokenness.

In his book, The Body Broken, Reese offers affirmation of peace, even amidst our brokenness:

“The body of Christ indeed is broken. We live in narrow worlds surrounded by people mostly like ourselves. We talk too little to anyone whose opinions differ from our own. We seldom see beyond ethnic and social boundaries. We engage too often in accusation and blame. Each of us bears responsibility. No one is innocent. We build walls of self-protection. We seek our own interests. We do not love as we ought. We are silent when words must be spoken. We shout when everything in the universe calls for silence. Christ’s body is broken because we, in our sins, are broken….

In this brokenness, however, lies our hope. Christ’s body was broken so that the body of Christ might be healed. He was wounded for our transgressions, as the prophet says. Here is the good news. Our brokenness is met in Christ’s. In this brokenness we become one with Him and, if we have the courage, with one another. We share in His suffering and therefore in each other’s pain. By this means, Christ’s peace heals us. It is healing us even now” (p170).

Glory to God!

Jason