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

to be Christian, but not a disciple

I Have Decided Christian Wallpaper

“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

Fellowship Website Banner

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

top five books of 2015

This year’s “top five” (technically six) are near and dear to my heart. I always attempt to read broadly. This year I’ve especially seemed to have read from a broad spectrum of books. Most all of the ones that I read this year could have made this list. However, these were particularly engaging (and renewing)….

51ACcP3EhHL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen is a book of hope. It reveals not only our capacity for ministering out of the healing the Gospel of Jesus provides, but the design of God as we minister out of that God-ordained healing. In a world defined by it’s brokenness, believers are defined by the healing that only those of the Kingdom embrace. If you are familiar with Nouwen then you know that every word of his writings centers upon spiritual formation and spiritual renewal. The Wounded Healer is no exception. If you are not familiar with Henri Nouwen, The Wounded Healer is an excellent place to begin.

for calvinismI thoroughly enjoyed reading two books designed to work in tandem with one another:against calvinism For Calvinism written by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger Olson. Horton is professor of theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Olson is professor of theology at Truett Seminary at Baylor University. Both men are friends, and wrote the forwards for one another’s book, each being fully respectful of the other’s theological perspective, all the while making a concise case for their own systematic theology and belief system (note the tulips full of life on the left and wilted to the right). Whether Protestant or Catholic, Reformed or Arminian, Hyper-Calvinist or Remonstrant to the core, one of the brilliant aspects of these two works is the call to fully understand and respect where one another’s beliefs are founded, even, and especially, when we do not agree with the conclusions drawn.

surprised by hopeSimply Christian, Simply Jesus, and How God Became King are some of my favorite books by NT Wright. Wright’s hardwired academic posture and intentional pastoral heart are evident in his writing and ministry (I listen to Wright’s podcast constantly in the car). Surprised by Hope has possibly edged out How God Became King for my all time favorite book from my friend Tom’s pen. Surprised by Hope (a play on CS Lewis’ Surprised by Joy) is not only extremely readable (Wright can tend to be unashamedly very academic) but also super applicable and engaging for today’s postmodern/postChristian culture. Don’t allow the subheading “Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church” deter you. You won’t agree with everything in the book (if I only read those I full agreed with I’d only read me), I don’t, but you will indeed be challenged to think more critically in regard to the Kingdom of God and our role as those who are so blessed dwell within it.

interior castleWhen I propose these books each year I will often acknowledge that they have not all been written within the previous year or even previous several years. The Interior Castle is 427 years old. That’s probably a record for this venue. In The Interior Castle (El Castillo Interior), Teresa of Avila describes how, upon entering the “castle” (sense the concept of protection, safety, peace) through prayer and meditation, the human spirit experiences humility, detachment, suffering, and, ultimately, self-knowledge, as it roams from room to room. As we progress further toward the center of the castle, we come closer to achieving indefinable and perfect peace, and, finally, divine communion with God. Like her contemporary John of the Cross (cf. Dark Night of the Soul) Teresa is a Renaissance mystic. Out of the ancient mystic worldview we catch a glimpse of the contemporary call to spiritual discipline, humility, and to be overwhelmed by God.

eager to loveI’ve intentionally read much over the last number of years in pursuit of better understanding of, and better practice of, spiritual disciplines. My first book Renaissance: The End of Religion and Beginning of Something New focused on spiritual formation. My current work, Fortress: Timeless Spiritual Disciplines for Contemporary Christian Life, centers on spiritual disciplines (I’m only about a year into writing and still have several more before it’ll be released into the wild). I say all of that because much of my reading is bent in the direction of spiritual practices. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr portrays the “alternative way” of following Jesus as revealed in the life of Francis of Assisi: one that disregarded power and privilege and held fast to the narrow path of the Gospel of Jesus. Rohr helps us look “beyond the birdbath image of the saint” to remind us of the long tradition founded upon his revolutionary, radical, and life-changing embrace of the teachings of Jesus. Rohr draws upon Scripture, insights from psychology, and literary and artistic references, to weave together an understanding of the tradition as practiced by Francis of Assisi. Rohr, a Franciscan priest, depicts how his own worldview and theology are firmly grounded in this way of life and teaching, and provides a perspective on how this “alternative way” to God can deepen and enrich our spiritual lives.

Well, there you have it. This year’s top five.

I read more than a dozen other books this year.

But if you ask me, these five are a perfect place to start.

Glory to God!

Jason