you are not alone

“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

transformative thinking

transformed

“You’ve heard it said…. But I say….” we hear our Lord proclaim over and over in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus reinterprets. He reforms. He reprioritizes. “I know that you’ve heard it this way….” “I know that human nature says to respond like this….” “I know that you bring your own presuppositions to the table….” “I know this is the way that you once thought of things… but now, things are different.”

Jesus steps into our world and transforms our thinking, our ideologies, our worldviews, our way of life.

Here’s a tough one He tackles: “Love your enemies.” “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Love your enemies!? I have a hard enough time getting along with my friends!

Pray for (bless) those who persecute you!? Are you serious?

And it’s an active love for our enemies. And it’s a very tall order! More than just a passive bearing of persecution or hatred. Loving them. Blessing them. Doing good to them. For them. Regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

In this and in countless other ways Jesus calls for a radical paradigm shift. A radical change of mind. A change of perspective. A change of heart.

We see Jesus exemplify His own teaching as He prays for God to forgive those who are responsible for His death (Luke 23:34). But what about we who are ultimately those who are responsible because of our sin?

The Apostle Paul connects the dots for us: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11).

You see while we were still enemies of God, Christ died on our behalf.

“Love your enemies.” It’s one of those areas of the Gospel and one of those areas of our life and faith that we would just as soon ignore. It’s about a radical change of mind. From a mindset that is worldly to one that is of the Kingdom. It’s about seeing the potential for the magnificent impact of the Gospel of Jesus in the most unlikeliest of places. Just like God saw it in you, and in me.

Glory to God!

Jason

the scandal of the Cross

cross

“For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” – 1 Corinthians 1:18

These words of the Apostle Paul encourage we who have faith. They affirm to us that no matter what others think or say or believe, no matter the lack of conviction or lack of faith of others, the reconciling message of the Cross of Christ is powerful to us, even if it isn’t to them.

But most often in our conversations and in our emphasis, we place a little too much distance between verse 18 and verse 17.

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the Gospel – not with words of wisdom, lest the Cross be emptied of its power.” – 1 Corinthians 1:17

Now don’t think for a moment that the Apostle Paul is downplaying the role of baptism in one’s response to the Gospel. Rather, I believe what the Apostle is emphatically seeking to convey is the overwhelming centrality of the message of Christ and the total reliance upon the power of God – that completely rests within the content of the message itself.

Paul strips away anything that we ourselves could add to the message by assuring that it is not with anything that we bring to the table that makes the message more influential. Not by any oratory prowess or skill, or by any honed, tactical argumentation – but rather the power lies within the message. “…not with words of wisdom, lest the Cross be emptied of its power.” It is the shock of the story of the Cross. And the shock of the story of the God of the Cross that motivates and prompts response.

The Gospel has always been scandalous, because it is a message of grace. Grace is scandalous because it releases control. It relinquishes control to the only One who truly possesses it. The scandal of the Cross is that it is God Himself who “is both just and the One who justifies” (Romans 3:26).

Christ brings the Kingdom (Reign) and the Cross (Sacrifice) together, which no one can fathom. Therein lies the power of its message.

Glory to God!

Jason

a radical change of mind

man praying

“You’ve heard it said….  But I say….” we hear our Lord proclaim over and over in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus reinterprets.  He reforms.  He reprioritizes.  “I know that you’ve heard it this way….”  “I know that human nature says to respond like this….”  “I know that you bring your own presuppositions to the table….”  “I know this is the way that you once thought of things… but now, things are different.”

Jesus steps into our world and transforms our thinking, our ideologies, our worldviews, our way of life.

Here’s a tough one He tackles: “Love your enemies.”  “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43-44).

Love your enemies!?  I have a hard enough time getting along with my friends!  Pray (bless) those who persecute you!?  Are you serious?

And it’s an active love for our enemies.  And it’s a very tall order!  More than just a passive bearing of persecution or hatred.  Loving them.  Blessing them.  Doing good to them.  For them.  Regardless of who they are or what they’ve done.

In this and in countless other ways Jesus calls for a radical paradigm shift.  A radical change of mind.  A change of perspective.  A change of heart.

We see Jesus exemplify His own teaching as He prays for God to forgive those who are responsible for His death (Luke 23:34).  But what about we who are ultimately those who are responsible because of our sin?

The Apostle Paul connects the dots for us: But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!  Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Romans 5:8-11).

You see while we were still enemies of God, Christ died on our behalf.

“Love your enemies.”  It’s one of those areas of the Gospel and one of those areas of our life and faith that we would just as soon ignore.  It’s about a radical change of mind.  From a mindset that is worldly to one that is of the Kingdom.  It’s about seeing the potential for the magnificent impact of the Gospel of Jesus in the most unlikeliest of places.  Just like God saw it in you, and in me.

Glory to God!

Jason

the cause of redemption

Bible Love

“God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Love is a quality that we develop. We learn how to love. We learn love from our parents and grandparents. We learn love from those who love us along the way. As we fall in love and marry we learn to love our spouse and learn love from our spouse. Tiersa and I have in many ways “grown up” together because we came to know one another at such a young age. As we look into our newborn children’s eyes for the first time we experience a love that gives us such insight into the love of God (although we’re certainly content to let grandma and grandpa give us a rest as often as they like!). Through life, through experience, through trial and error at times, we learn how to better love – and what it means to love.

And yet we often wonder, “How could God love us?” Or perhaps even closer to home, “How could God love me?” But I think as honest as these questions are, they don’t quite have a full grasp of God’s love. Or, the reality that the Apostle John unveils to us: “God is love” (1 John 4:8,16). Love is not a quality that God has learned. Love is who God is. God reveals love because He is love.

God does not love us because we are easy or difficult to love (although through relationship we oftentimes find ourselves either closer to God or distanced from Him – but this is our doing, not His!). God loves us because He is God. He is love. Love is who He is. Love is His character. His nature. The reality that God is love is as unchanging as He is. God’s love is not drawn out of Him by us, rather, it flows from Him constantly. Steadily. Why? Because God is love.

“God so loved…” (John 3:16) not because we were loveable, but because He is love. Christ did not die for the world so that God might then love us. Christ died because God loves us. He died as the ultimate revelation and realization of God’s love for us. Love is not the result of redemption, it is the cause of it….

Glory to God!

Jason

unconditional

handWe are a confusing people.  We say we wholly love.  We contend we are fully committed.  We promise we are all in.  But how often we fail.  How very often we fall short.  We are a people of conditions.  “If you’ll scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”  “I’ll forgive you if you will jump through these hoops.”  “Do things my way and then we can be friends.”  “Let’s get on the same page” (and by same page, we mean our own).  “I love you, but I’d love you more if….”  In many ways we are conditioned to be conditional.

We are a confusingly, conditional people.

This however, is not the Jesus Way.

God has no conditions when it comes to His love.  Don’t mishear (or misread) what I’m saying.  Covenant with God is conditioned upon our being in Christ.  But, His love for us is absolutely unconditional.  Completely unconditional.  No strings attached.  No hidden agendas.  And it is at our worst of moments, when we are at our most unlovable, that this reality is most beautiful and most powerful.  And in those moments (as if it were possible) it feels as if He loves even us more.

“God demonstrates His own (unconditional) love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ dies for us” (Romans 5:8).

“For if when we were God’s enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life?!” (Romans 5:10).

At the first of each year we tend to reflect upon the previous year and consider the one that lies ahead.  My hope is that you enter into this new year knowing that you are deeply and unconditionally loved by our Father.

Glory to God!

Jason

fear, doubt, and anxiety

Sunlight Shining Through Forest

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it!’ (Numbers 13:30).

I love the story of Joshua and Caleb scoping out the Promised Land.  I think most of us do.  They covertly travel the landscape with ten other “spies.”  They return and confirm that the land God had promised to them was more than they could have ever thought possible.  Caleb declares before the entire Israelite community, “What are we waiting for?!” (It reminds me of what the Apostle Paul will write in Romans 8:31, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”)  But what do the other ten spies who went with Joshua and Caleb come back and say?  “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33).

Twelve men, two perspectives.  It is a story of fear versus faith in God.  Doubt versus trust in God.  Anxiety versus confidence in God.

A few weeks ago we held a premiere of the movie “Home Run” in the FLC.  We had 250+ in attendance, many of whom were invited by friends, all of whom benefited greatly from the evening together.  The movie centered upon struggling with addiction and struggling in relationships.  Ultimately, the movie centered upon trusting God.  One of the best lines in the movie was, “Nothing great happens when you hold back.”

Fear, doubt, and anxiety hold us back.  As a people.  As a church.  We fear failure.  We doubt God.  When we do, anxiety reigns, the Kingdom is crippled, and the enemy is pleased.

When will we understand, “Nothing great happens when you hold back.”

And so I ask you these questions:

  • What do you need to let go of?
  • Is your faith as strong as it ought to be?
  • In what way are you not trusting wholly in our Father?
  • What creates anxiety within you?
  • What do you need to give to God?

Caleb asks the people of God, “What are we waiting for?!”

Today, I ask the same.

Glory to God!

Jason

spiritual oxygen

windOur bodies require oxygen.  I’ve heard of some who have argued that a glass of water can wake you up in the morning just as well as a cup of coffee because of the oxygen in the water (I of course do not buy this argument and would never think of starting the day without a cup of coffee, but to each his own….  And isn’t there oxygen, in the water, in the coffee?).  But it is a simple, physiological truth, the body requires oxygen.  An abundance of it.  When we take a deep breath, oxygen fills our lungs, and then floods the central nervous system, circulatory system, etc. with life.  When our bodies are oxygen depleted we do not function to our fullest capacity (those associated with the Tour de France can explain this well).  Without breathing in oxygen the body dies.  And without an abundance of oxygen the body suffers.

The Hebrew word for breath is “ruack.”  The Greek word for it is “pneuma.”  Would it surprise you that these same words (that can be translated “breath”) are also the very words that are translated “Spirit”?  The Spirit of God breathing life at creation.  The Spirit of God breathing life at baptism.  The Spirit of God renewing, empowering, uplifting, filling, flooding the body of Christ with spiritual oxygen today.

goldfish in fishbowlWithout an abundance of oxygen the body suffers.  The body of Christ requires spiritual oxygen.  When we find ourselves (as individuals or as a church) in need of renewal, in need of revival, where do we turn?  To whom do we turn?  The Spirit of God gives life.

James 2:26, “The body without the Spirit is dead.”

Romans 8:11, “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life (spiritual life) to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who gives you life.”

When was the last time that you prayed for the Holy Spirit to fill you?  To breathe life into you?  To renew Christ’s church?  To bring about revival?  To flood the body of Christ with spiritual oxygen?

I wonder what would happen if each of us would pray that prayer and if we were truly open to that prayer being answered?

Glory to God!

Jason

stubborn people, humble goats, and the Kingdom of God

stubborn coupleYou have to admit that we can be pretty stubborn sometimes.  Right?  Or at least, let me confess: “I can be pretty stubborn sometimes.”

Webster’s defines “stubborn” as: “inflexible, determined to have one’s own way.”  I wonder how often our unwillingness to be flexible or our determination to have things our own way has negatively impacted the relationships we share with others.  And I wonder, how our stubbornness has often undermined the God that we purport to belong to.

Rocks with a Small TreeWhat place does arrogance or stubbornness or inflexibility or the attitude of “my-way-or-the-highway” have in the Kingdom of God?  None.

Jesus says, “If someone wants to steal the shirt right of your back, willingly give the thief your coat as well.”  “And if someone manipulates you and coerces you into going a mile out of your way for their own selfish benefit, go even further for the sole purpose of Kingdom revealing” (Matthew 5:40-41 in my own words).

The Apostle Paul places it in these terms, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests (how selfish would that be), but look also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:4-5).

Egoism.  Stubbornness.  Inflexibility.  These are not the Kingdom.  The Kingdom is: “Righteousness.  Peace.  And joy in the Holy Spirit” (see Romans 14:17).

In any given situation you are not the most important person.  Neither am I.  Jesus is!

Stubbornness damages the Kingdom.  Every time.

goatDuring the Reformation of the 16th century Zwingli and Luther and had come to an impasse.  Both were perplexed as to how there could be unity between the two of them with their differences.  Until one day Zwingli observed two goats approaching one another from opposite directions on a treacherous, narrow mountain path.  A wall of rock on one side, and a thousand foot cliff on the other.  As they approached one another, the two goats lowered their heads, as though they were about to crash into one another, but then the one going up the mountain trail lay completely flat on the path and allowed the one descending the mountain to step on top of him.  After he had safely passed, the one who had humbled himself then continued his climb.

I wonder what you and I might learn from that?

Glory to God!

Jason

words of glory

“Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been His counselor?  Who has ever given to God that God should repay him?  For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.  To Him be the glory forever!  Amen.” – Romans 11:33-36

This section in Romans 11 is called a “Doxology.”  Words of (ology) glory (doxa).  They are words that give glory to God.  Praise and honor to God.  We at times will sing a song with the same title: Doxology – “Praise God from whom all blessings flow….”

As the Apostle is writing the letter, considering the wonderful plan of God revealed in the Gospel of Christ, he pauses to give glory to the Father.  His words become poetic.  And He sings a song of praise to the Lord for the wondrous things He has done.

You have to be feeling pretty good about life to all of the sudden start singing.  Don’t you?  Tiersa’s grandpa, Leon Bowen, whistled when he was in a good mood.  He would whistle church hymns.  Just thinking about him whistling brings a smile to my face.

I look forward to the holidays every year.  Maybe you do too.  Food.  Family.  Friends.  Coffee.  Lots of coffee!  Even among the busyness of the season, there’s plenty of time to relax and enjoy.  Tiersa and I will make the rounds.  We’ll catch up with extended family.  Sit down face to face with friends we only “see” the rest of the year on Facebook or talk to on the phone.  I love the holidays!

However for many, the holidays can be extremely difficult.  Painful even.  Strained family relationships.  Trying to please everyone (which is an impossibility).  Balancing time with others so that no one gets their feelings hurt.  Financial stresses.  Loneliness.  Missing loved ones who have passed on.

My hope is that we would be very aware of how we might minister to those who are struggling in any way, especially at this time of year.  And if we find ourselves struggling, that we would turn to God.  That we would allow our Father to minister to us.  And that we would praise Him from whom all blessings flow….

Glory to God!

Jason