Sermon Recap: Freedom (Matthew 6:24-34)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jesus on Money.

Jesus_on_Money.png

When our world speaks of financial freedom, it usually means financial independence. The goal is having choices, obtaining enough money so that we aren't stopped from pursuing our desires by financial limitations. 

In Matthew 6:24-34, Jesus shows that this kind of financial freedom is a myth. Real freedom, spiritual freedom is not about independence, but dependence. Rather than variety of choice, Jesus invites us to singularity of purpose. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

1. The Reality of Financial Slavery

Say you were on "Let's Make a Deal." Behind Door #1 was a massive pile of cash. Behind Door #2 was Jesus. If you were asked, "What door would you choose to go through to find your object of worship," you would likely choose Door #2. (Why would you bow down to a bunch of paper?) But what if you were asked instead, "What door would you choose to find happiness and freedom in this life?" 

We tend to think the first question is spiritual, and the second, material. But Jesus teaches something different in Matthew 6:24-25. He shows that these are both worship questions. Our answer to the second question is our answer to the first. And if we answer the second question by choosing money over Christ, we fall into financial slavery, serving money, not God.

We fall into financial slavery when we…

…listen to our background

Your culture, family upbringing, and socio-economic status all heavily influence the ways we think about money. If we aren't conscious of these influences, we are liable to default to thinking about money in the ways our family did. And this is likely to lead to financial slavery.

…listen to the world

Commercials tell us we will be happy, joyful and free if we would only purchase this car, beer or vacation. But if I get spiritual peace from them, they become objects of worship for me, and I am financially enslaved.

…listen to ourselves

Money gives me power to choose in this life. And there are few things I want more than control of myself and my circumstances. If I listen to myself in financial matters, I will default to seek freedom and control, rather than seeking Christ.

2. The Nature of Christian Freedom

Rather than financial freedom, Jesus offers Christian freedom in Matthew 6:25-32. Christian freedom faith that frees us from fear

Christian freedom makes us truly free.

You see, he is making the birds our schoolmasters and teachers. It is a great and abiding disgrace to us that in the Gospel a helpless sparrow should become a theologian and a preacher to the wisest of men … Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher … It is as if he were saying “I prefer to be in the Lord’s kitchen. He has made heaven and earth, and he himself is the cook and the host. Every day he feeds and nourishes innumerable little birds out of his hand.” 
– Martin Luther

True freedom is not about having choices. True freedom is having the liberty to do what we were created to do. Caged birds aren’t free because they can’t fly. Anxious humans aren’t free because they can’t love.

Christian freedom makes us truly human.

When someone asked Jesus “How can I be truly happy and free as a human being?” do you know what He said?

[L]ove the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.… And…love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:37, 39)

Anxious humans aren’t free because they can’t love. Christian freedom makes us truly human. It sets our hearts free from self-focused worry so we can focus on what makes us human. Love is what makes us truly human. Love for God with our whole being, and love for others.

Christian freedom makes us truly God's.

When we are free from material anxiety; from fear about food and drink and clothing; from worry about health or wealth, finances or future—that’s when our faith is rightly placed. It’s when we truly belong to our Father. It’s how we "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you" (Matt. 6:33).

Focus on material necessities is not worth of Christian ambition. Our call is higher; our destiny more exalted; our King infinitely more glorious. The passing cares of this material world should have no claim on our ambition, anxiety or hope. To live with these things primarily in view is to live life enslaved. Christ came, not so we could be enslaved to anxiety. He came to set us free.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What do you think Jesus means when he says, "You cannot serve God and money" (Matt. 6:24)?
  2. What makes money so tempting as a master? Why do we often choose to serve money instead of Jesus? 
  3. In what ways do you see yourself enslaved to money? Here are a few indicators that we are serving money instead of Jesus:
    • Obsessively checking the market, our investments, or bank statements.
    • Fantasizing about our next big or exciting purchase.
    • Making major life or career choices because we have the financial ability to do so, without seeking the wisdom of Christian community and prayer to discern God's will. 
    • Worry and fretting about how to make ends meet.
    • If the first response to solving a problem is spending money (hiring someone, buying something, etc.).
  4. When it comes to money, we listen to our background, the world, and ourselves, rather than listen to Christ. Where do you see yourself listening to these things instead of Jesus?
  5. In what ways do you see yourself walking right now in Christian freedom, in faith that frees you from fear? In what ways are you walking in anxiety?
  6. "Anxious humans aren't free because they can't love." How does worrying about money prevent you from loving God? How does it prevent you from loving others? 
  7. Do you believe what Jesus says in Matt. 6:33? That "all these things will be added to you?" How does faith in Christ set us free from worry? 

Keeping It Real - Revelation 3:1-6

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
— Revelation 3:5

Sardis was one of the seven churches to written to at the beginning of revelation. Each church was guilty of a particular sin that needed to be exposed. Sardis lacked authenticity, filled with scammers, posers, and frauds. Unlike other churches that were constantly under duress from opposition like false teachers and cults, Sardis didn't seem to have the same outside pressures. Nonetheless, God saw them as a church filled with the living dead, having all the vestiges of life but no true heartbeat beneath it all. Hence the "wake up" in v.2 and 3, a command often used in Scripture to call forth believers to rise from a sleepiness that leads to eternal death.

A historical point of Sardis proves to illustrate the lull Sardis dwelled in. Sardis prided itself, thinking it could not be overcome. It sat on top of a gigantic bluff, surrounded by cliffs on three sides, fortified by high walls. Yet at the time of this letter, Sardis had already been sacked twice. Both times, invading armies climbed the cliffs and walls and overtook the city because no soldiers or watchmen had been stationed. Her own blindness and self-delusion had led to her physical downfall more than once. God was now pointing out her spiritual foolishness. What did Sardis have to do?

1. Remember and return to the gospel.

In v. 3, John reminds them to, "Remember, then what you have received and heard." They had not only forgotten the free grace of the gospel, they had forgotten how they had received it. It wasn't something they had deservedly earned, not something that had welled up from within, a newfound, homegrown philosophy that their wisest and brightest had come up with. No, it was the joyous news that had come from heaven to earth, from outside their walls into their city, from God to man, that Christ had come and everything was now changed. v.4 charges them to "keep it," letting it simmer in their hearts and minds so they might be transformed by God's truth and the Spirit's work. Clearly this was not happening for the Spirit brings new life to all things, not delivering death and decay. 

2. Repent and turn from their ways.

Sardis was called to name its sin for what it was, to see it clearly, to turn from it, and return to their Savior. God's appeal to them came in reminding them that Jesus' return is unknown yet imminent. This city had sacrificed this future hope of Christ's second advent and its present implications for how they should live now for current comfort, worldly status, and foolish gain.

3. Rejoice that God still perseveres with his people.

The good news amidst all of this was that there were still some in v.4 who had kept the light burning. A remnant in a city that was floating away who continued to be faithful, remaining clothed in the righteousness of Christ. A people who desired to pursue the purity of a life lived in gratitude to grace rather than satisfaction of one's belly. It was their names that God remembered, never to be blotted out of his book of life, uttered from the lips of Jesus as he plead and prayed on their behalf. Sardis was called to embrace this reality again, to know hope was still held out for them, that their God still desired to run with them.

3xkrazy.jpg

To what degree does has your heart drifted in the same way the people of Sardis did? Do you feel as if you don a spiritual mask and that others see you differently than who you know you truly are deep down inside? How much of your faith is rote habit and duty and devoid of delight? Are you the same privately as you are publicly?

Wake up! Remember the gospel, repent of your falsehood, and rejoice in Christ. Our God has more grace than you can ever understand. May you find that to be true as you strip yourself of everything that you've used to hide and put on the righteousness of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

Faithful to the Unfaithful - Hosea 3:1-5

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.”
— Hosea 3:1

Few people look forward to marriage if they think their partner is highly likely to be unfaithful in the future. Nobody marries someone who has proven to be unfaithful in the past, is currently being unfaithful, and is highly unlikely to continue this behavior in the future. Yet this is exactly what God called Hosea to in marrying Gomer. Gomer was ransomed by Hosea, at his own cost, called to buy her back from her pimp.

This marriage was an illustration of God's embrace of Israel. Despite her adulterous behavior, God had pledged himself to chase her down, redeem her, and love her, even as she continued to call out to other suitors. Understand what is proclaimed here; God will love her even while her unfaithfulness remains ongoing. He wants her even when she wants nothing to do with him.

For a majority of us, there is not a single relationship in our life that reflects this kind of radical love. Your employer most surely would not keep you on board if you collected checks while doing work for another company. Your friends won't be so friendly if you're regularly dismissing their overtures and telling others how much you don't want to be around them. Even your spouse will sometimes confirm their love for you in order to get you to do something. "You know, if you love me, you'll....." And chances are, you have strings attached to your affections for every person in your life.

redeeminglove.jpg

This is not the case with God's love for us. His care and concern for us is entirely unconditional. Even with our rebellious dalliances, God does not give up upon us nor change the manner in which he engages us. He is with us even when we do not want to be with him. Our God does not give up on us. Nor does he stand by and let us continue on our own way. He fights for us, he appeals for us, he stands by our side. He loves without reservation. It is this love that changes us and perseveres in us until the day we are made perfect by his love. 

Prepare for His Coming | Advent Devotional

Advent is the time in the church calendar when we anticipate Christmas, the first coming of the Lord Jesus. It is a time to center our hearts on what Christ has already done for us, and a chance to look forward to the hope of His second coming. 

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 8.26.35 AM.png

The Village Church has put together an excellent Advent devotional that you can access here

I love this resource. There is a weekly devotional for adults that is thoroughly biblical. In addition, it contains a related weekly family devotional that includes fun activities for children.

Dads, let me especially encourage you to use this as a way to disciple your household and put Jesus in the center of your Christmas season!

Sermon Recap: Security (Luke 12:13-21)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jesus on Money.

We live in a culture where a premium is placed on security. The question we need to ask ourselves though is what exactly are we securing? What do we think we can guarantee for the future? What we see is true security is only found in  giving up control to the God who is in control of everything and secures our future by His Son, Jesus.

Our Unsecure Security

In v.13-15, Jesus’ rebukes the interloper for covetousness, which clearly was connected to a desire for security. He was more concerned with his financial future rather than his eternal future. Reality is that most of our efforts with earthly security aren’t all that secure. If anything, our search for peace of mind only brings us more worries. Jesus’ parable reminds us that there is no form of earthly security that can rescue us from death.

Our Insecure Security

Just as we are with money, the more security we have, the more security we need. Our sense of security is all-consuming and relentless. The parable shows that the rich fool is not satisfied with what he has but only sought to make space for more. Ultimately, my definition of what is the right amount of security to have in life is purely subjective and never truly secure.

Our Savior’s Security

By every worldly standard, Jesus was the least secure person in the world, with no home, no wealth, no influence. He gave all this up so we might be recipients of God’s love and protection. Gospel tells us it is acknowledging our inability to secure and protect ourselves that God meets us with Christ and his care. We know we are spiritually secure when we think more about what we can give rather than save, are self-forgetful rather than self-protective, and are no longer worry about our security.

Reflection and Application

  1. In what ways have you tried to secure for yourself and your family a good future?

  2. How much control do you think you have over your own safety and security? Do you ever think you fight God for this?

  3. Is there a point where you think a person has saved too much for the future? What is it?

  4. How does our sense of security become a form of self-righteousness before God? How does it affect our attitude toward others? How does it reveal our own insecurities?

  5. In what ways was Jesus the least secure person ever? Why did he choose to live this way?

  6. Are there ways in which you see your own heart changing as you’ve grown in trusting your safety to God in your own spiritual life? How might placing your security in His hands change your life now?

Sermon Recap: Hope (Mark 10:17-31)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jesus on Money.

Jesus_on_Money.png

Hope is an imagined future. Hope of success and riches has drawn millions of people to California in recent decades. In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus speaks to a rich young man about his hope, and teaches us about where our hope should be.

1. Hope in a Wealth-Filled Future

The rich young man is like a 1st century dotcom billionaire seeking advice from a spiritual guru. In Mark 10:17-20, Jesus tries to help the rich man see his spiritual need, and the foolishness of living for a wealth-filled future. But he is blind to it. 

2. Hope in Money Is Spiritual Suicide

Rather than judge him for his foolishness, Jesus engages the rich man in Mark 10:21. He tries to help him see that hope in money is spiritual suicide. We will all die someday, and we can’t take our money with us. The rich young man has placed his eternal hope in something that will destroy him spiritually. That’s why he tells him to give it up (see also Matt. 5:29). Jesus doesn’t want your money! He wants your heart!

3. Hope in a Christ-Filled Future

When Jesus tells his disciples how hard it is for a rich man to enter then kingdom of heaven (Mark 10:25), they are suprised: “Who then can be saved?” (Mark 10:26). Jesus tells them: “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God" (Mark 10:27). We all tend to hope in this world and the wealth we can attain. But Jesus tells us our hope should be in him and him alone. And if Christ is our hope, then we are free to be scandalously generous with our money.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. Why does Jesus speak to the rich young man in the way that he does in Mark 10:17-19? What does the rich man? What does Jesus want him to understand?
  2. Why does Jesus tell him to give up his money (Mark 10:20-21)? Is this a rule for all disciples?
  3. Why is it so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom (Mark 10:22-27)? What hope is there?
  4. Your daydreams tell you where your hope is. What do you daydream about? Where is your hope? How do you think your hope needs to change in light of this story?
  5. Why is hope in money “spiritual suicide”? What kind of hope gives life? Why?
  6. Have you gone to Jesus in prayer about your perspective on money? How do you think he would tell you it needs to change? How would he call you to change your money habits?

Valley of Death to Life - Ezekiel 37:1-14

Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.
— Ezekiel 37:5-6

God's promises for his future plans for his people came through various forms in the Old Testament. Few could possibly be more vivid and straight-forward as what's seen here in Ezekiel 37. 

Ezekiel stands over a valley of the dead, carrion long picked clean, littered with the evidence of death. Every modern movie or TV show that has a scene like this usually elicits terror of some sort. A reminder that our hero has taken a wrong turn and ended up in a dangerous place or the villain has arrived home or about to bring more deathly life to death. 

Yet amazingly enough, in Ezekiel, this valley will be a demonstration of the power and plan of our God. A reversal that upends the terror of death, a warning shot to hell that heaven is coming. Instead of hinting at an impending darkness, God declared his intentions for those he loves.

He will speak his Word over death and his children will come alive. He will breathe life into their souls. He will put his Spirit in his people. Whatever notion there is that Israel will save herself is tossed out the window. Any idea that the church will revive itself is impossible. God will do it.

And he did it. Jesus was the Word made flesh (John 1:14), come to put death to Death and breathe life to death. He embodied that which Ezekiel witnessed in the valley of death, the firstfruits of what would now become true for all who looked to him by faith.

It also became a reality that we can now experience in small ways every single day. For the same Spirit that raised Christ from the grave is the same Spirit that made these dry bones come to life. That same Spirit is also the one that is at work in the hearts of God's people, bringing the gospel to bear, gifting faith so vibrant and real to us that we are brought to spiritual life and know its fruits even today. 

You were dead in your trespasses but have been made alive together in Christ, all by grace (Eph. 2:5). We see the world in color, no longer in black and white. It means not that things are perfect now nor that we will not mourn or suffer. But it means that we do not endure all these things like those who have no hope. But we know that in God, life can always be brought out of death. Things as they seem will not always be how they are. The cross tells us so. The dry bones tell us so. 

Sermon Recap: Worship (Luke 16:1-13)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jesus on Money.

Jesus_on_Money.png

Whether you realize it or not, everybody is a worshiper. Everyone is devoted and has reverence and adoration for something. There is always something that demands all your time, thoughts, energy, emotion, and money to. In most cases, what we own, we end up worshiping. Since we are owners of God’s grace in Christ, we worship Him by being faithful stewards of what we’ve been given.

What You Own Owns You

Whatever it is we worship will always be all-consuming and place demands on you. The reality is what we own always ends up owning us. This isn’t just talking about children, houses, or jobs but even how we possess ideas like freedom or choice. These are not bad things in and of themselves but they easily consume us. This is why there is freedom in reality that God doesn’t call us to be owners but stewards of all He has given.

Stewards Never Own

In the parable, the dishonest manager realizes his previous failures in stewardship and makes decisions to protect his future. The reality of stewardship is you can’t do whatever you want with what you’re given. You’re always subject to the one who gave you the responsibility. In the same way, God has called us to be stewards of what all we have and act with God’s desires in mind.

You Worship What You Own

Furthermore, Jesus’ parable helps us see that if non-believers are wise enough to invest with their long-term futures in mind, how much more should followers of Jesus take what is earthly and invest it in eternal things? Especially since Jesus is the only thing we ever truly own, how much more should all we have, spend, give, and do be directed toward His ends? Jesus is the only thing in this world that we worship that will not demand or eat us alive. He is worthy of our worship.

Reflection and Application

  1. What are the things in your life that you feel a strong sense of ownership of? What are the things that you know you are only a steward of?

  2. Have you ever owned something that really ended up owning you? That ended up sucking up your time, money, or energy?

  3. How does seeing yourself as a steward rather than an owner of your money change the way you think about and handle it?

  4. Are there ways in which you are actively seeking to take what is earthly and temporal and investing it in eternal and everlasting things? How?

  5. How does the reality that the only thing God calls you to truly own and take hold of is Jesus Christ Himself? How does that change the way you approach your possessions?

  6. How does worship of Jesus differ from worshiping any other gods or earthly things? What does Jesus demand from us in return versus what everything else demands from their adherents?

Sermon Recap: Treasure (Matthew 13:44-46)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jesus on Money.

Jesus on Money Medium.png

Money is “the last taboo.” We don’t like talking about it. But Jesus talked about it all the time. He didn’t talk about it because He was obsessed with money. He talked about it because we are. And He is concerned with what we treasure most in our heart.

Jesus Is the Real Treasure

In Matthew 13:44 and 46, each man in the parables sold “all that he had” to get the treasure and the pearl, respectively. He wasn’t sad to lose his baseball card collection or give up his car—the treasure was priceless!

There may be 1000 treasures buried in a field. Or dozens of perfect pearls worth selling all for. But God had only one Son. And He gave Him up for us all. God gave up His treasure so that He could be ours. Jesus is worth everything! He is the real treasure.

And God the Father gave up His only Son in order to win us! WE are God’s treasure. Is He ours?

Money Is an X-Ray for Your Soul

That’s what Jesus taught when He said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). THAT’S why we don’t talk about money. I don’t want you to know what I do with it because I don’t want you to see where my priorities are. If you do, you will see the ways that I am a hypocrite or a glutton or a selfish consumer or a scrooge-like saver.

Which is why Jesus talked so much about money. In His teaching, He holds the X-ray up to the light, points out the brokenness, and gives us the proper diagnosis and treatment.

God Gives Us Money So We Can Make Jesus Our Treasure

In Luke 16:10-13, Jesus taught that our money is the little we have been given to be faithful with so that, one day, God may entrust us with much! Our income is a training ground for our heart to make Jesus our treasure every day, in every way. We must give all our money to Jesus in order to be free to serve Him alone. You can’t serve God and money.

Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Christ was rich—He made and owned the heavens and earth! But He became poor so we could be rich in Him! In Christ, we are richer than all the billionaires in the world! Everything is ours in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:21-23).

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What does the Bible teach about Jesus’s value? Can you think of any verses that show that He is priceless?
  2. What does the Bible teach about our value in God’s eyes? Can you think of any verses that show we are God’s treasure?
  3. What is one “treasure” you are tempted to “lay up for yourself… on earth?” Why do you value it? 
  4. What does money reveal about your priorities? If you and Jesus looked at the x-ray together, what would He say? What would He show you about your heart through your earning and planning and saving and spending?
  5. What do you think it means that God gives us money so we can make Jesus our treasure? What is one way you can grow to use your money to make Jesus your treasure?
  6. What is one think you can share with a trusted Christian friend one way you want to grow to honor Christ with your money.

Sermon Recap: The Heart of God (Jonah 4)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jonah, Commissioned. 

commissioned_cover.jpg

Jonah’s inability to understand the radical, scandalous grace of God affected his view of others. God calls us to see others in the grace of Christ so our hearts might be changed and we would be led into the places He has us for the sake of making Jesus known.

God’s Heart for Grace

Jonah finally confesses what was in his heart the whole time. He knew that if he called Nineveh to repent, there would be a chance that God would actually save them because of His love and mercy. God engages Jonah’s heart by questioning his anger toward God with the purpose of getting Jonah to see how irrational and misdirected his anger is. Instead of giving up on Jonah, God is longsuffering and patient with his disobedience, much as He is with ours. He pursues us only because He loves us.

God’s Heart for Our Hearts

His grace changes and transforms those who receive it. By His power, our desires slowly begin to conform to His and we begin to rightly care for that which our God cares for. It helps us begin to see what the true battlefront is in this world. We begin to realize how foolish our political and social divides are and our endless pursuits for personal fiefdoms when God gives us His kingdom in Christ.

God’s Heart for the City

God’s desire for all to be saved is most reflected in His love for the city of Nineveh. He brings up all the different values of the city and His care for it, highlighting all the reasons why cities matter and why we are called to engage it. While some churches unfortunately take unhelpful postures toward the places they live, we are called to engage the city in love and hope for God’s grace to rest upon it.

Reflection and Application

  1. When was the last time you argued with someone, only to later realize how foolish your response was? What was it about? Why was it foolish?

  2. Have you ever had a choice where no matter what you chose, you realize you’ll look foolish? What did you choose and how did the result affect you?

  3. How have you seen God be patient and longsuffering with you? What was the situation and how did you sense His love for you in this way?

  4. What are the things you’re most concerned about right now? What do you have a hard time making a decision on currently? Would you consider them central to God’s kingdom work in your life?

  5. What is your posture toward engagement with the community around you? Do you find yourself conforming to the world around you or shielding yourself off from it? Why?

  6. How does the reality that you are commissioned to the East Bay by God challenge you? What are particular ways you might be able to engage and love your city?

Jesus: the True Victim (pt. 3)

Last season, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee rather than stand during the national anthem, as a protest against racial inequality. His actions sparked controversy across the NFL, and now the President has drawn even more national attention to the protests, saying those players who protest ought to be fired.

i.jpeg

Whatever you believe about the propriety of the players’ (or the President’s) actions, I think this presents us with a foil to talk about victim culture, real injustice, and our response as Christians.

In the last post, we looked at the gospel story as applied to victim culture: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. As I close this short series on Christ & Victim Culture, I want to look at real injustice, identify fake injustice, point out a tendency toward in justice that all of us have, and remember that, ultimately, Jesus is the true victim.

Christ+&+(victim)+culture-2.jpeg

Real injustice.

Justice means giving someone else their due. If you owe someone something, and you don’t give it, you are committing an injustice. Thus, you’ve suffered a real injustice if…

  • …you are denied dignity and equality on the basis of skin color, gender, etc.
  • …you were denied love, affection, care, and the presence of your parent(s)
  • …someone has taken something from you that they have no right to
  • …someone made a promise to you that they then broke
  • …a friend or loved one betrayed your trust

The list could go on. But by this reckoning, all of us have suffered injustice at one time or another in our lives. But sometimes we cry wolf. Sometimes we are victims of fake injustice.

Fake injustice.

crying-wolf.jpeg

We make ourselves victims of fake injustice when we believe we are entitled to something we don’t get, but were never entitled to it in the first place. Examples of fake injustice include:

  • Discomfort – I am not owed comfort. I might expect a comfortable life because of my socio-economic status, my upbringing, beer commercials, or jealousy of my neighbors. But my expectations do not obligate the universe—or anyone else—to meet them.
  • Disappointment – I am not owed a disappointment-free life. Wishing for something good does not mean I will get it. Wish-fulfillment is not what the universe—or the God who created it—is about.
  • Disagreement – I am not owed a frictionless life. If someone disagrees with me, it doesn’t mean they are judging or oppressing me. It could simply mean that they have a different opinion. Or that I am wrong.
  • Honest mistakes – People make mistakes. Dealing with others’ imperfections is part of living in a community filled with other humans. Since the Fall, a world without mistakes is a world without real humans.
My expectations do not obligate the universe—or anyone else—to meet them.

In my own heart and life, I see too often this tendency to blow fake injustice out of proportion. I use these and other examples of it to make myself out to be a victim. But as we said before, when I illegitimately make myself a victim, I am actually trying to grab power. Playing the victim card puts others at my mercy. Rather than humble submission in Christ, I lift myself up as someone whose needs must be met.

Jesus is the true victim.

He was the victim of the greatest injustice in history.

  • He was without sin: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22).
  • He was despised by people He had loved and served: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” (1 Peter 2:23a).
  • He didn’t even defend Himself when accused: “[W]hen he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23b).
  • He suffered willingly for US: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Christians suffer. It’s what we do.

We should expect suffering because our King was the True Victim. And because of that, we are blessed when we suffer injustice: “[T]his is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.… For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you” (1 Peter 2:19, 21).

In fact, now we can “count it all joy” when we suffer because “the testing of [our] faith produces steadfastness” which in turn makes us “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Suffering is God’s tool in our sanctification. Rather than bemoan our victimhood, we should rejoice in trials. They make us look like Jesus.

Walking in the Word: James 4:13-17

Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’
— James 4:15
backtofuture.jpg

It's somewhat fitting to have read this passage while on a pastoral planning retreat. The main thrust of our time was directed toward looking at where we believe God is leading Grace Alameda in 2018 and beyond. 

Good planning doesn't just set forward future goals but also considers the steps that must be taken to get there. A weightlifter doesn't just say, "I'm going to bench 600 pounds," and then just pumps away but plans for it. He/she would have a lifting regiment, a diet plan, a workout schedule. City planners don't decide there needs to be a bridge across a water and order one on Amazon. They have to figure out construction schedules, bring in the right architects and construction workers, shuffle traffic patterns.

It would seem in some way though that our passage in James speaks against this idea. That declaring what you want for the future and planning steps to get there is an unwise endeavor for we are "a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." There is much truth in that. This passage however isn't necessarily directed at those who make plans, nor is it against working and looking toward the future. Instead, it focuses on two other important issues.

Crystal-ball.jpg

First, it's less focused on plan-making and more on the motivation for why we plan. If you consider the earlier parts of James 4, James rails against worldliness and deception, those who are in business solely for themselves at the expense of their neighbor. After our passage on the foolishness of looking to the future, James then speaks out against the rich who glory and flaunt their wealth. Note that in James 4:13, James posits the idea of someone focused on working toward the future for the specific purpose of making a profit. He has in mind one who invests for selfish reasons, not one who plans for the future. The sin is in the motivation for future planning. It is not done in consideration of what theLord wills but centered on one's arrogance, one's self-confidence in his/her ability to profit off others apart from the goodness and grace of God.

Second, the other issue to be drawn forth here is the importance of faithfulness. Bodybuilders prepare but their success is dependent on how faithful they stick with their plan. City planners have ideas but they are never brought to fruition if they are faithful in following through. Our Lord cares and values our desires and dreams when they are God given. Yet the fact is God cares much less for what we're able to accomplish ahead and more for the manner in which we accomplish anything right now. It is our faithfulness that matters to Him, complete reliance in pursuing that which the Lord wills, that which keeps us from boasting in ourselves but in God, that which knows and does the right thing and avoids sin. 

This means we can hold all our dreams and hopes loosely, desiring them in submission to the Spirit's leading, trusting our God when He moves us away from there. What we are to cling tightly to instead is the gospel of Christ in every day life, resting in His grace, loving our neighbors, being good stewards of what we have now. So take no fear; plan away. Only remember Proverbs 16:9. "The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps."

Sermon Recap: Grace Offends Good People (Jonah 3)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jonah, Commissioned. 

commissioned_cover.jpg

Grace is love we don’t deserve. By grace, God does good to the undeserving. He loves the unlovable. He forgives the unforgivable. Nineveh didn’t deserve God’s love—the Assyrians were an evil, violent, oppressive empire. One king said this after conquering his enemies:

I built a pillar over his city gate and I flayed all the chiefs who had revolted, and I covered the pillar with their skin. Some I walled up within the pillar, some I impaled upon the pillar on stakes, and others I bound to stakes round about the pillar…. From some I cut off their noses, their ears, their fingers, of many I put out the eyes. I made one pillar of the living and another of heads, and I bound their heads to tree trunks round the city.

Jonah knew how awful the Assyrians of Nineveh were, and hated that God would show them grace. Because, as we see in Jonah 3, grace offends good people.

1. Grace Offends Us When We Think We're Good

This is the second time Jonah received God’s Word. Because when he received it the first time, he ran away. He would not preach to the Ninevites. They were the bad guys and the bad guys should die.

Grace offends us when we think we’re good people. We're only allowed to think of ourselves as good (and compare ourselves with others) when we are in the center of our vision. But when Christ is in the center of our vision, He says, "what is that to you [what I do for others]? You follow me!” (John 21:22).

Grace says we deserve NOTHING from God! All of us have sinned! All of us are undeserving of God’s love!

2. God's Word Is God's Grace

God has promised that His grace will reach us in His Word: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). God promises to accomplish His purpose through His Word, and His purpose is to give us grace!

Here's what the Westminster Large Catechism says about God's Word:

The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation. (Q&A 155)

We get to receive God’s grace through His Word every Sunday as we hear it preached! We should hear His Word every week with expectation, anticipating the Spirit will work powerfully in and among us.

3. God Speaks as We Obey

God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach “the message that I will tell you” (v.2). It’s only after Jonah listens and does what God says that God tells him the rest of the message. God speaks to Jonah as he obeys. Obedience is faith in action, and our Father speaks as we look to Him in obedience by faith in Christ.

4. Grace Is for the Undeserving

God poured out His offensive grace on undeserving Nineveh. And it is poured out on you and me through the work of His Son, Jesus Christ. God went to great lengths to save Nineveh—it took storms and sea creatures and stubborn prophets. But God went to greater lengths to save us—He gave His own Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross and rise again from the dead to pour out His grace on undeserving people like us.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. What do you think most offended or scared Jonah about being sent to Nineveh?
  2. Why didn’t Jonah want to preach God’s Word in Nineveh? (Hint: see Jonah 4:2-3)
  3. Why does thinking of ourselves as “good people” make us offended by God’s grace? Can you think of another time in the Bible when people have been offended by grace?
  4. Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God’s Word will accomplish His purpose (to show us grace). Where else in Scripture do we learn about the power of God’s Word? (ex., Isa. 40:8)
  5. What is your mentality when you come to worship on Sundays? Do you expect to receive God’s grace? Do you expect the Spirit to work powerfully? Why or why not?
  6. Obedience is faith in action. What is an area in your life where you need to obey God, but struggle to? How does faith help you grow to obey?
  7. Do you believe you need God’s undeserved love, His grace? Does grace give you joy? Why or why not?

Sermon Recap: Pain Produces Prayer (Jonah 2)

This is a recap of the latest sermon in our series on Jonah, Commissioned. 

commissioned_cover.jpg

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In Jonah 2, God has Jonah’s attention. And as a result of Jonah being in these painful circumstances, he prays. His pain produces prayer

I. Pray Like a Psalm

Jonah’s prayer looks like it is ripped right out of the book of Psalms. This is because: 

Jonah was steeped in Scripture

This quote from Charles Spurgeon (about John Bunyan) could have easily applied to Jonah:

Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture…. [He makes] us feel and say, “Why, this man is a living Bible!” Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.

Jonah believed God is sovereign

This can be seen clearly throughout his prayer:

  • v.2: “he answered me… he heard my voice”
  • v.3: “You cast me into the deep… your waves… passed over me.” 
  • v.6: “you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.”
  • v.9: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

Pain deepened Jonah's faith. But it doesn't always have that effect. Pain can produce prayer in your life—the exercise of faith and dependence upon God. Or it can produce destruction.

Jonah was suffering like a Psalmist

In the Psalms, we read the prayers of people expressing the full range of human emotion. God shows us compassion in this. He gives us permission to vent our anger, frustration, doubts, pains, and pleas for help in the Psalms. We have a license from God to tell Him anything we need to. He wants to hear it. 

II. Repentance Leads to Praise

Jonah didn’t defend himself to God or pretend he was a victim. All he needed was nothing. And that’s what he brought to God: nothing. He saw his disobedience, and repented. And that repentance led to praise, as he closes his prayer in v.8-9 with: “I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you…. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” 

III. Salvation Belongs to the Lord

Jonah wanted to save himself from the commission God gave him. But after Jonah, another prophet came whose commission was far worse than Jonah’s. Christ Jesus let His pain produce prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane; prayed the Psalms (22:1) on the cross; prayed for our forgiveness as He died (Luke 23:34). Instead of saving Himself, Christ sacrificed Himself to save us from sin.

Reflection & Application Questions

  1. How would you describe Jonah's prayer? What do you find surprising about Jonah 2? 
  2. Why could Jonah pray the way he did? Why does his prayer sound like a Psalm? What can we learn from this?
  3. How does Jonah’s prayer compare to the way you pray? Are you as honest with your feelings in prayer as Jonah is?
  4. Jonah knew God's Word thoroughly—but he still disobeyed. What does this teach us about the human heart? What kind of knowledge leads to obedience?
  5. Jonah’s repentance led him to praise God. What passages of Scripture help you understand why repentance leads us to worship? (For example: James 4:6 & 1 Peter 5:5-7; Acts 2:38; Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9)
  6. What pain are you experiencing in your life right now? Has prayer been your response? Why/not?
  7. What is one area of sin God is leading you to repent of in your life? How do you think the Lord will use your repentance to lead to praise? 

Walking in the Word - Hebrews 12:18-29

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
— Hebrews 12:22-24
fire.jpg

In a bumper-sticker evangelical culture, emphasis is placed on how close we can get with God. The entire thrust of the Christian music and book industrial complex has found its greatest successes (both financially and in general popularity) producing content that attempts to nourish one's closeness with God. A majority of it leans on the side of emotional appeals which, though not entirely wrong at all, must be carefully wielded else we end up presenting to the world a faith that really is just a mishmash of feelings. Our worship services have followed suit in many ways, gearing services to evoke experiences that one can personalize and take home with them. Again, done in the case of contextualization and reaching a particular people in time and place is a wise and helpful thing. But done for the purpose of achieving the lowest common cultural denominator often takes away from the glory, splendor, and awe of worshiping God with His people. By getting rid of any sense of the transcendence of our God on Sundays, we've kitsch-ed up any sense of His immanence inworship as well.

Hebrews 12 makes known that worship is a place of grace, not one of judgment and fear. God is not unapproachable or impenetrable as He often was in the Old Testament but inChrist, we can now approach the throne in His love and mercy. What this isn't however is a free-for-all where all distinctions are thrown out the window. God is still God and we are still not. The Creator and creature are still two different things. Our responsibility is not to form and fashion worship to our own desires and in our own image but to come to God based on His terms.

By no means am I advocating that there must be one golden way of doing all this and that we are the church that gets it right. But what I do believe is important is we understand who and what we are engaging with in Sunday worship. We approach the throne, welcomed, washed, and waiting for our Savior. There is an element of joy, party, and enjoyment that must be there yet it should be tempered by reverence and awe. These are not dichotomous categories but can be all expressed at one point. The challenge we have in our hearts is to consider where we are as we come before God, gathered with our fellow saints. 

Our God is a consuming fire. Everybody loves to hang out around a bonfire, gather, and rejoice. The danger comes when someone begins to play with it, trying to control that which cannot be controlled. Let us worship with the confidence that we our in His good grace because of our Savior Jesus Christ. May we be shaken as we encounter our Lord every Sunday so we might know and value that which He cares for and the rest would fall to the wayside.

Victimhood and the Gospel (pt. 2)

In the last post, I wrote about our current tendency to play the victim. The “victim card” trumps everything else in our day; playing the victim is a power-play. Putting ourselves in the low place is a way of gaining an advantage over others. But as Christians, we have no right to (illegitimately) play the victim; we serve a God who, in Christ, took the low place, so that He could lift us all the way up to heaven.

Today, I want to briefly apply the gospel to this victim tendency. As a church, we believe the gospel applies to all of life. The gospel is the story that tells us who we are because of what Christ did. Let’s discover what the gospel story says about victimhood.

Christ & (victim) culture.jpeg

Creation & Victim Culture

When God made the world (Genesis 1 & 2), there were no victims. In a sinless world, everyone and everything was in its right place. God lovingly made humans in His image; we loved and worshiped Him; we loved, respected one another. There were no victims because there was no violence, oppression, alienation or division.

God did not make us to be victims. When we are genuinely victimized, we can say—with the Bible on our side—“this is not the way the world is supposed to be.” The sin of victimization is against the created order and grieves the heart of the Creator.

The Fall & the First Victim(s)

In the story of the Fall (Genesis 3), we read of history’s first victim. It wasn’t Adam and Eve—theyfreely chose to eat of the forbidden fruit. It certainly wasn't the Serpent (though he'd like try to spin it that way).

God was the first victim in recorded history.

He gave the world to His image bearers, and sought loving, intimate relationship with them. We betrayed Him. Rebelled. Ruined His world and broke His heart in the process.

All the victimization that followed in human history is attributable to that first victimizing act in the Garden. From Abel on down through the ages, all victims can trace their victimization back to the Fall. We are all victims of Adam’s sin:

[S]in came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (Romans 5:12)

we are all victims of adam’s sin

Jesus Redeems Victims

Maybe you've been victimized. Whether you have been physically, emotionally, relationally or spiritually oppressed by someone else, there is hope for victims. The gospel has good news for all of us, victims and victimizers alike. Christ became a victim to redeem victims like you and me.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. (Galatians 3:13)

christ became a victim to redeem victims like you and me

This means what others have done to you does not define you. If you've placed your faith in Christ, He has made you new (2 Corinthians 5:17). You are no longer a victim; you are a conqueror.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Jesus is the true victim.

Jesus is the true victim.

Wrongs Will Be Righted & Victims Will Be Healed

Our suffering in this life is real. You may have been oppressed and victimized by others in the past. Perhaps you're being victimized right now. Maybe you've suffered systemic racism, unjust hiring practices, been hurt by preferential treatment, been wronged by others’ greed or lust. The gospel of Jesus says, not only does this victimization not define you, but these injustices will one day be corrected. Wrongs will one day be righted. Victims will one day be healed.

One day, justice will “roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). When Christ returns to restore and renew all things:

[He] will be [our] shepherd, and he will guide [us] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. (Revelation 7:17)

When Christ comes again, there will be no more victims. There will only be redeemed and renewed people who will live in His love forever. 

Sunday Sermon Reflection - The Hound of Heaven

In light of what was preached this past Sunday, we wanted to share this poem as a reflection of God's faithfulness. He chases after us even when we've run away, seeking us out even when we try to hide.

"The Hound of Heaven" by Francis Thompson

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
   I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
   Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
             Up vistaed hopes I sped;
             And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,
   From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
             But with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturbèd pace,
     Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             They beat—and a Voice beat
             More instant than the Feet—
     'All things betray thee, who betrayest Me'.

             I pleaded, outlaw-wise,
By many a hearted casement, curtained red,
   Trellised with intertwining charities;
(For, though I knew His love Who followed,
             Yet was I sore adread
Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.)
But, if one little casement parted wide,
   The gust of His approach would clash it to:
   Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue.
Across the margent of the world I fled,
   And troubled the gold gateway of the stars,
   Smiting for shelter on their clanged bars;
             Fretted to dulcet jars
And silvern chatter the pale ports o' the moon.
I said to Dawn: Be sudden—to Eve: Be soon;
   With thy young skiey blossom heap me over
             From this tremendous Lover—
Float thy vague veil about me, lest He see!
   I tempted all His servitors, but to find
My own betrayal in their constancy,
In faith to Him their fickleness to me,
   Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit.
To all swift things for swiftness did I sue;
   Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
          But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
     The long savannahs of the blue;
            Or, whether, Thunder-driven,
          They clanged his chariot 'thwart a heaven,
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn o' their feet:—
   Fear wist not to evade as Love wist to pursue.
             Still with unhurrying chase,
             And unperturbed pace,
      Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
             Came on the following Feet,
             And a Voice above their beat—
'Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.'

I sought no more after that which I strayed
          In face of man or maid;
But still within the little children's eyes
          Seems something, something that replies,
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully;
But just as their young eyes grew sudden fair
         With dawning answers there,
Their angel plucked them from me by the hair.
Come then, ye other children, Nature's—share
With me’ (said I) 'your delicate fellowship;
          Let me greet you lip to lip,
          Let me twine with you caresses,
              Wantoning
          With our Lady-Mother's vagrant tresses,
             Banqueting
          With her in her wind-walled palace,
          Underneath her azured dais,
          Quaffing, as your taintless way is,
             From a chalice
Lucent-weeping out of the dayspring.’
             So it was done:
I in their delicate fellowship was one—
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies.
          I knew all the swift importings
          On the wilful face of skies;
           I knew how the clouds arise
          Spumèd of the wild sea-snortings;
             All that's born or dies
          Rose and drooped with; made them shapers
Of mine own moods, or wailful divine;
          With them joyed and was bereaven.
          I was heavy with the even,
          When she lit her glimmering tapers
          Round the day's dead sanctities.
          I laughed in the morning's eyes.
I triumphed and I saddened with all weather,
          Heaven and I wept together,
And its sweet tears were salt with mortal mine:
Against the red throb of its sunset-heart
          I laid my own to beat,
          And share commingling heat;
But not by that, by that, was eased my human smart.
In vain my tears were wet on Heaven's grey cheek.
For ah! we know not what each other says,
          These things and I; in sound I speak—
Their sound is but their stir, they speak by silences.
Nature, poor stepdame, cannot slake my drouth;
          Let her, if she would owe me,
Drop yon blue bosom-veil of sky, and show me
          The breasts o’ her tenderness:
Never did any milk of hers once bless
             My thirsting mouth.
             Nigh and nigh draws the chase,
             With unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy;
             And past those noisèd Feet
             A voice comes yet more fleet—
          'Lo! naught contents thee, who content'st not Me.'

Naked I wait Thy love's uplifted stroke!
My harness piece by piece Thou has hewn from me,
             And smitten me to my knee;
          I am defenceless utterly.
          I slept, methinks, and woke,
And, slowly gazing, find me stripped in sleep.
In the rash lustihead of my young powers,
          I shook the pillaring hours
And pulled my life upon me; grimed with smears,
I stand amidst the dust o' the mounded years—
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap.
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke,
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream.
          Yea, faileth now even dream
The dreamer, and the lute the lutanist;
Even the linked fantasies, in whose blossomy twist
I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist,
Are yielding; cords of all too weak account
For earth with heavy griefs so overplussed.
          Ah! is Thy love indeed
A weed, albeit an amarinthine weed,
Suffering no flowers except its own to mount?
          Ah! must—
          Designer infinite!—
Ah! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn with it?
My freshness spent its wavering shower i' the dust;
And now my heart is as a broken fount,
Wherein tear-drippings stagnate, spilt down ever
          From the dank thoughts that shiver
Upon the sighful branches of my mind.
          Such is; what is to be?
The pulp so bitter, how shall taste the rind?
I dimly guess what Time in mists confounds;
Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds
From the hid battlements of Eternity;
Those shaken mists a space unsettle, then
Round the half-glimpsed turrets slowly wash again.
          But not ere him who summoneth
          I first have seen, enwound
With glooming robes purpureal, cypress-crowned;
His name I know and what his trumpet saith.
Whether man's heart or life it be which yields
          Thee harvest, must Thy harvest-fields
          Be dunged with rotten death?

             Now of that long pursuit
             Comes on at hand the bruit;
          That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
          'And is thy earth so marred,
          Shattered in shard on shard?
          Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!

          'Strange, piteous, futile thing!
Wherefore should any set thee love apart?
Seeing none but I makes much of naught' (He said),
'And human love needs human meriting:
          How hast thou merited—
Of all man's clotted clay the dingiest clot?
          Alack, thou knowest not
How little worthy of any love thou art!
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee,
          Save Me, save only Me?
All which I took from thee I did but take,
          Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms.
          All which thy child's mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
          Rise, clasp My hand, and come!'

   Halts by me that footfall:
   Is my gloom, after all,
Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
   'Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
   I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.'

Walking in the Word - Proverbs 18:24

A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
— Proverbs 18:24
friends.jpg

At this point, it's hard to argue against the idea that a whole host of technological applications and tools have driven us more and more inward, away from real, physical, social points of contact. Every social survey results in Americans hitting the lowest levels of personal happiness and the highest levels of loneliness in the past century. Facebook and Instagram gives us the veneer of social interaction and engagement when they ultimately are acceptable forms of peacocking and peeping. The excitement of virtual reality and goal to be in every household leads people to stay in. Before, you'd be happy to get take-out sent to your house in 30 minutes to substitute a meal for the night. Now you can have a week's groceries sent to you so you never have to stand at a register again.

Now granted, you're probably not looking to be friends with the supermarket cashier. But what perhaps has changed as a cultural value is our definition of what makes a friend. In many ways, every person has the ability to make connections and be acquaintances with many people at once. What our culture might slowly be losing perhaps though is the ability to make deep, long-lasting friendships. 

Friendships share a common horizon, walking toward the same goal. They may board at different ports but they disembark at the same place. (Get it? Friendship? You're welcome.) Acquaintances will want you because of what you offer, what you can give. If these are the companions you keep, they will wear you down and out because they are not going where you are headed. A friend walks with you to where it is you both desire to end up.

The beauty of gospel-centered friendships is that the horizon has been delineated for us. God has made clear that we are to be iron sharpening iron, loving one another so that we may each become more like Christ until the day when Christ returns and His Spirit transforms us to be finally and perfectly that. This is how God knits our heart in fellowship to one another, that we might stick close to one another to His glory. This is gospel-centered friendship.

Do you have this in your life? What would it look like to have these kinds of friends in your life? How might the Lord bring these people into your life? And what kind of barriers or blindspots might you have that keep you from engaging in these types of friendships?

 

Walking in the Word 2017 - Esther 4

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?
— Esther 4:14
esther and mordecai.jpg

There are those who submit to the idea of coincidence. That the advantageous events of our lives are purely a product of being at the right place at the right time. On the other side, there are those who believe in fate. That things were simply meant to be, that an unknowable force has brought things to be the way they are. Scripture has always proclaimed a third way. That there is a sovereign God who created all things and controls all things but does so in a way with intimacy and intricacy, with care and integrity, for one large, grand purpose that stands over all the events of human history.

The ancient Greeks used two different words to talk about time. Chronos referred to time as a sequence or passage, the seconds that tick away on a clock, the rising and setting of both the sun and moon. Kairos was the term used for particular moments in time where purpose and meaning converge in an indescribable way. 

Kairos is the word used here in Esther 4:14. Yes, Esther may have become queen because of her beauty. Her position close to the highest levels of power and privilege had less to do with any of her own abilities and probably more to do with quality genes and a lovely disposition. And yes, so much of the situation her people, the Jews, faced in that moment were out of her hands. Nonetheless, Mordecai highlighted and Esther understood that when her people reached a crossroads with this foreign kingdom, she was now placed in a unique place and time that was more than just dumb luck or destiny. The Lord, mysteriously never mentioned in the ten chapters of Esther, has raised her up precisely for a time such as this. It is not that she has a moment now to shine but she finally realizes the calling she is to fulfill.

Our Savior Christ, fully human and fully God, lived a "kairotic" life. He knew the purpose for which He was sent and sought to honor His Father with every breath and step He took. There was no moment of resignation to out of control circumstances in the person of Christ but a submission to the sovereign will of the God who had sent Him and for whom He lived for. Faith and trust and love meant walking in step with without fear or doubt of His Father's presence with Him. It's a far cry from Esther's statement in v.16, "If I perish, I perish," but a march down the road to Calvary to His own crucifixion for our sake. 

As "the joy set before him" (Heb. 12:2), Jesus' life and death for our sake means we are redeemed into a new life that does not measure our lives by the chronological passage of time but a kairos understanding of each day of our lives. We are to take stock of the context and place in which God has us in and ask ourselves, "How might God call me to faithfulness given where I am at today?"

The truth is that very often means simple, everyday calls to spiritual obedience; being great at your job, loving your family properly, spending time in Christian disciplines, hanging out with your neighbors. But let us not avoid considering that perhaps you're divinely appointed to speak with the homeless panhandler. That you have a particular platform to address racism, sexism, or prejudice. That even unfortunate circumstances might be pregnant with purpose, where a flat tire that leads to honest conversation with a stranger. Faith not only acknowledges that this world doesn't revolve around us but recognizes that it revolves around the God who holds all of us in His loving, gracious hands. May we make the most of our days not for ourselves but in faithful service to the God who puts us in our particular place and time and around particular people for good and right reasons.

Knowing God, by J.I. Packer

During the summer of 2005, an older, more mature Christian gave me a copy of J.I. Packer’s book, Knowing God. Besides the Bible itself, I don’t believe God has used any single book in my life to more radically change the way I see myself, my life, and my Savior.

No other single book has been more used by God to change me.

Our church book table will, for the most part, be stocked with books that fit with our current sermon series. But Kai and I decided to indulge ourselves a bit. We will take turns putting our favorite books on the table, still hopefully fitting the current series. Knowing God is one of my favorite (and highly readable!) books of theology. 

Knowing God Is Serious Theology

“Milquetoast” is the best word I can think of to describe the theology I grew up with. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines milquetoast as “a person who is timid or submissive.” The word is derived from a cartoon character of that name. Here’s an example of why:

The definition of "milquetoast." 

The definition of "milquetoast." 

The God of the churches I grew up in was careful not to make waves. He never said anything impolite, didn’t step on anyone’s toes, was always sure to disciple children to be nice boys and girls. Church didn’t interest me much because there wasn’t much going on that was interesting.

But then I read the opening chapter of Knowing God, which is titled “The Study of God.” Packer begins his book with a quote from Charles Spurgeon:

The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls Father. (pg. 17)

I was immediately hooked. This wasn’t milquetoast at all. There was nothing polite or apologetic about this statement. This was passion. Gravitas. Conviction. This was theology.

Somewhere in the midst of reading Knowing God while stretched out on my bed on a Saturday afternoon in New York City, I said to myself, “If this is what theology is, I could give my life to this.” All these years later, here I am.

Somewhere in the midst of reading Knowing God, I said to myself, “If this is what theology is, I could give my life to this.” All these years later, here I am.

Knowing God Is Practical Theology

If the word “theology” calls up for you academic debates, abstract ideas, or angels dancing on the heads of pins, put those ideas out of your mind. J.I. Packer has no patience for theology that doesn’t lead to life change.

[Y]ou can have all the right notions [about God] in your head without ever tasting in your heart the realities to which they refer; and a simple Bible reader and sermon hearer who is full of the Holy Spirit will develop a far deeper acquaintance with his God and Savior than a more learned scholar who is content with being theologically current. The reason is that the former will deal with God regarding the practical application of truth to his life, whereas the latter will not. (pg. 39)
Not the sort of theology Packer is into.

Not the sort of theology Packer is into.

Packer wants us to know God (theology) in a way that will transform our lives (practically). Any knowledge of God that doesn’t have a practice effect in our lives is nothing short of dangerous.

Knowing God Is Devotional Theology

One thing that comes out constantly in his book is that Packer is devoted to the Lord. He wants to know God, and wants us to as well. And he wants that knowledge to lead to a deeper love for God, a devotion to Him. Knowing God is devotional theology.

The second (and largest) part of the book looks in depth at the various attributes of God: His majesty, wisdom, holiness, truth, love, grace, wrath, and jealousy. Packer treats these theological topics as holy ground, dealing with them in reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28).

But Part Two leads into Part Three, which opens with a chapter on “The Heart of the Gospel.” There, Packer puts the infinite majesty and love of the God of the universe in the context of what it took for Him to redeem us: the sacrifice of His only Son on the cross. The weightiness of the gift of God’s grace comes home more comprehensively, beautifully, and humblingly in the light of how glorious and great God truly is.

Conclusion: Get Your Copy of Knowing God!

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is clear, readable, rich, and Christ-exalting. Get it, take your time with it, and let it show you more clearly the glories of the God of the Bible!