Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Religion Game

Are you saved? I guess before answering this question one might ask, saved from what?

Seems that in recent years the definition of “saved” has been shrunken and freeze-dried by today’s relative thought process reducing it to nothing more than “personal savior” talk. That is, our religious endeavors have become acts of convenience and self-promotion as opposed to sacrifice and surrender.

In modern times salvation follows the lines of my personal society. That is, I may have a personal home, personal car, personal computer, personal identification number, personal assistant—all I need now is personal salvation from my own personal savior.

Sure Jesus is personal, but unlike our iPhones, iPods, computers and the like, He is not robotic, plastic or programmable. We need our heart’s thoughts reoriented – we don't need the latest and greatest savior. We don’t need our own personal Jesus who is programmable; we need the Jesus of the cross. For it is the Jesus of the cross who personally steps into life, relates to each one of us and seeks to save us. What we need is to personally step into Jesus…

This leads us to John 3—the ultimate passage from the Bible on the need to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Here Jesus tells Nicodemus, a religious leader and member of the Jewish ruling council (Jn 3.1), that he needs to be born again—to become a spiritual newborn baby: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (Jn 3.3).

Jesus gets personal with Nicodemus—very personal. Jesus knows what’s in Nicodemus’s heart, just like He knows what’s in everyone’s heart, and so does not need human testimony about people (Jn 2.24-25). Jesus knows that Nicodemus has been playing the religion game way too long and that he has flawed faith based on the traditions and testimonies of his old boys’ club (the Jewish ruling council) rather than true faith based on God’s Word and the Spirit.

That’ why Jesus responds to Nicodemus in the way He does—up front and directly. As Jesus connects with Nicodemus, He is not scorning him, but He is seeking to crack his hard heart bound up with the pride of his position and the praises of his peers. How often do we do what we do for the praise of others or another notch in the belt of pride? Like Nicodemus, we need new flesh, a new heart, a new birth. We need Jesus.

And so are you saved? Saved from the hustle and bustle of the world? Saved from the necessity of “keeping up with the Jones’?” Are you saved from a life of self-promotion, self-righteousness and self-elevation?

Being saved is the realization that everyday, every moment, every thought, every action—all that I am needs Jesus. Everyday our prayer should be: “Holy Spirit lead me deeper into Jesus and save me.” Are you saved?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Living Out Christ

Living out the gospel can be rough, troublesome, tumultuous, joyful, illuminating, exhilarating, etc…One thing is for sure, living out the gospel is not stagnant. So why is this? Truth be told, that man on the cross questioned down to the bottom of hell, for our sakes, is the ultimate question that God puts to us. What we do with Jesus determines not only who we are but how we will live. 

As followers of Christ we are called to be imitators of Him – that is, to participate in His ministry of reconciliation. This can only happen when: First, we recognize our need of Jesus; and second, see the needs of others before our own. Being in Christ is a process of growth – it is a daily movement into His movement. I like what John Newton (author of Amazing Grace) writes:

I am not what I ought to be.I am not what I wish to beI am not even what I hope to by.But by the cross of Christ,I am not what I was

We can only live out our love of Christ as well as suffer for his sake when, through the Holy Spirit, Christ becomes the pattern of our life and the person after which we would sculpture our person. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Eph 5.1-2). 

Take this moment and ask the Lord to highlight areas of your life that you could better imitate Christ.  Stop, and take in this moment – take to heart the proverb, Carpe diem – which simply means, “Seize the day!”  Thank God for this moment and celebrate your life by living out Christ in your love to God, to yourself, and to the other!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

So Close No Matter How Far

The band Metallica writes:
So close no matter how far
Couldn't be much more from the heart
Forever trusting who we are
No nothing else matters
Never opened myself this way
Life is ours, we live it our way
All these words I don't just say
And nothing else matters
This is how so many people live their lives – focused on self such that their trust is in who they are, living life their way, because in the end, “nothing else matters.”

The drama of life - what does it have to say about a life focused solely on self? What would this look like? A nation of self-possessed people...Chaos and confusion or comfort and compassion?

The Bible says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will not only be satisfied, but they will also be blessed (cf. Matt 5.6). In fact, Jesus goes on to tell us not to store up treasures on earth but to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven. He then makes this most audacious claim: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (cf. Matt 6.19-21).

Oh Jesus...

Think about it, Jesus is stating that the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is one who has her priorities right. Let's be realistic, surely Jesus must not understand what He is saying...Or better yet, His sermon on the mount isn't meant for Americans. America is the land of the free, the land of independence. Any show of interdependence is a sign of weakness. We are meant to have our treasures here on earth and have the focus of life be on self - on myself.

This is why the message of Jesus is radical and expects nothing less than radical change. He does not ask us for anything - He asks us for everything!

The follower of Christ is one whose heart is an offense to this world because it is enveloped by and in the love of Jesus. We want nothing more than to live as Jesus because He is our treasure. For a person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness nothing else matters but the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The drama of salvation reorients the meaning of life; it re-writes the lyrics of our lives. Those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God are satisfied because they have stepped into Christ’s redeeming performance and now, everything, or better yet, everyone matters because nothing else but Jesus matters!

Ah the beautiful paradoxes of faith…If nothing but our Triune God matters in the treasure of our heart, then the lyrics of our song can truly sing, “forever trusting who we are” because we have realized the truth that we are created in the image of a loving God who has poured out His love into our hearts. And from this love we live life our way, which is Jesus’ way, seeking the lost and brokenhearted so that they too might hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hope deferred makes the heart sick

 Imagine the scene: The Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. standing there, looking at into the eyes of the oppressed, downtrodden, those who have mourned, those who were broken, in despair, in search of hope – the mass staring back up to the one they were praying would give them a new dream…

Dr King knew that the dream of America is not and could never be, bound up in the hopes of man as such hopes are fleeting. Hope that heals is hope that is permanent - tattooed on the heart (or hand) so as never to be forgotten. So, when the Rev. Martin Luther King stood before the watching world to proclaim the end of legal discrimination against all people, he did so as one who had seen God’s righteousness enacted at the Cross, and was therefore hungry for righteousness in his own day. And because this reality of righteousness can come only from God Himself, Dr King, in his speech, cried out to the Lord with the words of the prophet Isaiah, proclaiming the coming of the Lords day.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness [saying:] Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. For every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (Isaiah 40.3-5)
Dr King knew what the church must know, what the world must come to know: that our hunger and thirst for righteousness are only satisfied by and in Christ. This hunger must be our hope here and now – it must propel us to live out Jesus’ insane love. As Proverbs 13.12 states, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

If our hope is not in Christ because our hunger and thirst are for the savory tastes of society as opposed to the Savior of society, it is certain our hearts will be made sick. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Abyss of Hunger

Hungry? Hunger in today's age is an abyss - it is all around and yet so many of us don't really know what it means truly to hunger - we are confused or blinded due to its overwhelming presence.

Should we hunger? can hunger be positive? If you have ever played a sport you would think that hunger is essential - coaches always shouting out the inquiry "ARE YOU HUNGRY?"

So what do we hunger and thirst for…Better yet, who? Is it God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who quenches our hunger and thirst or do we go elsewhere? Is our appetite for the Creator or do we hunger and thirst for worldly food?

These days it is easy to be a fast-food consumer of God, but this type of consumption does not satisfy the depth of our soul’s hunger and thirst. People who are hungry and thirsty are in dire need; they will die if not helped. Such is the passion of a disciple of Christ. The ultimate source of righteousness is God Himself. This is who we must hunger and thirst for – it is a relational hunger at its core. We must know and love God if we are to understand righteousness.

The author of Hebrews helps us realize what it means to hunger and thirst for God. Read Hebrews 12.1-2. For those who call themselves a follower of Christ, our hunger and thirst can only be satisfied through a deep longing for Jesus. When this becomes our reality, our hearts, our character, our being,  and our response to life is in light of His response to us, and this is not always easy nor does it often times lack pain and suffering, but we are called to respond to life as our Savior did, with joy and praise!  

The language of the Bible is interactive, calling for a participation in the Being and act of God. With this in mind then, we must ask: Is today’s church living out Christ’s incarnational performance thereby promoting first, our being in Christ so as to then establish our own act (purpose)? Or in its quest for the “unchurched,” is the church subtly promoting the mind and heart of William Ernest Henley expressed through his poem Invictus:

It matters not how strait the gate,/ How charged with punishments the scroll,/ I am the master of my fate,/ I am the captain of my soul.[1] 

For Henley, and much of society, life is something to be conquered. The term Invictus is Latin for “unconquerable” or “undefeated.” The point being drawn out here is the between a life lived by a person whose purpose is derived by them, they are the master of their own fate, the captain of their own soul contrasted with one who is “more than a conqueror” due solely to the fact that their being participates in Christ’s own life, death, and resurrection because it is Christ who is the captain of their soul (Psalm 73.25-28).

Is the purpose of the church today the pursuit of the consumer crown or the pursuit of the crucified crown?

[1] William Ernest Henley, Invictus, 1888. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Seeing Empty as Full

Georges Rouault (French, 1871-1958)
Christ among the poor
One of the most beautiful yet challenging chapters of the Bible is Philippians 2—why? because it illumines the aspects of humility and servanthood. The idea of emptying ourselves so that we might be filled up is an interesting concept, but such a reality sits in opposition to today's culture.
Think about it, to empty yourself in today's world is to surrender. That is, to let go of your rights or deserved rights is equivalent to surrendering because instead of "demanding what is yours" you are placing the sake of the other first. And let's be honest, surrender is not a popular issue or philosophy; in a society that says win at all costs, surrender (or to empty yourself) in order to gain or be elevated, is an extreme paradox.

Here is the deal: the church will always have a foundational belief and being that is counter-culture but this must never be to the eradication of culture. That is, the church will often times be in opposition to the ways of society but the church must not discount or discard the voice of society. Dialogue is essential for the sake of the world hearing the "Good News" of Jesus Christ.

The reality is this:

  • society does not understand how surrender can bring about glory, victory and elevation
  • society does not understand how Jesus could have the audacity to call His followers to die so that they might live
  • society does not understand how Jesus can say that in order to be first we must be last

Jesus goes against everything we have been taught about who a King is supposed to be, or a ruler, or a person of power and prestige. Jesus comes and takes all our concepts, turns them inside out so as to turn them right side up. In his letter to the Philippians Paul urges his readers to be humble and to follow the example of Christ, who, although He was “in the very nature of God,” became human and underwent death on the cross. God therefore exalted Him to the highest place (2.1-11). This leads to a further exhortation to his readers to serve God faithfully (2.12-18). In this beautiful hymn (Phil 2.1-11) Paul explains the truth of Christ, that He "emptied Himself, taking the form of a Bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men (v7). Here Paul draws directly from the book of Isaiah, specifically Isa 52.13-53-6. Isaiah writes, "Behold My servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted" (52.13). And then Isaiah goes on to illumine the reason for this exaltation. This is what it says of the Bible's crucified King:
He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him (53.2)
He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him (53.3)
Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted (53.4)
But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed (53.5)
All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him (53.6)
We express the heart of humility in the same way Christ Jesus did, when we promote peace and unity among the church as well as the world. We are the church when we look out and stand up for the good of others, not our own selfish interests; when we live out this reality, we demonstrate and actualize the heart and mind of Christ, which is the truth and realization of humility (Philippians 2.1-4).

Jesus’ teaching on servanthood and suffering was not intended to merely inspire good behavior. Jesus wanted to impart (to give a part or share; to communicate the knowledge of; to make known) the spirit of servanthood, the sense of personal commitment and identity that He expressed when He said, “I am among you as He who serves” (Luke 22.27). Christ is calling us to “empty” ourselves of our selfish ambitions and self-centered acts. What a paradox that stretches our mind’s eye, to think that as we become “empty” of self and dependent on God, the Holy Spirit will use us mightily, but this is the life we are called to live faithfully and obediently.

Empty in order to be are you doing today with this? How can the Church transform society - by becoming greater servants and lovers of the other. How can you, how can I, how can we become more of a servant today and tomorrow? As Jesus reminds us, "When you did it to the least of these you did it to Me" (Matt 25.40). Come Lord Jesus Come!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Scandal of the Cross

Following Christ, which has become possible through his self-surrender, will not consist in doing some right thing but in fundamentally surrendering everything, and surrendering it to the God who has totally emptied himself, so that he can use [that right thing] for the world, according to his own purposes.

The life of Christ is the center of our participation. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar writes "The scandal of the cross cannot be removed by further theoretical discussion but only by praxis, which is twofold: it is a decisive step into the future, beyond the baneful barriers set up by doctrine, and it is also a return to Christianity’s authentic and original meaning: God shows his truth to us through acting.” As the apostle Paul tells us, we should "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Philippians 2.12-13).

The world is God’s theater of glory; it is the place for humanity’s performance in Christ through the Spirit. Faithfulness to the performance of God recognizes that Christianity is praxis. It tells us how we should act not simply what we should believe.