Healthy Infatuation

Infatuation

There’s a difference between mere attraction and relationship.

Saying your a Christian but never doing anything about it is like a single person making a mental note that someone is attractive and then leaving without trying to meet them. If you’re really interested in a relationship, you’d be fervently pursuing them with your time and attention.

  • The irony is that its only after you’ve thrown yourself at Jesus’ feet that you realize that its actually Him that’s been pursuing you.

Christianity is like marriage. Marriage is about the perpetual self-giving of each spouse to the other. And ultimately, your relationship is a private matter between you and Jesus. But He’s more than just an interesting person. Because He died for you. He gave everything.

If Jesus really is your spouse, how much of yourself are you willing to give to Him?

If you have no desire to spend time with your spouse, learn what they like and don’t like, listen to what they think is best for you and meet the rest of the family, what kind of marriage is that?

More Than You Can Handle

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True or False: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”
Answer: True (but platitudinous:), i.e.:

* If God doesn’t give us more than we can handle we’ll never be able to handle more.
* How do we grow if we are not challenged?
* Where do we learn, if not from our failures?

BUT… that conventional wisdom doesn’t go far enough. We need to keep going. Until we get to the gospel.

Because if we ARE able to handle things ourselves, outcomes become performance based. There are two problems here: failure… and success. If your a Christian, it can become gospel short circuiting self-salvation as we subtlety begin to judge our own worthiness based on our works. And guess what, even if you’re saved you can fall for the joy killer that is works based salvation.

Here’s how it works: You believe in salvation by faith. But you’re a functional self-saver. And its leading to performance anxiety. The answer is to get back to the gospel. Since we are not judged by any performance other than Christ’s, we can stop being so outcome driven.

Our job in the “more than we can handle”- is to love God, love our neighbor and to follow God’s commands. Yes, we are to do things to resolve whatever we are “handling”- but only through the lens of love. And its only the gospel that allows us to act that way.

  • When the outcome is up to God, and the pressure is off- we can afford to be be loving and caring.
  • When the outcome is up to us- we become ruthless and judgmental.

We judge ourselves and the actions of others based on whether we’ve beaten the tyranny of the “more than we can handle.” And we no longer act out of love. Sure, in our success, we may give God a cursory tip of the hat- but there is always a secret part of us that is proud that WE did it. And oppositely, when we fail- we become despondent, frustrated with others, and angry at God.

The gospel tells us that Jesus performed perfectly, so we wouldn’t have to. That we’re accepted based on His performance, not ours. So don’t let performance anxiety creep back into your life. The gospel gives you the freedom to adopt loving your neighbor as yourself as your driving principle rather than the drive to succeed at all costs. Because the cost of “success” in life (being perfect) is paid for by the cost of love at the cross- the life of Jesus. Jesus was judged for the perfect outcome, so we wouldn’t be judged by the imperfect one. So in that sense, everything is more than we can handle.

Strange Blessing

Strange Blessing

In Numbers 6:22-27 the Lord said to Moses: Tell Aaron and his sons, This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace. So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

This makes perfect sense to us- the way we close out a Sunday service even, but to Moses, this must have been a strange blessing. After all, he had begged God to see his face, but the closest he got was being hidden in a cleft as God passed by. So what’s different now?

Their sin has been dealt with. The difference here is that Israel is now being purified by the sacrifices of the priests. If your a Christian, because of the sacrifice of the final high priest, Jesus, your sin has been dealt with, too. So now you can see God’s face in Jesus.

God puts His name on them. He makes them His. My old high school Dean was also my basketball coach. He used to have an old set of possession arrows from the scoring table on his desk. Meaning when you sat in front of him, he owned you. God owns you. You can’t manage Him or dictate terms to Him.

Lastly, if God has given you his name, in a real sense he’s given you your identity and who you are to be and become. So you don’t get to manage Him, he gets to manage you. You can’t manage Jesus. You can’t squeeze him into your free time. He gets to manage you. It’s the difference between wanting to see God’s face or just seeing what you can get out of him.

Sanctuary Cities

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God is so interested in justice, that one of the first things He told Israel to do in their new land was to create sanctuary cities. If someone accidentally killed someone in ancient Israel, they were to flee to one of these cities. There they could find justice. They had some familiar protections: the right to face their accuser, trial by jury, and witnesses. No ransom was allowed either. So there was equality under the law for the poor. If the death was accidental, then the killer was to safely reside in the city of refuge until the death of the High Priest.

So even manslaughter is sin. In fact, all sin requires blood. And its the job of the blood avenger to get it. In the sanctuary city however, the sinner is safe, but if the offender is found outside the city, the blood avenger has the right to kill you. An avenger is someone who gets something back- as in, I’m gonna get you back for what you did. But if you’re a Christian, you don’t have to run any longer, because the blood of the ultimate High Priest has paid for your sin. He has also gotten something back for you- you’re place with God.

Click the link below to hear the whole talk and learn three things about sanctuary cities: the refuge of the city, the justice of the city and the blood of the city…

The Grace of Vengeance

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How could there be grace in vengeance? Well, first and most importantly, God sent His Son, Jesus to take the vengeance that we deserve for our sin- that’s the grace of the gospel. And secondly, if we truly believe that is God of justice, then we don’t have to take vengeance out on the people that have wronged or oppressed. The pressure is off, because we know God is going to do it. That’s grace, too- and by extension, it allows us to show grace to our enemies as well.

That doesn’t mean we sit on our hands, though. Jesus has a two fold mission: to declare freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… and eventually…the day of vengeance of our God (Isaiah 61). But today it is only the first part. Jesus comes today not to condemn but to save (John 3:17). How often are we condemning? We can still be “matter of fact” about our principles and morals, but we also have to love and relate and serve those around us like Christ did, while focusing on that first part of Christ’s mission- of lifting up, freeing and proclaiming. That attracts despite differences.

Vengeance has a lot in common with its cousin, revenge- but its not revenge. It’s similar in the sense that it involves cause and effect- it’s a response to something- a wrong. But the difference is in who does the judging.

For the full scoop, click below to listen in on my talk at Cedar Run Community Church last week on Numbers 31: The Grace of God’s Vengeance.

Wilderness Worries

We spend a lot of time worrying and complaining about things we can’t control. When Israel was in the wilderness, they spent a lot of time worrying and complaining to Moses and Aaron. You could say they gave their pastors an earful. And as they looked back upon their years of Egyptian slavery, not only do they not remember how hard it was- they remember it fondly. But when God delivered them from Pharaoh, they were freed from every kind of slavery- religious slavery, political slavery and economic slavery.

But the people could remember was all the food they used to get: figs and pomegranates, and grain- and they even had grapevines, so they could go to happy hour on Fridays.

They’ve got a short memory when it comes to what they had to do to get all that. If we don’t produce at our jobs today, we get fired- not fun. When they didn’t produce- it meant death, or not eating, or being beat and whipped. But now that they’d been freed, even though they live in the desert- they’ve should have been able to trust God’s grace. And that’s been hard to swallow.

It’s hard to swallow for us, too.  If you’re a Christian, you’re no longer a slave. Your job may feed you and your family- but its no longer your master. You’re bank balance may provide security- but not eternal security. And the McMansion you always wanted is no longer your palace, now its just a roof over your head. Or your political party is in or out of power- but now it neither makes you giddy nor crushes you.  None of that is who you are any longer. The pressure of that kind of slavery is off.

It’s no longer your working or worrying to obtain any of it that sustains you. Jesus accepts you whether your a CEO or unemployed; swanky suburb or house falling down around you (or no house); whether your guy or girl won or not. You shouldn’t be basing your joy or worth on anything other that God’s grace.

Word vs. Works

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Now, you’ll get no argument from me that churches are primarily Word Ministry based. Practically, para-church organizations are better equipped to serve communities.  But every church should have a couple of gateway programs that do community outreach as part of their discipleship program.

A couple of years ago, the church I attend started a community service program called Send Seventy, modeled after Jesus sending the disciples out in pairs.  Send Seventy was designed to get people out into their neighborhoods to serve.  It platformed out of our Life Group ministry- so that people could go together and support one another as they tried something new.  Hopefully, three things would happen:

  1. Together, people could overcome their trepidation to try something new.
  2. Once they tried it, service would become something they wanted to do, rather than a burden or just another thing on the to-do list. (Enter sanctifying Holy Spirit:)
  3. They’d be motivated to find a place that fit them and continue serving.

Gateway programs like this are important in combatting community service lethargy. Many people, myself included, shy away from service because its new and intimidating not to know anyone or what to do- we’re uncomfortable.  A gateway service program called Salt and Light is run by our church at a local homeless shelter ministry.  It’s led and supported by a regular and dedicated leadership team from the church, but with plenty of room for people to get out of their pews and try it out.

Church community service programs should be designed to introduce people to service so that they can find their own service home and routines in their own contexts, neighborhoods and comfort zones.

Did Send Seventy work?  Well, it worked for me.  I’ve shared my struggles with serving and new routines and busy-ness. But after a few tries (and few bad fits), I found a place in my neighborhood where I feel comfortable, know the people and can serve regularly.

The Death of Prayer

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The Untimely Death of a Prayer Life

The death of a prayer life starts long before we recognize it. We’re still praying.  Spending our few minutes a day, maintaining our routine.  But its form over substance.  There is a coldness to it, a boredom, a monotony, rather than the Spirit filled time we used to enjoy.

The 19th Century preacher Octavius Winslow has some questions you can use to diagnose your prayer life:

Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart; have you this? It is communion and fellowship with God; know you what this is? It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of his goodness and his love shed abroad in the heart; is this your experience?

There’s a progression to declining prayer:

  1. our private prayer time goes
  2. then our “walking around” prayers- the spontaneous prayers we offer God
  3. next is family prayer (say goodbye to family study and praying at meals)
  4. and finally social prayer- with other Christians

What you exchange for prayer: The absence of prayer does not leave a vacuum. Something else fills it.  Humility, dependance on God and desperation to share the gospel gets exchanged for self-reliance, judgmental-ness, and a lack of interest in increasing the Kingdom of God.

Winslow chronicles the final result: 

Satan, the subtle and sleepless foe of the soul, is prepared with a thousand enticements to smooth the downward path; the world appears with some new attraction; sin tastes less bitter, and appears less “exceeding sinful”; objects of sense become familiar, are looked at, admired, then embraced: and now the soul, but for preserving and restraining grace, has taken a farewell forever of God.

Off the Hook?

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Should I serve inside the church or should I serve outside the church?  Yes…

This is how as an interrogator, I learned the hard way not to ask compound questions.  Did you rob the bank on Monday or did you rob the bank on Tuesday?  Yes.  So which is it?

  • If you serve inside the church walls… does that mean you are off the hook outside the walls?

Christians are called to both serve both one another AND the needy, i.e. “the widow, the orphan and the foreigner among you.”  When we serve one another inside the walls we are serving by extension the ministry of God’s Word.  When we serve outside the walls we are serving the ministry of God’s Work.  Both Word and Works are necessary.

There is the danger of thinking that if we usher or work in children’s ministry, that we are absolved of working in the community.  As a pastor, spending all my free time inside the walls, I even tried to convince myself that I was off the hook.  Nice try.

We only hurt ourselves when we forgo community work because God ordains that kind of service as one of the ways that He changes our heart (i.e. sanctifies us). In short, I hate going, but once I’m there I feel like it was great idea (that’s simple heart change).  And while he’s changing our heart, other hearts are changing as we model (and yes even speak about) the gospel.

We are called to be God’s agents in world repair- the Jewish term is Tikkun Olam.  I especially love Isaiah for his Two Cities Theme: the city of man vs. the city of God- it’s currently a poor crime ridden ghetto filled with people who abuse each other.  But in the end we see its transformation into a Holy City.  Even though its not here yet, we are to be part of that transforming process- now.

Resting at Work

The deep peace of knowing we’ve been accepted by Christ should be changing the way we work and rest… into rest at work.  There is more to rest than our past and our future.  And there is also more to rest than a day off or a vacation.

  • Think about your past.  When you accept Christ as Savior- there is rest in knowing you’ve been forgiven for all your sins.
  • Think of your future.  Because there is also the hope of the future rest we will have in heaven.

But there is also a rest today.  The author of Hebrews writes: “Now we who have believed enter that rest…” Now.  So not only do we get a physical day or two off once in a while., but as we go about our daily work, whether at our jobs or as parents, or whatever else it is that you do, you can not only occasionally rest FROM it, you can rest IN it, too.  If your truly resting in your unconditional acceptance by the God of the universe, your work should look a lot different than the harried, blowing up at co-workers, late again for the meeting, yelling at the kids, thorns and thistles that everyone around you is experiencing as work. Here’s how:

  • Because you rest in Christ, you’re going to work towards excellence, but you’re not going to worry about the outcome, because good or bad, that’s up to God.  You are not accepted based on outcomes.
  • Because you rest in Christ, your work doesn’t define you, Christ and his acceptance of you is what defines you.
  • Because you rest in Christ, you don’t overwork- because you’re not approved by taking on more than you can handle.  And you’re not lazy- because you trust God will provide the rest you need.

So now Christians have a choice: we can do our work the old way or the new way. We can strive and contend and struggle or we can “rest at work.”