Redefined


For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 (NIV)

The distractions of today and yesterday too often skew the way we see God and His creation.  We rationalize, contextualize, scrutinize with faulty eyes the way we should act/think/feel in each situation that comes our way.  We use broken eyes, behind broken lenses to perceive a broken world to help define a perfect God and our relationship to him.  But love redefines everything.

Before God first breathed life into the dirt that would become Adam, to his son laying down his life for all, to the day he returns to judge the quick and the dead, one thing remains the same: God loves us.  He created us to love him.  He formed us with love in mind.  We long for it, search for it, try with epic effort to find it on our own, but it is not a love that can be reproduced or replicated.  It is a love that redefines us.

I was typing a note on a tablet and it asked me if I wanted to add “God” to the dictionary.  It seemed an odd question, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized how this question reflects a reality in the human – we are far more comfortable defining God than letting God define us.  We add him to our dictionary instead of allowing him to write our dictionary for us.  We like to have our own dictionary because we can control how we see the world, but sooner or later we will be faced with the unchangeable truth that God cannot be controlled by our dictionary.  His love redefines everything.

So we have a choice – to continue in our dream world of self-referencing everything to fit into our broken view through broken lenses, or we can have our sight healed by the love of God and allow ourselves to be defined by his word and will.  Will we be Pharisees or mustard seeds?  Will we be children of God or childish about God?  Will we stamp our labels on people we meet (criminal, homeless, sinner, lost), or will we get close enough to read what God has written on them (hurting, suffering, broken, loved by God)?

Lord, help me to be defined by your dictionary each day.  May my vocabulary increase as my fear decreases and may I find the words to share your love with others.  Give me eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to love without reservations.  Amen.

Poetry: The Thorn in My Side


The Thorn in My Side

 

A gentle prick in my holy veneer

Piercing where no eye can see

Ignoring the pain with a candy smile

The thorn in my side is me

 

Pain and grief and shame pour in

Self-mutilation with the sharp point of sin

Sinful desires rise once again

Leading to places I’ve already been

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m missing the point, but it won’t miss me

The thorn in my side is me

I should get paid, but I’m doing the Devil’s work for free

 

God is patient, God is kind

Hoping He can change my double mind

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

 

Can’t blame mom, can’t blame dad

Don’t see anyone holding a gun to my head

Who can save me from this body of sin?

The son of God, raised from the dead

 

The thorn in my side is me

I’m getting the point, I’m beginning to see

The thorn in my side is me

Christ paid the price for one such as me

 

God is gracious, God forgives

In Him alone salvation lives

Take this thorn and set me free

‘Cause the thorn in my side is me

Acting Out Our Faith: Real Power


Now for some time a man named Simon had practiced sorcery in the city and amazed all the people of Samaria. He boasted that he was someone great, and all the people, both high and low, gave him their attention and exclaimed, “This man is the divine power known as the Great Power.”  They followed him because he had amazed them for a long time with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Simon himself believed and was baptized. And he followed Philip everywhere, astonished by the great signs and miracles he saw. – Acts 8:9-13 (NIV)

There is a great scene in the Avengers movie where Captain America is standing on top of a taxi giving orders to some police officers.  When he is done, one of the officers asks, “Why should we listen to you?”  This pertinent question is followed by Captain America’s clear display of power against otherworldly warriors, after which the officer begins to relay the Captain’s orders.  Power can change people’s mind and earn respect, whether it is out of admiration, fear or gratitude.

Simon had followers because he had displayed power, but it was rooted in a limited source.  Simon could only do so much to impress his fans.  When Philip comes to town, the people are confronted with a different kind of power and are changed by it.  Instead of having to go to Simon whenever they want to see power, they are empowered by the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  Instead of being fans of Simon, they became followers of Christ.  This was such a startling show of power that even Simon believed.

That power is still at work in the world today through God’s people if they choose.  It is not a power that we use to rule over others or hold them in sway.  We are empowered to empower others.  We extend to others that same power that inspired the Psalmist to write, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.”  We get to take our place in the long line that leads others from brokenness to wholeness, from sorrow to joy and from apathy to gratitude.

Motivated by love, empowered by God, we are sent forth to change the world.  The problem for me and the rest of fallen humanity is that we have a long history of abusing power or being abused by it.  We have words of warning about how power corrupts, but the reality is that corrupt power corrupts.  God’s power heals, saves, resurrects and sustains.  It does not corrupt.  He does not corrupt.

I want to be that vessel of clay.  I want to hold the power of God so that it can be poured out into the world and the lives of others.  But I must watch out for the Simon in me; the one who wants power for himself and for his own fame and fortune.  I must watch out for the fawning member of the crowd that can lurk in my heart, waiting for the next magic trick to come along and fascinate me.  I want to be like Philip; a man empowered, but not worried about power.

Lord, empower me to extend Your love, grace, healing and hope.  Guard my heart from worldly powers that might draw me away from You.  Amen.

Acting Out Our Faith: No More Walls


When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. – Acts 2:1-4 (NIV)

That must have been an amazing day. The onset of the body of Christ being manifest in His people through the Holy Spirit = amazing!  Communicating the power and glory of the gospel without the barrier of language = amazing!  Being united as one despite immense and historical differences = amazing!  Pentecost was one of the most important days in history and yet I do not live my life with this heritage in mind as often as I should.

Pentecost brought something to all of us who follow Jesus.  The Holy Spirit did not just come upon the apostles that day, but on the church, His body.  Pentecost is for us.  In fact, we cannot do the work of Christ without Pentecost truly taking place in our hearts and minds.  It is the Holy Spirit working in and through us that accomplishes all that needs to be done in this world by His people.  We live in a world after Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit has been sent to bring us fellowship with our creator and with one another, but we put up walls for our convenience and comfort.

I want to live a life without walls, empowered by the Holy Spirit and reflecting the image of Christ.  I don’t want any of my walls to get in the way of that kind of life.  This will not be easy, but why shoot for less?  The walls must come down.  They are built by pride and bolstered by ignorance, constructed brick by brick to create a comfortable box for me to live in.  No more living in a box.

Lord, humble me with Your spirit and break down my walls.  Amen

Life in Community: It’s Unity, Not Uniformity


Introduction: The service at church today was focused in on the larger part of this passage in Ephesians and really hit home with me.  I need to get busy being the body of Christ with others.  It was a great word and a great service.  If you are interested, you can hear the sermon after Wednesday this week at www.Risenking.org.

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built upuntil we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.  Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.  From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:11-16 (NIV)

Every day I realize two things: my daughters and I are very similar and very different.  It is an amazing thing to see pieces of your character and personality in the actions, words and expressions of your children, but it is even more amazing to see those unique creations reveal their individuality.  I am finding that it is more my job to help my daughters discover who it is God has designed them to be than telling them who to be.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that discipline is never employed on either of them, but much of that is regarding what she is doing or why she is doing it, not who she is.  I am humbled that God has entrusted this responsibility to me and my wife.  Our only hope in being successful is to do all of this together, in unity.  In fact, it is only through a strong unity that we will be able to guide our daughters into becoming strong and whole individuals.

So it is with our church family.  The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are in perfect unity and we have been adopted into that unity through Christ’s sacrifice.  However, it is only our participation in this unity that will bring us to maturity as individuals.  I will even go so far as to say that it is nearly impossible to be a mature Christian without practicing the “unity” in community.

In the passage above, it is clear that Paul recognizes the uniqueness of each believer, while confirming the unity necessary to attain maturity.  We need to remember that He gave us to one another.  In this passage and others, Paul employs the illustration of the body to describe the greater community of Christians.  It is important to note that no single part of the body exists for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole body.

If it is my desire to see my daughters become mature in Christ then I must live this model of community out in front of them and with them.  This requires a change of perspective from my younger days of personal goals and dream jobs and my wants being met.  My life is theirs (and my wife’s).  I am working toward Paul’s confession, “He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV)  A community of strong, unique, and mature believers is rooted in selflessness, so help us, Lord, to be more about the body and less about ourselves.

Good Friday Poem – Hammer and Nail


Hammer and Nail

 

Muscled hands, calloused and rough,

Work with care and a gentle touch.

Tree to timber with saw and stone;

Through patient skill a form has grown.

A stable manger of humble scale,

Put together by hammer and nail.

 

A babe is born inBethlehem;

A wooden manger a bed for him.

Babe becomes child, child becomes man;

The Carpenter’s skill flows through His hands.

Left His home on a long, hard trail.

Earning His keep by hammer and nail.

 

Love has led Him to a lonely hill;

The Cross His burden for doing God’s will.

The mockers taunt, the angry yell,

Those sinners He would save from hell.

A slaughtered Lamb to rend the veil.

Hung on the Cross by hammer and nail.

 

I strike a blow each time I fail;

Hand and foot, hammer and nail.

Life in Community: The Humility of Christ


Praise the LORD! Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.  Let Israel be glad in its Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.  Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.  For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with victory.
Psalms 149:1-4 (NRSV)

A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.
Proverbs 29:23 (NIV)

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NRSV)

My youngest daughter is selfish.  This is not a surprise to me, as my first daughter had the same characteristic when she was that young.  This is not intended as a condemnation, but a statement of fact.  We all start out selfish and must be shown what it is to be gracious, patient, kind and helpful.  It takes time to learn how to be humble.

I think that is one of the reasons the Me Generation earned their moniker; we were the first generation who were told our rights were more important than our responsibilities.  We were sold on feeding our appetites and satisfying our desires.  We were the front end of the marketing industries guinea pigs.  In the process we have gained an enormous love for ourselves, but have lost the riches of community, service and sacrifice.

When I think of my daughters being selfish, my first prayer is that it will never turn into pride.  Right now they just want what they want.  If my wife and I don’t discipline in the right way, not only will they want what they want, they will exact whatever price necessary from others to get it.  This is the destructive nature of pride.  Where humility lightens our load, pride weighs us down and brings us low.

Jesus invites us into community through the doorway of humility.  His example through His horrific humiliation on the cross should help us daily maintain a humble perception of ourselves.  When we consider that Christ laid down His life to provide salvation for all of mankind, regardless of how many would choose to accept it, we must bow our heads, bend our knees and surrender our hearts.

Humility is one of the central changes that must occur in the life of the believer.  It is transforming, changing our motivation for the things we do and say.  Instead of wondering “What’s in it for me?” we ask, “What’s in me that God can use?”  We shift from loving others as a means of showing how spiritual we are to loving others because we truly see their beauty and value through Christ’s eyes.  Humility gets us out of the way so Christ can get to others through us more effectively.

While the Me Generation was told, “Even if you were the only person in the world, Christ still would have died on the Cross for your sins” the real power of the gospel says, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Cor. 5:14-15 NIV)

Christ died for all.  That is amazing grace.  That is awesome love.  That is power through humility.  This is the kind of humility I want for my daughters.  Not a humility that roots itself in self-abasement and Eeyore-like demeanors, but a humility born of assurance and confidence.  This godly humility comes from a clear understanding that we no longer have any worries and can therefore put other’s needs ahead of our own.  My daughter is showing the signs of humility and I am so happy to see it take root in her heart.

Unfortunately, I am not humble as Jesus is humble.  It is a discipline and I am still working on it every day.  I am still learning how to make sacrifices that cost me without demanding any sacrifice from others.  I am still discovering the lengths to which God is willing to go to help me live the life of Christ.  God is still showing to me in small and great ways how immeasurably big He is and how finite I am.  The next time my daughter throws a fit about not getting what she wants, I will try to remind myself not to do the same thing with my heavenly Father.

Resolutions: One Whose Eye Sees Clearly


A repost from last year.  May God bless you and yours this coming year.

 

Now when Balaam saw that it pleased the LORD to bless Israel, he did not resort to sorcery as at other times, but turned his face toward the desert. When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened.” – Numbers 23:1-4

Balaam is an interesting man.  He is a prophet of God, but he works for an evil Moabite king, Balaak.  This puts him in a serious conflict of interest when Balaak summons him to curse the Israelites before they can overrun Moab.  When Balaam first gets the request, God tells him not to go because Israel is a people blessed by God.  Balaak does not relent and finally God releases Balaam to go as long as he says whatever God tells him to say.

Before Balaam was truly ready to speak on God’s behalf, he needed to go through a humbling experience with a talking donkey and an angel of death.  He needed to be reminded that it was better to fear God than a Moabite king.  When Balaam finally stands before Balaak, he is clearly a changed man.  The result of his transformation is proclaimed in the verse above; Balaam is now “one whose eye sees clearly.”

In the world of optics, resolution is very important; the better the resolution, the better the image. High definition TV’s, high resolution cameras, and prescription glasses are all intended to give us a clearer picture.  This is really what our resolutions should be about for the New Year – clearer vision.  Resolutions can give focus, clarity and definition to our intentions but that is only part of the picture.  It doesn’t help us at all to have good vision if we aren’t looking in the right direction.

I think that was Balaam’s problem.  He obviously could see before, but he wasn’t looking in the right direction.  He knew that God was on the side of Israel, but he didn’t want to be the one to bless them against the will of Balaak.  Once God had opened Balaam’s eyes, they stayed focused on God and not on Balaam’s fears and doubts.

In looking forward to a new year, and making the almost required resolutions, we would do well to check our vision.  Is it clouded by negative thoughts, fears and doubts?  Are we looking in the wrong direction or at the wrong things?  Are the worries and distractions of this world skewing what God wants us to see?  This year ask God to give you a vision of where He wants you to go.  Be one who “hears the word of God.”  This year, if you decide to make any resolutions, make sure they are being made by “one whose eye sees clearly.”

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Conclusion


But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:21-24 (NIV)

Righteousness is an amazing thing; we all need, none of us have it and there is only one place to get it.  Talk about evening the playing field.  Righteousness requires us all to become spiritual paupers. This makes Jesus’ statements in Matthew 5 come into clearer focus.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) and, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

There is no difference between me or the murderer in jail, until either of us admit our spiritual poverty and hunger for something better than all other things.  God has made His righteousness known and available, but we can get too involved in concocting our own righteousness instead.  We can look at the murderer and say, “At least I am not a murderer” all the while hating the murderer in our heart.  This isn’t righteousness, it is spiritual hypocrisy rooted in arrogance.

Righteousness asks us all to start at the same place, to count everything we have done on our own as rubbish.  We empty our pockets, we deny our credentials, we surrender our pedigree and we come before God naked and poor.  We need Him to clothe us.  We need Him to bless us with the riches of His kingdom.  We need His righteousness.

This life is too short to spend time trying to be right; too precious to spend our talents and treasures just to prove someone else wrong.  Make your argument with your life.  Hunger and thirst for righteousness and you will make the best argument possible; that God’s righteousness is better than man’s.  I certainly don’t say this from a place of success.  Every day is a struggle to seek God’s righteousness instead of creating my own, but I believe I am closer than I was last week, last month, last year.  I still hunger.  I still thirst.

Righteousness is an amazing thing, but it is not impossible.  My hope is rooted in the victories in my own life and the cloud of witnesses who testify to this truth.  The righteousness of God is our inheritance, but we must let go of the petty riches we cling to in this world.  We have to let go of our reputations, our degrees, our experiences and grab a hold of the hem of His garment.  Lord, let us hunger and thirst for You more every day.

The Right Kind of Righteousness: Unrighteous Anger


My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. – James 1:19-20 (NIV)

There is a lot of anger being thrown around today.  We see it on our TV screens, we hear it on our radios, we read it in magazines and papers and it seeps into our hearts and minds.  In Christian circles we have made excuses that our anger is “righteous,” but it is just that; an excuse.  Anger makes us feel powerful; it makes us feel like we are in the right.  When we look at the world and others through the lens of wrath, we see too much of what proves our point and are blind to most everything else.

Righteousness is rooted in not getting angry.  While James may not have had this in mind, it is clear that the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) are remedies to the angry heart and mind.  If we are day by day allowing the Spirit to do His work in our lives, the fruit will be righteous.  James tells us three things that helps put us in the Spirit’s hands: listen, be quiet and get a longer fuse.  Good advice, but hard to follow in our angry world.

If we want to avoid the anger James is warning us about, we need a quiet place, a quiet heart & mind and a humble attitude.  Our days are full of noise and busyness, which can shorten our fuse.  If we can find that quiet place, even if it is a closet in our room, it can provide the opportunity to listen for God’s voice.  However, the quiet place has to be matched with a quiet heart and mind.  It does no good if we spend all of our time in a quiet place making noise about our life and our wants.  There is a real need of being still before God.  Each day we need to let the quietness of that place sink into our hearts and minds to drive out the angry noise of the world.  But that is still just a beginning.

Anger is too easily motivated by pride.  To be slow to anger is to be humble.  When we consider the needs of others, the hurts and pains that may be at the center of their life, we will have a different attitude toward them.  Instead of anger, we may find compassion, love, mercy and grace.  Humility is the last place that anger tries to find a home.  Humility is the open door for the Spirit to bear fruit in our lives.

Where is your quiet place?  When was the last time you felt silence and calm in your heart and mind?  How long have you held anger toward someone who may need your love and kindness?  Let’s work together to come against the anger of our world with the fruit of the Spirit and the humility of Christ.