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  • QUIT TRYING, DO THIS INSTEAD

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Growth, Story

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    I posted the following prayer in a previous post, and wanted to comment on one portion of the passage.

    O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner…

    It seems as if I am standing on one side of a huge canyon and see how I should grow toward you, live in your presence and serve you, but cannot reach the other side of the canyon where you are.  I can speak and write, preach, and argue about the beauty and goodness of the life I see on the other side, but how, O Lord, can I get there?  Sometime I even have the painful feeling that the clearer the vision, the more aware I am of the depth of the canyon…

    I can only keep trying to be faithful, even though I feel faithless most of the time.  What else can I do but keep praying to you, even when I feel numb; to keep speaking in your name, even when I feel alone.  Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen. 

    – A Cry for Mercy by Henri Nouwen

    Did you catch what Nouwen wrote in the last quoted paragraph?  He wrote that he tried to be faithful despite his inclinations of faithlessness.

    Have you ever tried to be faithful?

    Perhaps you tried to be patient, or kind, or gentle, or pure, or selfless?  To be blunt how’d that work out?

    I don’t know about you, but I fail.  I fail way more than I would like!  Even in those times I do succeed, I step away from the situation utterly exhausted.  Thanks to the work in books like Willpower, we now know that humans have a limited amount of willpower that becomes depleted throughout the day.  While Baumeister and Tierney offer helpful suggestions on the subject of willpower in everyday life, when it comes to the willpower of faith Nouwen is discussing, I am afraid it just cannot be implemented in the same capacity.

    When I try faithfulness, I end up with moments of great success and failures.  However, the God revealed in the Bible does not measure our lives on an average or curve.  He measures it compared to his holiness, and we come up woefully short.

    Fortunately, the great message of Jesus the Messiah, is that God himself reconciles the world through Jesus.  We are saved through his faithfulness and are justified through his salvific work (see II Timothy 2:13 and II Corinthians 5:19).

    Reader, don’t be burnt out through your own strength.  Instead, trust in Jesus and his faithfulness.  Everything else will be added to you through his Spirit who lives and dwells in you.

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  • IS LOVE THE MOST IMPORTANT THING?

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Bible Talk, Culture, Growth

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    There was a Buzzfeed video circulating around last week featuring millennial Christians explaining what makes a Christian.  While a lot has been said over the feature, the thing that most struck me was the complete lack of explicit Christian theology.  There was no mention of the crucified Christ, the hope in the resurrection, about justification by faith, and our sanctification through the Holy Spirit.  No Trinity, grace, repentance, prayer, or historicity of the faith.

    What was there?  Love.

    There was a lot of love talk; however, it was not a costly love.  It was cheap grace, to borrow from Bonhoeffer.

    What I mean by cheap grace is that it doesn’t cost us anything.  It’s an invitation to tolerance, but not to self-sacrificing love as demonstrated by the Messiah.  It’s not an invitation for others onto the path of following Jesus, which means we have to put our own self-loving idols in the trash heap.  Is it an invitation to perfection?  Absolutely not!  Christians will screw up time and time again, but we follow the one who did not screw up (to quote from the Greek…) and who restores our broken relationships with God and others.

    Jesus calls us to follow him and to carry our cross.  He calls us to discipleship, which is incredibly difficult!  He calls us to deny our desires at times and to come to terms that some of our desires will be unfulfilled this side of the grave.

    But you know what Jesus promises?  It will be worth it.

    It will be worth it, for he calls us to go into battle—even if the battle will be a long struggle.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh that bothered him throughout his ministry and Jesus had an unfulfilled desire to not be crucified.  We too might have a thorn in our side that will never go away.

    The message of the Buzzfeed video was it is necessary to be loved and accepted, instead of it being necessary to follow Jesus in countercultural ways.  Be kind to others, of course!  But be rooted in the particular call of the gospel and the call to a discipleship that is shaped by the cross.

    I am a Christian who does not have it all together, who is flawed, and does not have all the answers.  But I have hope because of the faithfulness of Jesus.  Let’s journey together, looking to the founder and perfecter of our faith.

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  • THE GOSPEL OF SELF HELP VS THE GOSPEL OF NEED

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you.

    Martin Luther

    The gospel of Jesus the Messiah is what he has done for humanity.  The gospel is not what we should try to do or what we ought to do.  That, my dear reader, is simply not Christianity.  It might be good morals and good law and good government, but it is not the good news of God.

    As Luther would say, “at its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things.”

    I get asked sometimes about why I’m Reformed, and often it is a correction of the false narrative around it.  In short, the heart of the Reformed understanding of Scripture is this: We are more sinful than we could ever imagine, and at the same time we are more loved than we could ever hope for (h/t Tim Keller).  We are simultaneously justified in Jesus and a sinner.  We are flawed, yet redeemed.

    You are saved in Jesus, not in your works.  So stop doing and trying, and receive Jesus as a gift.

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  • OUR FAVORITE HERESIES

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Christianity Today ran a piece that noted 3 heresies* Evangelical Christians were most likely to believe.  They were:

    Jesus was not truly human

    Our behavior does not matter

    Racism is gone 

    The first point was eye opening to me, because it shows how we tend to overreact to certain questions.  In defense of Jesus divinity, we imply that Jesus borrowed his humanity for a period of time, like how I borrowed a tux for my wedding.  Contrary to this false notion, Jesus became fully man and if we place our trust in him, we are assured that we will be coheirs with Jesus.

    The second point is denying that character matters, that we can be saved without any sanctification.  In my younger days (perhaps 10 years ago or so), I used to think Jesus could be your Savior (mere fire insurance) but not necessarily your Lord (behavior does not matter).  I’ve since backtracked on that idea and find that statement completely idiotic (sorry, 20 year old Jeremy!) because sanctification matters.  My character will never be perfect, but it needs to be changed because of my present standing with Christ.

    The final point is the belief that we are in a post-racial society.  I believe that we have not fully arrived at the peaceful place of racial and ethnic harmony.  There is still deep-seated racial animosity, even within the Christian Church, and while Christ reconciled us to God, the reconciliation with each other is not yet complete.

    This article made me think, what is our favorite heresy as evangelicals?

    For me, I think we are prone to enter into Pelagianism— that we can pull ourselves up with our own bootstraps and make our way into God’s favor.  Our national heritage sets us up for this false theology, especially given our immigrant, free-market culture.  But the narrative of Scripture is forceful in articulating that we are reconciled to God in Christ out of his abundant mercy.  As Paul would say, we were dead in our sins, but God made us alive.  We cannot earn or work our way into God’s favor, instead it is an unmerited gift from God.

    What heresies do you find evangelicals are prone to fall into? 

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    *Heresy can be defined this way: Ideas achieve status of heresy in Christian tradition because they are thought by the Church to be wrong rather than right teaching (doctrine). A heretic is a baptized person who obstinately denies or doubts a truth which the Church teaches mut be believed because it is part of the one, divinely revealed, and catholic (universally valid) Christian faith. (From Heresies and How to Avoid Them)

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  • WHY YOU NEED TO BE BRUTALLY HONEST WITH GOD

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    Have you ever taken a corner too quickly and feel the center of gravity inch you ever so closer to tipping over your car?  Have you ever went too fast over a hill with a steep grade and you catch a little bit of air off the hill?  How about when you hit an unexpected speed bump and the coffee cup flies out of the drink holder and the bag flips over in the frontseat of the car?  Hopefully I’m not the only one here.

    How about when your life hits something unexpected like a pothole or a deer?  Sometimes we don’t know if a good week will turn into a mediocre week or if an OK week will descend into the pit of hell.  That knowledge is simply outside of our range of vision.  Regardless, life is relentless and things happen.

    I am reminded of the psalmist who wrote,

    By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembers Zion.  On the willows there we hung up our harps.  For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’” (Ps 137:1-2)

    Can you imagine yourself in captivity and being mocked by people?  Can you imagine yourself crying over the destruction of your home and feeling deep anger over the violence done to you and your loved ones?

    The psalmist ends the writing with incredible anger and a shocking amount of raw emotion.

    Perhaps you have been there, in the pit of despair and anger, cursing both God and others (it really is an easy place to end up).  Perhaps you’ve been in a personal nightmare, and it leaves you in near hopelessness.

    When injustice happens, plans fail, and sharp elbows are tossed at your nose, I want you to know that it’s OK to lash out at God and tell him everything that’s on your mind. Tell him off, because through this courage you can encounter intimacy with the One who formed you in your mother’s womb.  God meets you in your emotional wrestling match (dive into the Psalms and see for yourself).  Through this brutal honesty, God will meet you in the valley of despair.  Through your honesty, healing can finally begin.

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  • HOW I WANT TO GO THOMAS JEFFERSON ON SUFFERING

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    You know what really bothers me?  All this talk about suffering in the Bible.  How suffering is necessary to conform us into the image of Jesus.  How suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us (Romans 5:3-5).  Quite honestly, I want to go all Thomas Jefferson on this and cut these passages out of the Bible.

    Am I the only one here?

    But here’s the thing guys and gals— I believe that the Bible is God’s Word.  No, not in the sense where it was dictated word for word.  No, no, not that way at all.  Instead, it is a revealing of who God is through many authors and genres.  While Jesus definitively reveals who God is (since he’s God in the flesh), the other books of the Bible also paint portraits of God.  And the Bible speaks to suffering in a completely different way from other world religions and worldviews.

    Suffering is not some esoteric debate topic— it’s a very real thing.  We all suffer in life, while some might suffer greater than others, all cannot escape .  However, the way we handle suffering is quite different.

    Christianity is different because God himself suffered.  He knows what it’s like to suffer, both in want and in hurt.  Not only did the God-Man, Jesus the Messiah, suffer a brutal death through crucifixion, he also encountered separation from the Father.*  The Christian faith makes the claim that God understands suffering and he is not indifferent to it.  There is coming a time when wrongs will be righted and a Kingdom of Righteousness will be implemented—when the world is put to rights.

    Until that day, we live in a broken world.  The sunshine and rain alike will fall both on those who follow Jesus and those who reject him.  And for this we wait in profound assurance that God hears our prayers in the middle of suffering.

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    *The second person of the Trinity experienced separation from the first person of the Trinity on the cross.  If we understand that God is Trinitarian (3 in 1 and 1 in 3, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), then this separation can be seen as incredibly painful.  The eternal relationship within the  Trinitarian God had an incredible strain, since Jesus was forsaken by the Father on the cross.

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  • HOW I’M LEARNING TO FOLLOW JESUS

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Have you ever found yourself wandering in the desert?

    Maybe you haven’t found yourself in a literal desert, but at least in a desert-y period of life.  Perhaps it’s in between relationships, jobs, or some other major life event.  Quite honestly, I’m not a big fan of those times.

    I find myself entering into a major transition of life and I quite honestly have so many thoughts swirling around in my head.  Fortunately, the raw nature of the Psalms are helpful to pray through.  And as a former pastor suggested, weekly therapy sessions in the batting cage helps on a different level.

    I have found that following Jesus is difficult under the best of circumstances, so when the bad times hit, it is made even more tough.

    In this season, I’m learning to follow Jesus by preaching to myself.  I’m learning to follow Jesus by writing verses down on a whiteboard, reminding myself of God’s promises to not only preserve, but also to establish me.  While I honestly cannot wait for this season to end, I will come out on the other end clinging to the only certain hope I have– that Jesus is Lord of all.

  • ONE THOUGHT TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Theology

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    Do you want to have your heart sing?  Hear this promise to you:

    “But anyone who loves God is known by him.” (I Corinthians 8:3)

    If you love God, if you seek after him—even if it is imperfect—you are known by him.  The one who brought forth matter and gravity a gazillion years ago knows you.

    And do you want to know how badly he loves you?

    He chose to come down and take our place, he chose to bear the consequences of our sin, guilt, and shame.  For the joy of this relationship, he endured the brutal, bloody death on the cross for you.

    If you love God, you are known by him.

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  • THE COST OF A U-TURN

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    The Lord will make a way for you where no foots has been before.
    That which, like a sea, threatens to drown you, shall be a highway for your escape. 
    -Charles H. Spurgeon 

    Remember God delivers, when your back is up against the wall or when you are caught in between the violent sea and a malicious army.  When you cannot see the way out.

    Remember, God will deliver.  

    When you have rejected the ways of the Lord and have chosen to go off the pathway.  When you collected your inheritance and went out on your own, only to find out what happens when you fall flat on your face.

    Remember, God will welcome you home. 

    When you sin.  When you consciously reject the wisdom of God and others.  When you wander from the goodness of the Lord.  When you realize the stupidity of your ways.

    Remember, God will run and embrace you as soon as you head back (read: repent) to the house of the Lord. 

    How easy we are to forget and how hard it is to make that U-turn.  As Jesus once said, repent for the kingdom of God is at hand and believe in the good news.  

    Might we walk in this unbelievable good news. 

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  • THE HIGH COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

    AUTHOR: // CATEGORY: Story

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    Following Jesus will cost you something.  It will cost you this: putting your whole life on a table and letting him remove certain things.  Things that might be incredibly costly like your identity, vices, or library.

    11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12 so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them. 13 Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” 14 Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. 15 But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded. 17 When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18 Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19 A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

    Acts 19:11-20 (emphasis is mine)

    Following Jesus will cost us something, even admitting the dark truth that is within our story.  But friends, everything he removes he will replace with 10 times as much.

    What might be the cost for you?

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