Feral Orphans

Our daughter Emily rescued a wild (I mean that in every way) cat named Rafreaka that defines “Feral”, as her clipped ear reveals (a sign that a homeless cat has been neutered and returned to the wild). Even though she’s pampered and well-fed for the past several years , she can’t seem to get the Feral out of her system. She will stand by the closet door where we keep her food yelling at us to give her more, even if we just fed her. She’s stuck in the Feral System.

Think for a moment what it would mean to be truly Feral. You would have to fend for yourself just to survive one more day. Every desire or need would be totally up to you, and you would be in life and death competition with everybody else around you for the scarce life-saving resources. This would cause perpetual fear and probably drive you to do things you never thought you’d do just to get by. And this would be so deeply ingrained in you that, if you were ever adopted into a home, your heart would certainly keep going back to being afraid and scrounging for the scraps you need.

You and I are just like Rafreaka. In Christ we have been fully and beautifully adopted into the Great Heavenly Family and our Heavenly Father has, by giving us his own Son, proven that he will perfectly and generously provide for exactly what we need, when we need it. Yet I stand by the door yelling at Him for more, more, more. The issue isn’t our demanding behavior, it’s our meager and wavering belief that we are actually in God’s family, under the outrageously loving protection and provision of our Father. Into this weakness Paul gives us outrageous hope:

Romans 8:15
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

Despite what it feels like; despite the ingrained feral heart that I can’t shake, the truth is that I am loved beyond belief and have been given a Royal Inheritance that isn’t only the life to come, but the flood of love and blessings in the here and now, including the very presence of the Holy Spirit that has been given as a deposit guaranteeing the Hope that is to come.

Last week I mentioned the nearly-impossible-to-grasp truth that every shred of our sins have been perfectly paid for on the Cross…but that forgiveness is actually only HALF of the story. Leaving us sinless still leaves us short, because we need to be righteous, which we can’t remotely achieve on our own. And so the second half of the Gospel meets us in our Christ-Given sinlessness and envelopes us with Christ’s Robe of Righteousness.

Isaiah 61:10
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

The Righteous Beloved Son of God met me when I was a Feral Orphan, and traded places with me. He took on my orphanhood when he was forsaken on the cross, and imputed me with his status as Beloved Son. And what’s more, when Jesus rose from the grave, he brought me along with him so that not even death can impact my status, my righteousness, my New Family.

So run to your Abba, Father, your Heavenly Dad. He’s calling you to come to him with your loves, fears, failures and plans, and trust in his power and love. You are not alone and no longer Feral. You don’t have to fend for yourself at the expense of your heart and everybody else around you. You have been adopted into God’s family and will never be abandoned.

Absolute Absolution

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1 is the most significant verse in my life. It encapsulates the beauty, power, significant, practicality and freedom of the Gospel in my real everyday life.

Walk with me for a minute through our proverbial “permanent record.” You know, that thing teachers threaten kids with: “If you don’t tell Johnny you are sorry, this is going on your permanent record.”

Elaine Benes from Seinfeld encountered this. Some doctor at some point wrote down that she was a “difficult patient.” Years later, as she was trying to get medical help for a rash, the doctor looked down at her chart and treated her curtly with no compassion or help, because she was known to be “difficult”. The rest of the episode follows her trying to get seen by doctors as she trying to steal and/or erase her Permanent Record (obviously to no avail, even with Kramer’s help).

This premise is just a silly thing of sitcoms, right? Or, what if our failings and flailings really are etched into a permanent recorded? Be brave enough for a second to ponder the record of your life. Those offensive words of gossip, lying, slander and criticism; how we’ve belittled, demeaned and even dehumanized others; how I fudged some numbers, took credit for somebody else’s work and arrogantly patted myself on the back.

Even though these things are sufficient to warrant a guilty verdict, what about my internal life, my hidden thoughts and motives? How, in my insecurity, I see myself as better than others because I haven’t done that and have done this. How I am greedy, dismissive and (as Jesus talks about in Matthew 5) committed murder in my heart. What if my actual motives (of which I’m not even aware) were published?

But hold on a second. Our permanent record doesn’t just contain our “sins of commission” (the things I’ve done and thought that elevate myself over God and/or others). What about the “sins of omission”? Those things I haven’t done that God has commanded me TO do? Generosity, words of encouragement, evangelism, sacrificial service, prayer…you know, loving God and loving others with my heart, mind soul and strength (Mark 12:30).

Oh man. This makes me writhe with Paul in Romans 7:24

Romans 7: 24
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

But before I turn into a slug covered in salt,
I am transported along with Paul to the next verse!!!

Romans 7:25
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

And now we more fully appreciate and glory in the very next verse – Romans 8:1

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The more we can be honest with the extent of our treason, the more we can be gloriously overwhelmed with the gift Jesus acquired for us on the cross. That infinitely long “Permanent Record” has been permanently paid by Jesus. If I believe that I have about 5 pounds of sin, I only need a 5 pound Jesus. But the older I get the weightier I realize my sins are (they aren’t heavier, I just realize them more)…and the weightier I see Jesus and his sacrifice. I had no idea he paid THAT much! I had no idea he is THAT amazing!

If Romans 8:1 is true (and it totally is) the more I am drawn into love and worship. There are times I am oppressed by the extent of my debt, and then am reminded by my community and the Holy Spirit that every shred of non-love, every loose word and self-centered deed, every arrogant thought, has been perfectly paid and covered by Jesus. God has enacted absolute justice for me on Christ, leaving me utterly washed clean. Take a second to see this in the life of Delmar from Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

The glory of this verse, the insurmountable beauty of absolute absolution, brings life-changing hope and peace. But it’s actually only half of the story. It leaves us sinless, but God actually requires more than that…he requires righteousness, which he also has procured for us in Jesus…but more on that next week.

If you don’t want to wait for next week, then go read Philippians 3:1-11, especially 3:9…”and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…”

Advented Peace

What does it (or would it) look like for you to have true, deep, sustainable REST? I don’t mean the “Wow, that was a good night’s sleep” kind of rest, or the “I don’t have any drama in my life right now” (as if that was ever possible) kind of rest. I mean the kind of rest that is a deep contentment of inner peace where my heart is not troubled, I’m not afraid of what is around the corner, nor am I haunted by the past (of what I and others have done). Now, before I move on, I struggle to know how sustainable this True Peace is this side of heaven, but I do know that it’s possible and even offered through the Holy Spirit right here in our current world, even in the midst of the barrage of artillery coming your way. So let’s look into it together, praying that the incomprehensible Peace of God can be a reality in my everyday life.

Isaiah 57:19b
Peace, peace, to the far and to the near,” says the LORD, “and I will heal him.

As we’ve seen over and over, Isaiah loves to repeat himself. He doubles up words (and once, in Isaiah 6, triples up the word “holy”) in order to put serious emphasis on it. It’s like when a teenager says “I don’t just like you, I “like like” you.” In Isaiah 57 we are told that, while we are drowning in an ocean of idolatry and rebellion (expressed in our works and our “righteousness” (i.e. legalism)), God leans down to pick us up and give us rest from our flailing legs as we helplessly and fatally tread the water of fear and anxiety. The “peace peace” that God offers is not the singular peace the world offers. It isn’t “just relax” or “stop worrying” coping techniques. It’s something literally miraculous (God breaking into our world) and personally designed for you in your exact situation (not a general platitude).

This all sounds fantastic, and I really need it. Now. The way God has made this miraculous PeacePeace possible is in calling and empowering me to hold on the Past Advent and Future Advent (some of these “future advent” thoughts springs out of John Piper’s book “Future Grace“).

To be able to hold onto peace today, I have to stand on the truth that God has personally “advented” himself historically in the birth of Christ in order to rescue us and has perpetually advented himself throughout history in the person of the Holy Spirit; this Spirit has advented himself into my heart, life and situations continually throughout my life, and that he will perpectually, now and forever, intervene in my life not just yesterday, but this afternoon, tomorrow, next year, next season, next forever. And that Jesus will one day Ultimately Advent again in the second coming. I can hold onto the Person of Peace not because problems will stop (they won’t this side of heaven) but because The Problem (sin, fear and death) have been crucified with Christ, who now reigns as our Sovereign King as he advents his Kingdom into our hearts and world even right now. And it is actually HIM that is holding onto me, setting me free from the death-grip I think I have to conjure up heart-peace.

Let’s do an exercise that leads us toward God’s Advented (and Adventing) Peace.

I would encourage you to read Psalm 85 four times in the Lectio Divina style. Something like this (with a prayer-break in between each reading):

  1. Read Simply: Notice the big picture and flow of the passage.
  2. Read Meditatively: What words draw your attention; why this word at this time?
  3. Read Prayerfully: Dialogue with the Author of the passage; speak and listen.
  4. Read Thoughtfully: What does the Holy Spirit have for you in this passage today?

The Lord, in his creativity and personal attention to us individually, will draw out different beauties and applications for each of us. For me personally I was struck with the intimacy of God’s character traits, specifically in verse 10 & 11:

10 Steadfast Love (“Hesed”) and faithfulness meet;
Righteousness and Peace kiss each other.

11 Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.

Each of God’s character facets intimately interact with and draw out one another. His unending and unbreakable love is made sure and strong through his eternal faithfulness, which tells us that God doesn’t even have the ability to break his promise of love. Likewise, the Lords’ righteousness, his beautiful holiness, is so sure and eternal, and, as we know on this side of the cross, has been given to us through the Advent (the “arrival”), crucifixion and resurrection of the Jesus Christ:

Philippians 3:9
…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

In my anxiety and churning stomach I can rest in the assurance that, despite the lies my heart hears, I have been made “right” with the Lord, and he finds incredible pleasure in being my Father, my Daddy. That when my world spins I am being held and God has not lost any degree of his love or control. Though all doesn’t feel right, all IS right. “It is well with my soul.”

Ephesians 2:13-14
13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…

Finally, to bring it all home, when I am looking for peace, I think I am looking for a resolution to a problem or the removal of a brutal feeling; I think I am looking for a state of being, of rest. These things are partially correct, but actually way too small. What I am actually desperately longing for isn’t being at rest, but being WITH the Man of Rest…the Prince of Peace; what I am actually looking for is Jesus himself, not just what Jesus will give me. To be sure he can and will give me a state of peace, but only as he gives me HIMSELF. When my world flips and my heart breaks, I am called primarily to the Person of Christ, not just to feel better. If I search for the feeling, I will get neither; if I cling to Jesus as he clings to me, I get both.

Adventing

Advent: The Great Anticipation; The Great Arrival.

In your world, what are you desperately waiting on? The arrival of who, or what

What has you on the edge of your seat, burning a hole in your calendar?

Another way to put it…in what/who are you putting your hope?

What future thing is going to bring you what you need? To cure your loneliness, boredom, anger, fear, shame, guilt? We all stand on a foundation of hope:

  • Hoping I have enough to pay my bills
  • Hoping I’ll find love (or that I won’t lose the love I have)
  • Hoping my medical report turns out ok
  • Hoping I don’t get found out as the fraud I am
  • Hoping my kids turn out ok
  • Hoping my theology and morality is “good enough”

We are constantly immersed in some kind of hope, and very little of it (if any) is actually under our control (which causes fear, but more on that next week).

2000 years ago there was an impossible anticipation for the coming Messiah, but all logic told them that it wasn’t going to happen. There had been a few hundred years of (seeming) Divine Silence. By all human accounts, God had chopped down all the trees of hope and promise, leaving a lifeless clear-cut forest; leaving us alone and on our own. We see this in Isaiah 9 as God warned His people of their impending exile into slavery.

Isaiah 9:14
So the LORD cut off from Israel head and tail,
palm branch and reed in one day—

For them, and for us, all signs pointed to justified abandonment by God. BUT…what about God’s promises? Would he, could he, be true to his word to never forsake us? To come rescue us? Even when we’ve gone way too far. When we’ve abandoned him? Abandoned each other? Abandoned our own dignity and value?

Into this desperation comes Isaiah 11

Isaiah 11:1-3
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.

The stump of Jesse: King David’s father. The family tree of God’s promises had been cut down and lay rotting on the ground. Dead. Hopeless.

And then…a sprout. Life. Hope. And not just hope, but a branch that would produce fruit…MORE life. God created a way where there was no way.

This is The Immanuel. The rightful perfect Branch that not only came from the cut down trunk, but (as we see in 10) is also the ROOT of the tree itself. Jesus is the Great I AM; present and instrumental in creation; present and intimate right here and right now; present and sovereign in what is to come. It isn’t that Jesus simply brings us hope, Jesus IS our hope.

And so now, during this Advent Season, we begin the seemingly impossible task of dislodging our chaotic minds and hearts from lesser hopes in this world — hopes that are real and very often very important, for which we are called to pray and pursue — and then to be lodged into the The Greater Hope of Christ. Dislodged from merely hoping for better circumstances and securely hoping for the Savior that has already come into our darkness, lived among us as the “God With Us” and died in order to crucify the hopelessness of Sin, Fear and Death, only to miraculously resurrect (another impossibility that the Lord overcame) and thereby BE our Hope.

So, what does that even mean? When I feel alone, shattered, afraid, hopeless — there is One that holds all the power that is lovingly present with me right here and right now. All of life will eventually fail me — financial, relational, medical, moral — every other thing in which I hope will crumble, but not Jesus. He’s already been crumbled on the cross, and now stands alongside the Father in power, and has send His Spirit as the presence of God in and with me now. I cannot be alone; I cannot be abandoned; I cannot be lost or overcome. My hope is in Him and in His hands, so even when I let it go in search for other hopes, he doesn’t let me go. He has overcome, and is, will, bring me with him. Starting here. Now. Forever.

Galatians 4:4-5
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Captivating Beauty

Psalm 84:1-2
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy
to the living God.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Every one of us are uniquely drawn to and captivated by the beauty around us, giving ourselves, our hearts, to that which we find beautiful.

> The captivating beauty of that person…if only….
> The captivating beauty of that thing I’ve always wanted….if only…

Now for a moment let’s get deeper than the shallowness of culture’s definition of beauty. Le’s get beyond mere (and fleeting) external appearance of a beautiful person or object. Let’s get to the heart of beauty. That quality, that character, that makes our heart skip a beat; catches our breath short; sends butterflies into our bellies.

> The captivating beauty of the job I really want…if only….
> The captivating beauty of this relationship….if only…
> The captivating beauty of my kids….if only…
> The captivating beauty of a better bank account….if only…
> The captivating beauty of a public accolades….if only…
> The captivating beauty of a better morality….if only…
> The captivating beauty of retirement….if only

Now lets go one level deeper, into the things we don’t realize we find beautiful, but we obsess over and seek all the same, often with even more passion than the others. These are the things of “vile beauty” that steal our hearts and our passions; rob us of our resources and leave us wrecked on the floor:

> The captivating beauty of what I use to cope with the pain and horror of life, of this relationship, of this health, of these memories…so I turn to the only thing that seems to distract me from reality. Yes, I hate it, but sometimes it’s my only friend…if only I could face reality….

> The captivating beauty of repulsive arrogance. I am so insecure and so afraid, so I perpetually elevate myself over others, criticize those that are different than me and belittle (especially those I love) so that I can, for a moment, feel like I’m ok, even through I know that I’m a fraud….if only I could believe that my value is intact in the person of Christ…

> The captivating beauty of anxiety. I am so terrified of what might be, and so I return to the god of anxiety, performing mental gymnastics as I try to play out every scenario that would result in future-destruction and how I have been abandoned by God and everybody else…I re-write the end of Psalm 23 — “surely goodness and mercy will (abandon) me all the days of my life.”. …if only I could trust in the everlasting love and goodness of God for me personally…

> The captivating beauty of my despicable sins…I hatefully obsess over my brokenness, what I have done (and maybe continue to do)…I hate it, and hate myself for it. I feel like I will never be healed and perpetually wallow in my filth…if only…then I wouldn’t need so much grace.

Matthew 23:27
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

I know that the above is an over-simplification (i.e. – anxiety strugglers often have genetic, chemical and physiological roadblocks as well). But the spiritual issue at hand is this: What captures your heart? What do you dream of, dwell on, obsess over, get immersed into and lost within? To be honest…that “beautiful object” we all worship is simply this: me. Like Narcissus in Greek Mythology, I am captured by my own self, and have been led into the dark abyss of isolating self-worship.

This is where the Gospel is such unexpected hope. When we diminish “sin” to a list of behaviors, we miss the whole point and make salvation a transaction (I will trade my badness with Jesus’ righteousness). Even though that’s correct (Paul uses financial terminology like “count it all pure joy” and the often-used word “redemption”), the true heart beneath our Hope isn’t about worship…and we worship that which we find beautiful. The Gospel invitation is to have the Lord open our eyes to TRUE BEAUTY: HIMSELF. I have to be shown that I am settling for such a lesser beauty, and that the BrideGroom himself, Jesus, is running down the wedding aisle to capture me; my loves, attention, affections and heart.

As Thomas Chalmers magnificently wrote, what we need is the “Expulsive Power of a new Affection”. Because, in reality, True Beauty is NOT in the eye of the beholder. True Beauty, which makes my heart skip a beat and catches my breath short, is objectively and gloriously in the Person of Jesus, revealed by the Holy Spirit and solidified by our Heavenly Father.

And as my eyes slowly get turned away from myself, I begin to realize that I am actually more beautiful than I even knew. Being made in the image of God, being re-made in a new birth, and being dressed in Jesus’ robe of Righteousness, I am His precious, his beloved, his bride, his child. When Jesus died the ugliest of deaths, he beautified his brothers and sisters with his glory. I am now beautiful in the depths of my soul because I am His, and nothing can remove or even diminish this. Now, to begin to be less captivated by my own Beauty and by the other beauties in this world, I need to fall more deeply in love with the One in whose image I’ve been made, the One whose beauty if reflected in all of creation, the One who is Beauty itself.

Alternate Reality

The name-masks we wear

What’s your name? Not the name on your license or the one your mamma gave you, but your NAME? Your Identity. Your Being. Your Glory. In older times people were often given identity-driven names.

  • Abram (“exalted father”) was changed to Abraham = “father of multitudes”
  • Jacob was changed to Israel = “strives with God”
  • Simon son of John was changed to Cephas (or Peter) = “Rock”
  • All the folks with vocational names like Cook, Butler, Baker and my friend from high school who should have been a dentist: Shannon Toothman…or my own last name as I’ve come from a heritage of ranchers.

In Isaiah 56 we find God’s people finally being set free from Exile and brought home to the Promised Land. But things have changed. There have been numerous additions to God’s family, people that are intertwined with the Lord, but feel like “dirty outsiders” that don’t belong.

Isaiah 56:3
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

Have you seen the movie Inception? To quickly summarize: it tells the story about how people can create, enter and redirect people’s subconscious worlds, which could result in manipulating their “real world” thoughts and actions.

It turns out that we all engage in this dangerous and somewhat effective game everyday. We find ourselves in a reality that we don’t like: pain, anger, sadness, failure, shame, fear, hopelessness. We find ourselves living lives we don’t want to live, feeling things we don’t want to feel, doing things we don’t want to do. We don’t want to live in the here and now, it’s just too hard. So we weave a coping tapestry as we dive down and make an alternate reality, one that is much more to our liking (at least for a little while). Sometimes this alternate reality is done in real-life with real actions (in our secret sins and hypocritical faces); sometimes it’s done deep down in our hearts and imaginations (i.e. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty).

  • When the middle-age man is ashamed of his job, family, body and/or finances, so he pours his life into work in order to prove his worth.
  • When the 10th grade boy feels unloved, so he hides in the porn-world because these 2-dimentional women will accept him.
  • When the woman in her 30s is overwhelmed at work and home, so she begins to have an extra glass of wine each night to relax, which turns into several glasses.
  • When the senior girl in college feels disrespected and marginalized, so she begins to belittle and bully freshman girls in person and online.
  • When the child is anxious when mom and dad are yelling at each other, so he throws his own tantrum just to get them to stop fighting.
  • When the pastor is afraid that if the numbers keep going down, he’ll lose his job (and his reputation), so he convinces himself that other churches are growing because they have watered down the Gospel but HE is the only one that is preaching the Truth.

Life is so hard, leaving us insecure and terrified. And so we hide. Cope. Escape.

We escape in our heads as we tell ourselves we will never be enough while we concoct imaginary lives where we are the hero (think real-life Total Recall).

We escape in the “real world” when we act out either in a way to prove that we are “enough” (work harder, do better) or in a way to prove that we aren’t enough (“If I’m a loser, I may as well act like one”).

Into this reality-turmoil there is terrible news and great news

First the terrible news: your feelings of insecurity, failure and fraud…are correct. Kinda. We are all so much weaker and have so many more rotting floorboards that we can possibly realize. From the beginning of time we rebelled against the “name” God has given us and have tried to create for ourselves a greater name. Look at how the Tower of Babel is described:

Genesis 11:4
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

In regards to sin and rebellion, it’s true. We are broken, frail, muddy and even wretched. If our reputation and love is to be built upon our accomplishments, we are in grave danger. But that’s not the end of the story. God has create a realer-reality in place of our alternate reality. He has taken the reality that we have warped and he’s re-created it into the true reality of a new name, new identity, new hope, new image. The great news is that the very thing we are desperately seeking and inappropriately trying to create has been given to us at Christ’s expense…and even more, because it’s a name that’s infinitely greater than any we could imagine, and one that will literally last infinitely longer than any we could conjure up ourselves. John in Revelation tells it like this:

Revelation 2:17
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.

On the cross Jesus’ name was mocked, proclaiming in a sarcastic tone: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” But how true it was. As Jesus’ name was mocked he died for our broken “name” so that he could give us a new name. In him our name is now Beloved, Son, Heir, Friend. In him our old names have been crucified, which now frees me from the futile and exhausting drudgery of creating and keeping up with my name; frees me to glorify His name and enjoy the new name I’ve been given by living out the vocational-aspect of my name: love, grace, freedom, sacrifice. Allowing me to replace my alternate-reality with the True Reality of an eternal name.

Luke 10:20
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Whole

Everyday we encounter big and small decisions and circumstances upon with we base our fickle, picky, varying and fleeting satisfaction.

  • Where should I eat today?
  • Should I get a new car (which one)?
  • Who should I date / marry?
  • How many kids should I have?
  • Which job offer should I accept?
  • Which church should I attend (or any)?
  • When should I retire?

We truly ask questions like this all the time, and most of them are completely normal and appropriate questions without a “right” answer (example: we’d be terrible parents if we didn’t care about how our kids turned out; we’d be terrible employees if we didn’t care about our careers). The questions is this: What rests on the answer? The smaller everyday questions simply hold a quick “what will make me briefly happy at this moment,” whether that happiness is what perks up your taste buds or what will garner the approval (and acceptance?) of others, which makes me happy.

But the larger questions that have long-term impact is what we are really talking about. In what and in whom are you finding your wholeness, rest, hope, satisfaction, life?

This is what was happening in Isaiah 55. This is the last chapter written to the exiled-Israel (Isaiah 56 is written to Israel after they had been set free). God’s people had been captive for 70 years and, understandably, have decided that God has forgotten them, or even worse, forsaken them; that his promises and word were void and Babylon was now their permanent home. They had decided to forget the hope, promises, love and relationship of God and get comfy in their Exile. And into this Isaiah makes one final plea:

Isaiah 55:1-2
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

This may as well be (and actually is) written directly to us. While we are sitting at the world’s dinner table, stuffing our faces with treats, the Lord is calling us hungry and unsatisfied children to come to the Real Table; to not get filled up on the debilitating fast-food piled high in front us but to, like baby birds, open up and be treated to the food that will make us whole.

To make this practical, to help us see what other “foods” we are ingesting, think about the big “If Only’s” you have in your life. Every one of us have a laundry list of “If only ___, then I’ll be whole, happy, satisfied, at rest.”

  • If only we win this game.
  • my kids turn out ok.
  • If only this job works out.
  • If only I had more money.
  • If only I could stop this sin.
  • If only he would love me.
  • If only my medical report comes back clean.
  • If only I could get enough sleep.
  • If only I get into that college.
  • If only God wasn’t mad at me.
  • If only I wasn’t mad at myself.

This list is infinite, and personal to each of us. The issue is rarely the thing itself. It’s a gift from God to be loved, to have a career you enjoy, to win a game. The problem comes with what is resting upon those good things, and realizing that their shoulders aren’t strong enough to carry my wholeness. My heart-satisfaction cannot find home in things that are movable and transient; on other things and people; on lives that, by definition, are just as weak and needy as I am.

Into this The Gospel calls us to a place of steady foundation and hope. The very thing we’ve been created for – wholeness with God, manifest in peace with creation and one another – has been offered in the Person of Christ. The highest desire we all have – satisfaction – isn’t far off. In fact, He’s come. And is here.

As our small group was talking about this last night, one of our friends (Grace Hooper) made a glorious and profound prayer, asking that God replace our “If Only’s” with “You Are’s” and God’s sure promises. To see and repent of these other foundations and be overwhelmed with the Truth of Who God Is as our only unfailing and eternal hope.

  • Replace “If only she loves me” with “God is Love” (and loves me personally)
  • Replace “If only I had more money” with Matthew 6:30 “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
  • Replace “If only my kids turn out ok” with the Truth that our Real and Loving Father cares perfectly for us and our family: “Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
  • Replace “If only God liked me” with “There is therefore now condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”

God is not a spoil-sport, wanting us to forgo the satisfying morsels of this world, settling for shallow spiritual platitudes. He’s actually trying to save us from the gut-wrenching despair of eating food that will only give us spiritual G.I. issues while spoon feeding us the Bread of Life, Christ himself. Even as Jesus was on the way to the cross he served the Passover Meal to his disciples, passing out Bread (his body) and wine (his blood), but leaving out the necessary and traditional lamb, which would represent the sacrifice needed to cover Sin…because Jesus himself IS the Lamb who finally and fully pays for our sinful pursuits of false satisfaction while finally and fully fills us not just with spiritual wholeness…but with HIMSELF as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, indwells as we now find our life “hidden with Christ” (Colossians 3:3), the satisfaction that can (1 Peter 1:4) “never perish, spoil or fade, kept in heaven for you” — but not just in heaven so we’ll be satisfied on “the other side,” but accessible now in the person of the Holy Spirit who is our Living Hope.

Shamelessness

We throw around the word “shame” like cheap plastic beads from a mardi gras float.

  • That quarterback should be ashamed of himself.
  • Is this the best you can do? You are a disgrace.
  • I can’t believe you did that … you should be ashamed.
  • I can’t believe I did that … I am ashamed of myself.

Professor and speaker Brené Brown differentiates guilt and shame like this:
Guilt: I DID something bad.
Shame: I AM something bad.

Brené’s TED talks on shame and vulnerability have been incredibly popular, revealing how we all, to different degrees and due to different circumstances, perform a shame-dance to a violently oppressive shame-song whose lyrics tell us that we are worthless, unlovable and isolated. Shame lobs our past at us like grenades, robbing us of our dignity, hope and future. But for all who are in Christ, Shame is a liar.

When I hear the accusing voice,
That whispers hopelessness in my ear;

When I am overwhelmed by my own sin
and tell myself that I’m a failure

When I am told by others that
that I am an utter disappointment


When my darkness is revealed to the world
and I am sure that my life is over…

I have to decide: Where I will take my shame? What will I do?

Will I go the Secular route, which tells me that I am fine just the way that I am? That there is nothing wrong with me. That my “brokenness is beautiful” and I don’t need to worry about the fact that I have causes pain to others, betrayed my Creator and broken the Image in which I have been made. This is mere ignorant, hurtful blindness that tries to convince me that I don’t need a Savior; it castrates the Gospel.

Or will I go the Religious route, which tells me that I am a disappointment to God (in fact, I probably made baby Jesus cry) and that I need to try harder, be better and never do it again. If I don’t watch out, I will either be kicked out of God’s love or, more likely, realize that I’ve never been saved in the first place.

  • Secular wisdom tells us that we don’t need Jesus
  • Religious wisdom tells us that we are too far from Jesus
  • The Gospel tells us both, and neither: that we are infinitely far, yet have been brought all the way home because Jesus, the Son of God himself, carried our personal shame into his shame-filled trial and onto the shame-filled cross so that he could be shamelessly raised from the dead.

Isaiah 50:6-7a
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
7 But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have NOT been disgraced..

Jesus didn’t only need to die for us but also needed to go through a horrifyingly shameful and disgraceful trial where he was spit on and mocked because he had to take the full brunt of shame that our sin deserved. Sin, at it’s root, is a betrayal of our Identity, of God’s Image engraved into our souls. In a state of Christlessness, shame is a very appropriate response because, like Adam and Eve, we are betrayers of the Almighty and find ourselves “naked and ashamed.”

And so Jesus needed to take on shame, pay it’s full price and replace our shame with His Glory. In Christ our Identities have been utterly transformed, even re-created. We are not longer “naked” but have been clothed with Christ:

Galatians 3:27
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

And so now realize this — our IDENTITIES have been utterly renewed. There is certainly room for guilt when I am convicted by the Spirit that my behavior has been for my glory and not the Lord’s, but there is no more room for shame because I AM A CHILD OF GOD…my IDENTITY is not my behavior, but given and secured by Jesus Christ himself. The Devil (the “accuser” and the “deceiver”) will whisper in our ears that this isn’t true. He and his minions will tell us that we either don’t need Jesus or we are too far from Jesus. But he is a LIAR. We must combat these lies with the Truth of the Gospel…the greatest antidote to the disease of shame is TRUTH. We need to combat lies with what Gospel tells us…over and over again. In an effort to do this I have included below a downloadable/printable sheet with 32 proclamations of your Identity in Christ. To get you started, here’s a few:

Romans 8:1
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

1 Corinthians 3:16
Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

1 Timothy 1:7
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control


A Much Greater Rescue

Where do you go when times get rough? When you are in some sort of pain (physical, relational, spiritual, financial etc) and you can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel? We all have a a myriad of salves to apply to the wounds that this world inflicts, each with varying degrees of effectiveness. In the midst of these storms where resources seem scare and rescue seems distant, I have some good news, some bad news and some great news.

The Good News is that the very One that has perfectly, lovingly, personally and purposefully knit every atom in all of creation together has set his heart on you, even in our moments of chaotic confusion, anger, sadness, frustration, darkness and hopelessness. God himself passionately invites us to come to His throne of Grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16) because He has unparalleled compassion for us, desires only good things, and possesses the power to rescue. He says “come to me” when the storm is so loud that we truly can’t hear ourselves think because He has been through that storm, and a much much greater storm, and has come out on the other side unscathed. You can get more on this from my blog a couple of week ago called Gospel Butterfingers.

The Bad News (it’s not really bad news at all, but it might feel bad) is that sometimes God intentionally doesn’t deliver us right away (or maybe anytime in this lifetime) from the “thorns in our flesh” (2 Corinthians 12). Sometimes we are crying out to God in the middle of a lightning storm and He, for reasons we can’t fathom, doesn’t pluck us up and set out feet on sunny shores. And it’s really frustrating. And I often will get upset with Him for not coming though (in the way that I insist that he comes through). The reason for these seasons and situations of “bad news” is actually the Great News.

This is what the Lord was telling Israel while they were in exiled slavery to Babylon. They desperately wanted freedom (just like we would). And God said “Yes! But not yet, because I have A MUCH GREATER RESCUE.

Isaiah 49:6
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

You see, pleading with God to rescue us from our “everyday storms” is important. God wants us to come in prayer at all times, including these times. But he ALSO wants to conform us into the image of His Son. He wants SO MUCH MORE than our temporary happiness and comfort. We are so easily satisfied with being safe, having enough stuff and minimizing the causes of anxiety. But God’s plans are infinitely above my own, and He will do what He needs to do in order to mold me. See how C.S.Lewis addresses this in one of the all time great writings (1941) The Weight of Glory:

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased

C.S.Lewis – The Weight of Glory

The Rescue from our Sin

So, what if God’s goal for us is radically different than our goal? We will be perpetually dissatisfied and frustrated, accusing God of not coming through. Maybe my goal of a happy and content life that is relatively void of problems isn’t what Jesus was talking about when he promises us the “abundant life” in John 10:10. Maybe Barbara Duguid is right in her (really great) book Extravagant Grace when she says “that the richest fruit of God’s work in our hearts would be evidenced by increasing humility and dependence on Christ for everything, rather than in a ‘victorious Christian life.'”

Maybe God doesn’t just pick me up out of my mud-pit because this is exactly where I learn how much I need Him and where I will learn that true satisfaction will never be found in creation but in the Creator. Yes, it can be painful and really frustrating. It causes deep tears and angry accusations. It whittles me down to nothing…and what is left is sheer need: need for a rescuer that is beyond myself, but one that has come to give me a far greater rescue…a rescue not from temporary discomfort but from sin itself. A rescue not even just from sin, but a rescue from the tyranny of myself. A rescue not even for my own sake, but also for his Glory.

The Rescue For Himself

Isaiah 49:3
And He said to me, “You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Right there in the middle of God promising to send the Ultimate Israel (Jesus) to deliver the Rebellious Israel (you and me) he says that it will ultimately be for his own glory. God excitedly and at great sacrifice has brought us the absolute Ultimate Victory through Jesus Christ, delivering us from every shred of bondage and slavery. And in the process, He is even more glorified as we, like join in with all of creation in:

Isaiah 49:13
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the LORD has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.

Yes, please immediately and passionately go to God’s throne in the midst of the storm regardless of it’s severity. Go sit with your Abba Father when the thunder claps and you are hurt and afraid. And while you are doing that, and while you are passionately asking for a reprieve, join with Jesus in his Grand Finale saying “yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). As I do that, as I pray that, may the Lord give us eyes to see His Greater Rescue. May he help me fathom the depths of his Ultimate Rescue; that sometimes He gives us relief from the storms of life, but always and forever He gives us life after The Storm of Sin, Fear and Death. And upon this hope I can trust that what John Piper wrote is true:

God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.
John Piper

Perfect Fear Casts Out Fear

We live in an age of anxiety. Even though we have more safeguards to prevent danger and more means of rescue from danger, we are a people wrought with fear. All of these protections have convinced us that life can predominantly be controlled. But, in fact, it can’t. It often feels like we are on a raging roller-coaster with nobody at the control panel as we wait for the next disaster to happen. And for many of us that are more acutely plagued with fear and anxiety, this problem is coupled with spiritual shame as we tell ourselves how faithless and weak we are to not trust God’s love, power and plan. And down the black hole we go.

The good news (and frustrating news) is that fear is one of the most common issues we see all through scripture.

  • Adam said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:10)
  • God’s people were afraid of their Egyptian captors (Exodus 14)
  • God’s people were afraid to go into the promised land because of the overwhelming “giants” (Numbers 13)
  • The Shepherds were afraid of the angels (Luke 2)
  • Jesus’ disciples were afraid of the wind and waves (Matthew 8)
  • Peter was afraid for his life while Jesus was being crucified (Luke 22)

The incredible news it that “Peace” is also one of the more pervasive commands and promises God has for us:

  • God told Abraham to not be afraid to go to the Promised Land (Gen 15)
  • God told Jacob to not be afraid to go down to Egypt (Gen 46)
  • The angels on Christmas morning told the Shepherds “Fear Not”
  • Jesus told all of us to not be afraid because God even takes care of the birds (Mt 10)

Fear comes when we see a “Future without God.” We see real, imagined or potential problems and quickly deduce all the painful outcomes that could result. We naturally fall back into believing that our worlds, our problems, our lives are spinning out of control and about to fall of the cliff. It’s not that we are faithless, it’s actually a great deal of faith…faith that:

  • God isn’t loving enough to desire what’s best
  • God isn’t powerful enough to do what’s best
  • God isn’t wise enough to know what’s best.

We don’t mean to believe this, it’s just where our natural minds and hearts go.

So what do we DO about it? Is there a help, a cure, a hope?

Yes, but slow.

Believing and actually “resting” (the foundational definition of “peace”) in the Lord is a very slow marinating process. We swim in an insta-pot and instagram pool. But learning to trust is slow, and involves us, by the Spirit’s power, to re-focus out eyes off of the potential car-wreck and onto the whole journey. When I am struck with fear, I am forgetting the whole story and the character of God. I am forgetting the infinite proofs that God has always carried his people through the waters and fires. I am allowing what MIGHT happen to eclipse what HAS happened and, in the end, what WILL happen. I am believing that God is small and powerless; that his love for me is weak; that his arms are too feeble to carry me; that his wisdom is too faulty to know what is best for me and the world.

And so, once again, the initial weapon against our problems isn’t to “try harder” (“Just stop being afraid!”) but to believe differently….to be overwhelmed with the glory of God. The greatest weapon against earthly fear is the “Fear of God” — to be overwhelmed like Isaiah (in Isaiah 6) with the mind-staggering holiness, beauty, glory, power and perfection of the Lord.

Let’s look practically at a real-life example in Matthew 8

Matthew 8
24 And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25 And they went and woke him, saying, “Save us, Lord; we are perishing.” 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 And the men MARVELED, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”

The wind and waves were real. The potential danger was extreme. But their eyes (just like mine most of the time) were not on Jesus but on the problems. Instead of being in awe of Jesus, they were in awe of their problems, and their own comfort. And this issue is debilitating, hindering us from living the passionate ambassador-lives to which we have been called and empowered to live. God isn’t slapping our hands for being fearful, He’s working to set us free from the slavery of fear that keeps us from fully enjoying Him and this life he’s gifted us. He’s setting us free from the shackles of this world that scream at us that “this is all there is.”

That’s why Jesus gives us this gift:

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Jesus himself gives us Peace (doesn’t just tell us to be at peace) and He himself IS our peace. He has even given us the Spirit of Peace, the Holy Spirit, who resides in us to speak peace into our hearts when the rest of the world is screaming chaos and fear.

And so today, when fear begins to gurgle up from the springs of your heart, take some deep breaths and fight mis-belief with Gospel-belief. Ask the Spirit to overwhelm your mis-belief with the True-belief that Jesus has always carried you through and, as we see in Romans 8 over and over, will carry us through to the end.