SnowCover

We got a pretty crazy amount of snow over the last 24 hours! So we are sitting here without power —  safe, warm and enjoying how ridiculously beautiful it is outside.

Snow has some mystical, and often deceptive, power. It magically smooths everything out and gives the world a gloriously clean facade. It dampens the noise of the world while slowing everything down to a crawl. But…underneath the surface…

After I graduated college I worked at a youth camp (Sonlight) in Pagosa Springs, Colorado for a ski season. We’d have to get up early to get the kids fed and lunches packed, but then I’d usually be able to ski Wolf Creek for a few hours. On one beautiful powder day I was skiing the back country, away from the slopes, just going downhill between trees. As I went down a dip in terrain I painfully realized that there was a fallen tree under the surface of the snow. My skis and feet when under the tree while the rest of me went over it, bringing me to an immediate stop. What looked incredibly beautiful ended up cracking my leg (but not so bad that I couldn’t take some advil and keep skiing).

This is often how we view what God has done to our sins. He “covered” them for sure, but they still lurk underneath. We often don’t feel clean, just covered. But this is our old religious self rearing it’s accusing head, telling us that we are dirty, worthless and really testing God’s patience. Yet instead of latching onto the cleansing hope of Jesus, we just keep trying to cover our heart’s fallen trees with religious, behavior-management snow so that nobody (often including ourselves) can see the danger underneath. Jesus confronted this with the religious elite:

Matthew 23:27-28
“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. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

He was telling them, and telling us, that our hearts are dead and rotting, in need of re-creation, not just cleaning. We need new hearts, not repaired old hearts. King David, the great great (etc) grandad of Jesus, had some heart road-kill deep down and realized that he needed an outside surgeon…leading him to Psalm 51, his poem of repentance:

Psalm 51:7
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

This is why Jesus had to come. He had to have a heart like ours so that he could equally swap with us, giving us his pure heart along with all it’s benefits while taking ours, along with all it’s penalties. So our hearts are not snow-covered, they are snow-colored. They are pure because we’ve been given His.

So enjoy the snow, and let it remind you of your true identity in Jesus.

Lead me not into…

Are you more tempted by:

Amazing dessert or awesome pizza?

Fame or Money?

James 1:14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

Temptation, which is actually the same Greek word as Trial from earlier in James, is a fruit of our heart’s passions. Every one of us have a God-given need (not want) for fulfillment, value, wholeness, completeness, satisfaction. Temptation comes when our hearts weight the different potential sources to achieve our deepest desire for satisfaction.

  • Cheating tells us that we can succeed through dishonesty.
  • Greed tells us that we can solve our problems by buying our way out.
  • Sexual looseness tells us that physical pleasure equates true satisfaction.

    These lies are infinite, and they all are built upon lies, that we saw in the garden:

Genesis 3:1-6
(The serpent) said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?…You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…

The lies are:

  1. God cannot be trusted
  2. True satisfaction can be found elsewhere
  3. You are on your own

But our hearts are horrible liars. The truth is that we are MADE to be satisfied and our efforts to find satisfaction in anything but Jesus is the equivalent of drinking salt water…it may feel satisfying for a second, but it only leaves us thirstier for the real thing, which is freely and fully offered by the Grace of God. When Jesus proclaimed his “thirst” on the cross he was simultaneously revealing that He Himself is the Living Water that is a wellspring of eternal life, pouring into and through us.

Spiritual Dysmorphia

None of us have an accurate view of who we are spiritually. Many of us are enamored with our greatness as we  show off our shelves full of participation trophies. Others of us sit in the dark and musty room of misery, overtaken by what a wretch we are. Reality reveals that most of us swing on the wrecking ball that bounces between both extremes, each one only holding onto half of the Gospel.

In James’ letter to the infant persecuted churches we are told:

1:23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

We all “look at ourselves” through a myriad of mirrors in our lives – friends, faith, social media – perpetually deciding what we think we “look like” based on them. And, here’s the kicker, we will behave based upon what who we’ve decided we are and what we’ve decided we “look like.”

James invites us away from the house of mirrors and to the True Mirror of the Gospel. He invites us to stare deeply (his word for “look” involves a deep almost archaeological inspection) into The Word, The Law. He is not saying to go back to the Old Testament and see all the rules we’ve failed to live up to. He’s telling us to look at the Perfect Law that his half-brother Jesus perfected…perfected by telling us it’s all about Love; perfected in how he completed it perfectly in his life and imputed his record into our souls. We are being invited to see he we absolutely fall 100% short of the perfect law, causing us to fall 100% onto his mercy. AND THEN to see the Liberation of this Law because we have been transformed and reborn back into His Image, set free to love because we have been and are forever loved.

This recounts the glorious phase from Jack Miller:

  • We are More Sinful than we Dare Face;
  • And More Loved than we Dare Hope.

 

The Heart…

The Heart. What a conundrum. We have really gone weird with this word. Everybody has their classic two-handed heart sign on their social media (am I the only one super tired of this thing?) and a heart emoji signifying some shallow degree of “love” which is more akin to “that’s kinda cool.”

But biblically speaking The Heart is the core of our whole person; the root of our intellect, emotions, behavior and faith; our personal operating system made in the image of God and broken in the image of man, filled with more malware than we could ever detect, much less remove. This is why scripture constantly comes back to The Heart about 1000 times (literally).

God’s people are “after his own heart”, yet it is also “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9-). Our hearts are the roots of our being, producing every other fruit. So to learn about your heart, look at what it is producing. Look at your roller coaster emotions, and divided intellect. Look at your actions, where you give selflessly while simultaneously speaking murderous gossip. Look at your faith that is a strong cornerstone, until the storm hits and you ask “Where are you God?”

You see, we perpetually get blinded by the fruit. We try to adjust our behavior; work at our emotional connection with Jesus; study more so we can be better theologians; pray harder so that our faith will be built. All of these are excellent, but they are fruit. Doing these things will certainly go backwards and grow the heart, but, taken by themselves, they are whitewashing tombs. Isaiah reminded us 29:13) And the Lord said: “…this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men…” We can easly fall into the religion of fruit-management rather than the Gospel of Heart-Transformation. But this Transformation is exactly the point and promise, and will end up leading to Spirit-Fruit. This Transformation is what Jesus purchased for us on the cross. Remember our heart-state before Christ: (Proverbs 19:3) “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD.” The hope and healing found in the Gospel is that God decided to not rage back against us as we raged toward him but instead focused his rage onto Jesus on the cross so that Ezekiel 36:26 could become true: “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

So today, where is your heart? Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of Who and Whose you are. Ask the Father to reveal how valued and accepted you are because of His Son. Tell Jesus thank you for exchanging his heart of flesh with our heart of stone so that now we can have the adoption as children of God.

Gospel Financial Advisor

I just heard a story about a pastor in a very poor part of Africa that was asked about the biggest issue plaguing his village. He shockingly and simply said “materialism.” Not hunger, mortality rates, sexual sins, theft. Materialism. He said that a guy in the village got a cow, not all the other men were coveting the cow and trying to figure out how to get their own cow.

This issue of money and possessions has been (and always will be) a universal disease. In the very beginning God gave all of creation to mankind, for our benefit and his glory….with the one boundary of “the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen 2:17). But Adam and Eve were persuaded that they could (and should) use God’s gift for their own glory…exactly how we treat money and possessions.

The Book of Proverbs is saturated with financial wisdom, like these two:

13:11 Wealth gained hastily will dwindle,
but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.

23:4 Do not toil to acquire wealth;
be discerning enough to desist.

Solomon, the world’s wealthiest man, is being a Gospel Financial Advisor, trying to keep us from the traps that encircle him while leading us to a place of freedom where we are not slaves to wealth, whether it’s never having enough or obsessed with keeping what we have. The real issue under the issue is idolatry: we want money to give us what can only be received from God. We want value, security, acceptance and security, and it truly feels like money will give us those things. And, in a shallow and short-lived way, it does. Money can get us to a place where we can “buy our way out” of most any problem. We can buy enough things to make us comfortable and happy. We can convince ourselves that we are better than others that have less. But this is as fleeting as being popular in high school. It works for us, for a minute. Until it doesn’t.

The heart of what we are truly looking for can be found in Proverbs 22:

22:1- 2
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
2 The rich and the poor meet together;
the LORD is the maker of them all.

We want a GOOD NAME, but that can only be truly given by Jesus who was essentially disowned by the Father on the Cross so that we could be adopted into his royal family, given His Name forever. The “favor” of man is always conditional, while the FAVOR of God is permanent, based upon Jesus and what he’s already accomplished.

But, honestly, the problem is that we don’t really have a proper filter. Our definition of “need” is horribly skewed, our view of the purpose of money is misplaced and our view of God’s goodness and generosity is anemic. We think we “need” the comforts of life that our neighbors have. We think that we “deserve” all that we have and it’s ours. We think that we need to acquire and acquire because God is likely to let us down and leave us in the ditch. So in light of this, we need to keep coming back to the outrageous trustworthy generosity of the King. Jesus, at great cost, gave up heaven and his Royal Riches in order to share his inheritance with us. He has proven over and over that he immeasurably loves us and desires to give us all good things, even though sometimes his (correct) definition of “good” is different than ours. And so we have to keep coming back to Jesus , asking him to loosen our tight clamp on this world as he has tightens his grasp on us. And as this slowly happens, we can start to live open-handed generous lives as God graciously invites us to join him as he blesses others with and through the finances that he has loaned us in this life.

The only thing we have to fear…

Do you see God as soft and fluffy, or burly and scary?

Do you lean toward God being your nice friend or harsh judge?

The first 9 chapters of the Book of Proverbs sets up the offer of Divine Wisdom to us, leading us away from destruction and into life. Solomon sandwiches these 9 chapters with the idea of “fear”:

Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 9:10
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

I’m sure many of us have perpetually heard that this word “fear” doesn’t mean to be afraid but to be in absolute AWE. Whereas I think this is mostly accurate, I think we have a difficult relationship with this idea of “being afraid of God.” Let me explain:

1) Many of us have a really unhealthy fear of God, being afraid of his judgement and wrath when we disobey him. We see him as being infinitely above us (which of course he is), waiting to discipline us (even harshly) when we disappoint him. We see him as a cruel judge.

2) We also may venture the other way, not seeing God as “wholly other” and infinitely pure as we sit Him next to us as our “co-pilot” and see his commands as soft advice. We “declaw the lion of Judah” (Dorothy Sayers).

We likely don’t cleanly fit into either camp, but we certainly lean one way or the other. But the proper “fear of the Lord” is to realize (as much as we humans can) that God has every ability and right to judge us with the ultimate judgement, but that he already poured out this full just judgement onto his own son. So to be afraid of God is to NOT believe the Gospel; to believe that Jesus hasn’t paid enough of the price and/or that God will require double payment for our sins, Jesus’ plus ours. Similarly, God is not our buddy buddy (though he absolutely is our tender Father and close brother). He is the God of all creation and infinitely above and beyond us, justly demanding our allegiance and worship while voluntarily sacrificially serving us to the point of death. “Fear of the Lord” just isn’t as clean as we want to make it because God is somehow perfectly both: just and love; grace and law; above and among.

Ben Seneker reminded us this past week that the proper Fear of the Lord doesn’t push us away afraid but rather draws us near in awe and worship and then sending us outward in love.

Living Wisdom

Every moment of every day we look for, find and answer this question: “What do I do with my resources?”

  • What do I do with my time today?
  • How do I spend or save my money?
  • How do I use my talents?
  • How do I utilize my stuff?

To be honest, we almost always answer this with sheer instinct, or with what we are “supposed to do.”

  • We hit the snooze button because we determined that the best use of the next 7 minutes, which we will never get back, is to get a tad more sleep.
  • A cup of coffee for $2.50 is better than saving that money or giving it to the guy on the corner.
  • Using 24 specific words to comfort a co-worker is better than using 46 words online to prove that somebody is wrong.Wisdom, as we will see in the Book of Proverbs, is the real-life working out of Truth. The real question is…which Truth? When our “truth” is that I need to build and keep my value, then it will be worked out in a “me first” avenue. When Truth is that Jesus has wooed me and given me infinite love and value, then it will be worked out in a “God first” and “others first” avenue.

In life we constantly ask “what should I do” in an infinite number of situations (parenting, job, pain, success, church etc). The first question should actually be “what do I believe?” because  it’s out of our belief that we will make decisions.

In the midst of that, there are still countless situations, circumstances and questions that simply don’t have simple and clear answers. It is in these real-life scenarios where we have freedom and are empowered with the very Spirit of God inside of us to speak, guide and even carry us moment by moment. So the real question under “what should I do” is “what do I believe?”, and the real question under that is “can I trust God?” Can I trust that God is for me and has the power to make all things work for the good of those who know him and are called by him? The answer to that is simply found here:

Romans 8-32
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

In Step

I was talking with a friend this morning whose son just got out of a leg cast which had forced him into a  wheelchair for a while and then onto crutches. He was telling me the strange unexpected phase 1 of post-crutches life was that his son still occasionally walked with a limp as if his leg was still in a cast and he wasn’t able to walk smoothly. The leg wasn’t the problem, it was his realization (belief) that he was healed. So he would catch himself limping, come to his senses and continue on with his healed walk.

This is a revealing parallel to our spiritual life. This morning’s sermon was on Galatians 5: 16-25, which starts and ends with the same concept: “16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.”

Paul is telling us that all who are in Christ have been healed and are invited to live “in step” with the Spirit, the power of our newly created life. He goes on in the passage to firstly describe acts of the “flesh”, which are practical ways in which we walk in synchronized cadence with our old sinful self-centered nature, and secondly the practical dance-steps that the Spirit is producing in our new nature (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control). Here is what Paul is saying: our old nature HAS BEEN, IS BEING, and inevitably WILL BE crucified with Christ. Our brokenness has been healed by our crucified Jesus as he was broken in our place on the cross…yet we still “walk with a limp” even though our bones have been put back together. We fall back to the muscle memory from our old nature and limp around (i.e. “sin”, or serve ourselves), but then the Spirit reminds us of who we really are…that our old selves have been crucified and we have been given a wholly new life with new abilities. Sin no longer has power over us, though it still have presence and annoying persistence. But in the end, the sinful nature will be fully and finally defeated at which time it will have neither power nor presence. But until that day we are called to remember the Gospel: Who Jesus is, what he has done on our behalf, and who we now are in Christ…and walk in step (cadence) with the Spirit not out of guilt or fear but because we are healed and made to dance.

Free At Last

5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

This has got to be one of the most debated, misunderstood and abused verses in Scripture. This even begin to understand this verse, we have to unpack what we mean by “freedom.” What does freedom mean to you?

  • A day to yourself on the couch?
  • You and your best friend going on a hike?
  • Something a bit more “naughty”?

Our initial reaction almost certainly and understandably involves something that makes me feel good. It involves removing whatever we feel is binding us down. These can be things that we love and are really good (like relationships) or just the regular things of like (like responsibilities). But when we define freedom from this perspective, we are thinking way way too small. What is it that is truly chaining you down and enslaving you? Isn’t it the fear and insecurity of life? This is the freedom that the Gospel is inviting us into: to accept and actually enjoy the absolute and full approval of God thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus, who exchanged his freedom for our imprisonment, and enacted by the Spirit who breathes a new creation into our being.

This is freedom: that all fear of divine-rejection has been eaten up on the cross, fully and finally securing divine-approval on our behalf. Because of this there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) regardless of our behavior. But because of this secured freedom, we are empowered by the Spirit to live a life of free-gratitude as we perpetually get brought deeper into personally owning the incomprehensible affection of our Father. An affection that is not fickle, being based upon how well we live up to our new identity. When I fail to live a life of love, Jesus’ love doesn’t falter. When I actually love others from a humble heart, Jesus’ love doesn’t rise. This is because all who are in Christ already have 100% of his love. He isn’t holding any back! We’ve got it all. For good. Forever. I don’t have to live in fear of disappointing him and having him begrudgingly accept me. And I don’t have to live in fleeting arrogance when I think I’ve “done better” than others (and I better keep it up, or else). Because it is through Love that we are brought home, and for love that we are empowered to live.

So what does that mean for my life? It means freedom. It means that, as I bask in the warmth of his smiling face, my heart if melted and I smile back. To him and to others.

Saint Augustine put is like this: “Love God, and do as you please.”

Yes, this scary and messy. Yes, it boils up a lot of questions of what I should do and not do. Yes, it forces us to enter an honest, conversational relationship with Jesus instead of leaning on the safer list of rules. And yes, this is the freedom that Jesus has secured on our behalf so that we can do what Malachi 4:2 promised: But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Polarizations

Galatians 4:12
Brothers, I entreat you,
become as I am,
for I also have become as you are.

We are a polarized and polarizing people. We all sit on top of our pedestals as we look down and judge others for not being as enlightened as we are. We stereotype others, creating “straw-men” that we can blow over with our brilliant arguments.To make it more insidious, there’s people like me that polarize the polarizers! I arrogantly see myself as being more enlightened and wise so as to not pigeonhole others into simple categories…as I pigeonhole those who don’t see it my way. Here is the problem: we operate with a self-kingship mentality. From the very beginning of time (in the garden) we have decided that we wanted authority over everything and everybody (including God…especially God?). And we live this out in our regular, everyday lives, not really living “with” others but “over” them.

In light of this cultural and spiritual polarization, the verse above offers a lifestyle-hope called “incarnational ministry.” Paul entered the real, regular, messy, everyday life of the people of Galatia. He opened a small business (tent-making), lived in their neighborhoods and engaged their art forms (he would quote regional artists in some of his sermons). He became as one of them…he listened, learned and sought to actually understand; he actually loved them with a loving passion (he would call them his “children” and his “brothers”). But he didn’t stop there. In the midst of his relationships with them he also invited them to know the Jesus that loved and redeemed him from emptiness. His METHOD and his MESSAGE were the same thing: sacrificial relational love. He didn’t just stay on the outside, telling the Galatians to just be better, nor did he entering their world but without the hope of the gospel. He did both. Relationship plus hope.

And this is exactly what Jesus did; who Jesus was. He was the Word (God’s very voice) made Flesh. He was simultaneously God himself and man. He “incarnated” (“made flesh”) as one of us in order to bring us back home. On the cross he was divided from the Father so that our division (“sin”) would be paid for on his back while giving us the his Father-Unity we lost back in the garden and have been craving ever since. This is the WHY and the HOW of doing incarnational ministry. It’s not simply “because Jesus did it.” It’s because we are His and have been fully empowered by his indwelling presence to God’s representative (“ambassadors” according to 2 Cor 5:15-21) to the whole world. God is bringing people back home and using us to do it. What a privilege to not just be in his family, but be instrumental in his Kingdom while being real, raw and honest in our real world.