I know this is awkward, and I hope you aren’t too squeamish, but this is my shoulder after my third surgery. I have the problem of being built with gymnast joints (flexible) but an obsession for competitive (and contact) sports. When you combine those two traits, the result is a myriad of bone dislocations. This scan shows the result of shoulder surgery #4 with some glorious screws holding my bones together. The thing with dislocations is that, when that bone is out of socket, you (pretty much) look normal from the outside, but the inner stuff is totally out of wack and causes horrific pain. After too many dislocation episodes I have now figured out how to get the bone back in, even if I am by myself (though that one was pretty tough, and the words that were uttered may have made some animals on the bike trail blush). But…once that bone goes in, I can’t begin to tell you the instant relief that courses through your body. It’s almost like your whole body gets put back into socket. And this is the Gospel. In our sin we are “out of socket” from the “image of God” in which we are made. We may look “normal” but we are disconnected and causing horrific pain. So Jesus became dislocated from the Father so that we could be “re-located” into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.
This idea came from a letter (#89) of J.R.R.Tolkei: “I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (….) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection (and BKL would also say about Advent) was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.”
Before there can be Thanksgiving, there needs to be ThanksReceiving. But ThanksReceiving is actually harder than we think. To receive something is obviously a breeze. Hold out your hands and enjoy. But to truly give thanks, from the depths of your heart and not the syrupy plastic thanks, is an act of dependence and humility. It is putting the gift-giver in a place of honor and reverence, which by definition puts us “below” and somehow “in need”, which is about the last place we all want to be. It’s too vulnerable. Too childlike. Too helpless.
But this place of dependence is one of the cornerstones of the Gospel. As long as we believe that we aren’t in shocking and paralyzing need of Jesus and his Grace, we don’t really get the unfathomable extent of Jesus’ love and gift to us. We believe that, at least to some extent, we don’t really need THAT much grace and forgiveness; we need God’s gift of forgiveness, redemption and life, but not as much as _______. (see Jesus parable in Luke 18 about a Pharisee that thanks God he isn’t like these other people.)
In truth, the Gospel is so much better than we think. The gift is so so much bigger and more valuable than we realize. And as we realize this truth, we are drawn deeper and deeper into honest, worshipful passionate thanks-giving. But Thanksgiving only comes after ThanksReceiving as we hold our needy hands open to the Gift God has given.
2 Corinthians 4:15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
One Greek word.
One complete sentence.
The Entire Gospel.
This tattoo is on my buddy Scott Stewart. It’s his only tattoo (so far) and is there to be a perpetual reminder of what is most important…that Jesus has completely accomplished everything needed to bring us life, love, hope and peace. His entire life was lived in humble, sinless, sacrificial obedience, culminating in the Grand Finale on the Cross where he became the perfect sacrifice our rebellion required. But that’s not all. If he “only” died for our sins, then we still would be lacking in the required righteousness needed to be in God’s presence. So while taking our sins upon him, he put his perfection on (in) us. And it is finished. We can neither add nor subtract from his perfection. Our darkest failures have already been fully paid for and even hidden from God’s sight. They cannot subtract from the imputed righteousness we have in Jesus. Likewise, all of my “good deeds” added up cannot adjust my status before God in the slightest. Not in the slightest. I try really hard to stay away from the really naughty things, and now I want some divine-credit for my humility. Well, that’s what my sinful heart says at least. But the really good news is that the Gospel is Jesus+Nothing. God didn’t give me his perfection and then I threw on some gravy to make it a little better. There is nothing better. When I believe that my behavior adjusts my status before God and when I think that my personal righteousness has an impact on God’s love for me, I am fundamentally saying that Jesus’ righteousness wasn’t enough…that my sin diluted it or my goodness added to it.
So be free. Confident. Satisfied. Your Father dances over you with singing not because you are good but because He is.
The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
“Thou hast made us for thyself,
and our heart is restless
until it finds its rest in thee.”
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.
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians who had been taught about “entering God’s rest” for thousands of years, starting back in Genesis 1 where we were created to be at rest in God, then through Joshua as they entered the Promised Land and then in David as their powerful King under whom they could “rest”. But throughout it all, they (and we) have been a perpetually un-restful people. We were designed to have full and utter peace without friction. We walked around “naked and unashamed” without any anxiety or sideways glances about what others think. More importantly, we were designed to not have any tension between us and God as we walked together in the cool of the morning in perfect relationship. But sin is our attempt to find hope, peace and rest in something else, in “more”. More information. More stuff. More pleasure. More morality. MORE ME! The ultimate and inevitable product of this pursuit of personal peace is to bring me LESS PEACE because it’s built on a sinking flood plane of this world.
In 2016 a podcast called S-Town came out and has become by far the most downloaded podcast of all time. It is a radio-interview-biography centering around a middle-age atheist genius named John B. McLemore and his home of Woodstock, Alabama, which he angrily refers to as “S-town” (“S” being an expletive). He is constantly angry, critical and restless as we complains about how horrible the world and all it’s inhabitant are. He and his 20-something year old friend Tyler, who also finds himself in the throws of strain and stress, can find no peace. So what they do is start “church”. Church is when Tyler strolls across the road and into John’s into home-based clock-repair workshop to get drunk on Wild Turkey while piercing various parts of John and tattooing him to no end. In order to get relief from the pain of life, John wants to experience some degree of acute “manageable” pain. He even had his back whipped by his friends so that Tyler could then tattoo duplicates of the real-life whip marks.
We are all in the throws of inner turmoil, seeking peace, hope, fullness and rest in the most exhaustive and exhausting ways. Only to be left less peaceful than when we began.
John B. McLemore is by no means unique. Back in 400AD a guy names Augustine spent the early part of his life seeking inner-peace through every conceivable means of pleasure he could find. He knew the Gospel, but wanted, like us, to forge his own path and find a salve for his soul. He would say this about his sin: “I loved my own error – not that for which I erred, but the error itself.” Simply put, he liked the sin. He found pleasure in putting himself over God. He would even pray “Lord give me chastity and continence, but not yet!”
But later in life he would come to the end of himself and realize the futility of his peace-seeking, and pen this: “My heart is restless until it finds it’s rest in Thee.”
This is all of us. We work and work and work in life, looking for it to pay off in ways that only the Finished Work of Christ can. When Jesus was dying on the cross he declared “It is Finished!” He was essentially repeating Genesis 1 where it says that, after 6 days, God was finished with his act of creation. We would then break creation, but Jesus would ultimately finish our Re-Creation so that, though our works in this broken world will continue and bring with it tension, our “works” to satisfy God’s righteous commands have been completed in Jesus and granted into us by His Spirit. Meaning that, when it comes to our relationship with Him, we can finally and perfectly REST. We cannot add to Jesus’ works; we cannot subtract from his works. It’s done. Relax. Rest. Be still and Know.
John Prine is an incredible artist, writer, musician. He has a song called The Other Side of Town that features a guy (he jokingly says is not autobiographical) that mentally checks out when his wife goes on nagging a bit too long. So he is physically sitting there and going through the motions while he is “actually” on the other side of town waiting for the lashing to be over.
It’s funny because it’s true, and we all want to laugh and say “Man, it would be horrible if that was me” while we realize that…it’s all of us. Don’t you remember doing this when you were a kid and your mom or dad went ballistic on you when you didn’t do your chores (or lit the kitchen on fire or cheated on your homework)? This “dissociation” is simply a survival technique we’ve mastered, engaging our auto-pilot without even realizing it.
As a teacher and preacher it’s a stark reality that a good portion of folks sitting in the auditorium or classroom are doing this exact thing….and that I am doing it to God. When I see him as a nagging parent who is utterly disgusted with me, my actions and my heart as he sits on his pedestal wagging his finger at me, I go to the other side of town until he’s done, at which point I will “assume the body of the person you presume who cares.”
But I have it all wrong. Actually, I have it absolutely and utterly REVERSED! Because of Jesus’ sacrificial gift of life on the cross, the Father is completely SATISFIED with me. Yet I am the one that casts stones at him, putting onto him a scowling brow that no longer exists. I tell God that it’s not cool to “hurt someone who’s so in love with you.” He then says that this is exactly what I have done to Him; what we’ve all done. But then he did the impossible because…“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)”
God is not nagging you. He wants life for us, and then for us to live out of our new lives in worship and glory. He is utterly satisfied, so come out of that chair behind your ears and rejoin your body at the kitchen table with your Abba Father and enjoy a sweet meal together.
As I’m sure you know, extroverts get their energy and heart-fuel from being around other people while introverts get their’s from being by themselves and “inside” their own heads. But don’t be quick to categorize others or yourself. Their are very social introverts (who need to get into a sensory depravation chamber after the party) and very quiet extroverts (who need to go to a loud and crowded restaurant after studying all afternoon).
Neither of these are right or wrong (though I bet most of us feel like our “-vert” is the best). Also, I don’t think that their are any pure introverts or extroverts. I lean heavily toward extroversion, but, after being married to an introvert, I have grown to deeply value my alone quiet time (as long as I can go hang out with a bunch of dudes afterwards).
As you look under the hood of these -verts, we get a chance to ask ourselves how and where we get our fuel. But the scary wrench in this engine is that both of these -verts are about me and my kingdom. What makes ME feel energized? What are MY preferences. There’s nothing wrong with our God-given tendencies toward inside/outside. But there is a greater heart-fuel, a greater hope, a greater power, a greater inner-peace that has a vertical power-line.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
Jesus himself, the Gospel in flesh, is the source of our true nourishment. Not being with others or being by ourselves (though those are important to know). But if we just focus on the E/I, we get stuck in everything being about ME. So my challenge to us all (especially myself) is to soak in the presence of Jesus…me in him and him in me. In my Gospel-o-version I can be all alone, but be fully with him; and be in a massive loud crowd while also being alone with Jesus. So regardless of how my relational circumstances, Jesus’ death has torn the curtain temple in two, unleashing the presence of God to swarm and surround me, giving me heart-fuel that can never be taken away.
Mostly Empty Space
These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
So very often my golf ball ends up surrounded by trees, leaving me with an impossible shot through a web of branches and leaves. My golfing buddies and I will joke: “Trees are 99% air, so go ahead and swing away. It’ll probably just go through.” Well, it rarely does.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around it, but the indisputable truth is that everything around us is almost entirely empty space. This couch, this computer, this cup of coffee….almost entirely empty space. To be specific, I just read that a hydrogen atom is about 99.9999999999996% empty space!
This world feels solid and looks solid. I treat it as solid when I sit down put my full weight on it.
BUT IT’S NOT SOLID!
Taking it to the next level, I demand that this world (things, people, words, accomplishments) also hold the weight of my heart, my soul, my identity, my value, my hope. And I get so frustrated, anxious, angry and sad when it doesn’t. But why am I so surprised? It’s almost entirely empty space! It absolutely cannot hold the weight of my being, even though it appears that it can.
The glorious gospel good news is that this emptiness is utterly temporary.
And he who was seated on the throne said,
“Behold, I am making all things new.”
Do you know why Jesus was able to walk through walls after his resurrection (John 20:19)? It’s because the wall was almost entirely empty space but Jesus, in his glorified body, was 100% solid! This creation no longer had a hold and restriction on him. When there is light shining through our windows we can see particles of dust floating in the air, but we have no problem walking through these dust particles because they have zero restrictions on our more-solid bodies. And so it is with the new glorified creation. After Jesus paid our ransom on the cross and in the grave, he rose in his new body, inviting us to join him as he promises to give us new glorified fully solid bodies. They will be similar to the old, but 99.9999999999996% more real!
So rejoice and hopeful in this: this world, this creation, these relationships, this love…they are 0.0000000000004% of how solid they WILL BE. Enjoy this time, this world this creation, but cast your hope, weight and being onto the resurrected Jesus this is already made solid as he faithfully promised to enjoin us to himself.
Does God care? Really care?
In Mark 9 we get a powerful and liberating story about a dad in dire desperation. His son had been berated by the demonic his whole life, throwing him into epileptic seizures. He tried to get the disciples to heal the boy, but they couldn’t. So in a panic, he broke through a crowd to beg Jesus for help….
And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
23 And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
This dad asks for two things:
1) Have compassion. It isn’t enough for God to be powerful, we need to know that he deeply cares for us. Not just generally for the “world” but for me. For my problems. For my hurts. For my fears amidst my faithlessness.
2) Help. It also isn’t enough for Jesus “just” to care. He has to be able to do something about it. There’s plenty of folks in my life that care about my problems, but don’t have the power to truly and practically do anything about them.
So I need both. A God who Cares and a God who Helps. And both of these desperate needs became incarnate and displayed in the person of Jesus. Because God has a perfect Fatherly compassion (a deep, gut-level ache for us), he denied himself and sent his Son. He put us over himself; our needs over his position; our life over his. And intermingled with his love is the ultimate powerful help. First for our very souls and relationships (foremost our relationship with Him). But secondly for our lives this side of heaven. Jesus didn’t just tell them to suck it up and focus on heaven. He met them in their mess and healed the son by driving out the darkness that oppressed him.