Does God Care?

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….

help sos

Mark 9:21-24
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.

help-concern
And ultimately that’s exactly what the cross is about. The Father perfectly drove out our darkness by absorbing it and “being thrown down” like the boy…only to the point of death, so that death and the demonic will no longer have control over us. Yes, we will be die. And yes, we will be influenced by the demonic. But all believers have the Holy Spirit inside of us, replacing any other spirit that wants to get in. And this indwelling Spirit doesn’t cast us down but lifts us up; doesn’t try to destroy but successfully resurrects, which is the word used of what Jesus did to the boy.

Shame, Shame…

…everybody knows your name.

Mark 5:25b-28 “And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

touching reaching

Can can’t even imagine the life of this woman. For 12 years she had ongoing “bleeding” which, according to the old church code, meant that she was “unclean” and unable to touch or be touched, lest the other person be declared “unclean” as well. She was a total outcast and tried everything, going to every expense to be freed from this state of loneliness and ostracism. But things only got worse. So, in a last ditch effort with a cocktail of superstition and faith, she pushed her way (making everybody unclean that she came into contact with) stretched out her hand to simply touch Jesus.

Desperation. Shame. Hopelessness.

Where have you experienced this?

Modernity tells us to not be ashamed about anything. There is no right or wrong.

Classic religion tells us that Jesus is enough, but that you sin made baby Jesus cry and you ought to be ashamed of yourself.

So where do you go with it? How do you deal with your shame?

Run. Pretend. Defend. Fight.

What if, instead you simply reached for Jesus?

Instead of ignoring it. Instead of drowning in it.

Owning it and being transformed by it.

broken-heartShame comes from a shattered and humiliating identity. When my identity is the summation of what others think about me, then what is inside of me (and comes out of me in ugly actions) will bring me utter shame (a broken identity). But when my identity comes from Jesus and my public identity has been crucified on the cross with him, then my shame has been paid for and my adopted identity secured.

Hebrews 12:2 “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Let’s finish the Mark 5 story:

5:29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Jesus took her tiny, faulty belief, and blessed her. He not only healed her physically (which shows that he cares about our humanity), but also gave her PEACE! He restored her soul. Her heart. Her life.

And isn’t that what we are really looking for? Peace. A unified wholeness of self under his tender compassionate reign.

And that’s what he offers you and me. Take your shame to him. Your brokenness. Your shattered public identity. Your personal shame where you have shattered your private identity.

And believe.

R & B

Repent and Believe.

Repent. Well that word has got a lot of baggage. It has virtually been manifested into a literally club used to beat people over the head. We’ve been conditioned (brainwashed?) like Pavlov’s dog to hear that word and begin to cringe in guilt and shame; or bow up and resist the humiliation of admitting we are somehow wrong, or somehow offended somebody (or some god).

But this is mostly because we have a misunderstanding of God, ourselves and what repentance is.

First off, God. As I talked a little bit about in “Dancing King”, Jesus is the eternal dancing God that dances with the Father and the Son. For eternity they have been revolving gracefully, graciously and lovingly around each other forever. When Jesus came to us he essentially invited us to join The Three in the divine dance.

But what about us? We were scooped up off the dance floor and given legs to dance with the King. But we keep going back to our old dance partners, giving them our adoration, love and rhythm.

Repent and BelieveSo repentance is the continual wooing of God that melts our hearts to see that we are cheating on our True Dance Partner. Repentance is literally to “Change Your Thinking.” Repentance is seeing and admitting that we are believing in a different gospel (Gospel is “the good news that a king has come and won”). “Sin” means that I am believing (followed by my “doing”) in something besides Jesus. I’m not dancing with the one that brung me. To repent is to re-callibrate my beliefs. To admit that I am believing wrong, and then to begin to believe the Truth.

That’s why Jesus begins his sermon here with “Repent and Believe.” They go hand in hand. You can’t have one without the other. Repentance is not “say you are sorry for doing something bad” but agreeing with God that you have believed a false gospel, and then believe the Truth that God is your hope; that he has scooped you up off the floor and now says “This is my son, whom I love and in him I am well pleased.”

Dancing King

kids dancingMark 1:9-11
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

This has been one of my favorite passages in Scripture for a long time. In it we see so much power, beauty and intimacy in the Trinity. In this passage we see all three persons of the Trinity in one place at one time for the first time since Creation in Genesis 1. This passage shows not only the intimacy between the Trinity, but also that he was re-creating creation in that moment. But this time the “new Adam” would not fail in the temptations and be sufficient to live the life we were required to live and die the death our sin requires of us. And it starts right here. At the scene of the Dancing King.

So look at that moment. Jesus the Son coming up out of the baptism waters; the Father speaking words of Hope over him; the Spirit like a dove coming not just over but INTO Jesus. This is how God works. Exists. Dancing in and around one another. And, for all who are in Christ, dancing over and in us. Inviting us to Dance with Him.

Here’s how C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity: “[Christians] believe that the living, dynamic activity of love has been going on in God forever and has created everything else. And that, by the way, is perhaps the most important difference between Christianity and all other religions: that in Christianity God is not an impersonal thing nor a static thing — not even just one person — but a dynamic pulsating activity, a life, a kind of drama, almost, if you will not think me irreverent, a kind of dance”.

So what is that to me? Why would I care? Here is how C.S. Lewis speaks to that:

“And now, what does it all matter? It matters more than anything else in the world. The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance. There is no other way to the happiness for which we were made.”

We are invited to live a life of Spiritual Dance. Christianity isn’t about rule following or “just” being saved. It is about organic, rhythmic, relational, intimate, exciting (and sometimes dangerous) dance. Does that describe your relationship with Jesus? To be honest, it rarely describes mine…which beckons me to “repent” or dancing with the the wrong partner (but more on that in the next blog).

ANXIETY

Anxiety - Moulin RougeJust seeing that word…’anxiety’…it makes my heart beat just a tad bit faster. She (“anxiety”…and yes, it’s a she in my head) has been my nemesis, my arch-enemy, my Lex Luthor. One of my “gifts” is being able to vision and see down the road a good little ways. The shadow side of that is when I don’t see God on that potential horizon. Or, worse yet, I see God but He’s either too weak to help, or has a not-so-pleasant destination in store for me. And that ticks me off. And it makes me anxious.

So what is this so called “anxiety”? Here’s the main text I always gravitate toward:

Philippians 4:6-7

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I’ve “used” this passage over and over, trying to somehow achieve this elusive “peace” that I want so bad. But what IS anxiety?

As I dug down deep, I learned that anxiety isn’t that angst in my gut, but it (she) literally means “to be divided”. The actual problem is that I see down the road and I have a divided faith. On the one hand I believe that God is: 1) Present and there to help, 2) Wise, knowing how to help, 3) Loving, wanting to help, and 4) Powerful, able to help. But I ALSO don’t believe that. I do. And I don’t.

So what do we do about it? Paul tells the Philippians, who were facing real persecution and danger, to look up at Jesus rather than forward and “around” Jesus. To be “thankful” as we look back and see that throughout all of history God has always, always and always been faithful to bring his people through the desert. Not always how they might want to come through. But always through.

And this only comes in relationship. We can’t just USE God to have him make us feel better. It needs to be the organic back and forth of relationship as we learn that we can truly trust him.

Don’t take away my “man card”, but you can see this hopeful love in one of my favorite songs “Come What May” in Moulin Rouge.

Suddenly the world seems such a perfect place
Suddenly it moves with such a perfect grace
Suddenly my life doesn´t seem such a waste
It all revolves around you
And there´s no mountain too high
No river too wide
Sing out this song I´ll be there by your side
Storm clouds may gather
And stars may collide
But I love you until the end of time

 

The inconceivable hope that we have is in this word “Thanksgiving” — that word is literally “Good Grace”– the word Eucharist, which is what we call the Lord’s Supper. Communion. The solution to anxiety is the sacrifice of Jesus. Seeing Him and what he has done rather than the potential “what if’s” down the road. To realize that, “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? (Romans 8:32).

So come along with me my friends. Battle this demon of anxiety with the satisfied and completed Hope that is Jesus.

Here is a link to the sermon I preached on this ridiculous hope.

Waiting Room

waiting-room-1 Psalm 27
13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

Psalm 27 finds David in the darkness of hardship. He’s being pursued and is afraid, betrayed and abandoned. But in the midst of the turmoil, he keeps turning to God as his provider and protector…to God to hide and protect him; to lift him up high.

Where do you turn when you are in the darkness? This Psalm can feel like just sappy placating; an effort to just try to make me feel better. But what if it’s true? What if God my Father really does hide me and lift me up? What does that look like and what do I do?

Despite being surrounded by the storm, David looked on the dark horizon for the sunrise, and was assured that he would once again “look upon” the God’s goodness. When I’m in my darkness, my head it pointed down and my hope is absent because I can’t “see it”. David’s first word to me is simple: Wait.

I hate that. I want the sun to rise right now. I want to see my hope. But often I can’t. So David’s next word is this: Be Strong. We aren’t called to a simple passive couch-waiting. We are called to actively wait. To dig deep and believe that the sun will rise. A great example of this is seen in Jesus’ followers. They stared at darkness for 3 days, seemingly losing hope in the promised revolution. An even greater example is Jesus himself. He was literally dead, the ultimate darkness. And he had to wait. Three days. We don’t know hardly anything about this period of time (did he descend to hell or not?), but we know that the end result was the ultimate sunrise (insert cheesy church “sonrise” here). And now, because of his perseverance we now have a living hope to get us through our darkness. Because he was strong, we can admit our weakness and receive his strength.

And this living hope leads to the next word David gives us:  “Be Encouraged”. We can’t be strong enough in and of ourselves no matter what talk shows and self-help books tell you. We simply cannot grit our teeth enough and push our way through. We need the Holy Spirit using other people, His Word and miraculously Himself to infuse courage into us where we are weak and afraid.

 

Do You Like Me?

sad faceI was at a Dave Matthews concert several years ago and there was a dude there wearing an unusual shirt with this bold proclamation: “God Hates Me”. It was really awkward and makes me wonder this: How do I think God thinks about me?

It’s super easy to go through the motions and read the posterboards at football games that tell me that “God Love Me”. And I pretty well believe it almost all of the time.

But what does he really think about me? How does he “feel” about me? (but let’s not get into a debate regarding God having or not having emotions…go read your Westminster Confession and figure it out).

When I’ve recently asked that question to friends I get two responses more than any other:

“Disappointed”

“Tolerant”

I see my own life and even a touch of my own heart and am pretty disappointed in myself. How can God, who knows me better than I know myself and has infinitely higher standards than I can imagine, feel any better about me. At the very best He tolerates my slow learning and weak following. Kinda like giving me 2 stars out of five in his review of me.

But then passages cut my disappointed knees out from underneath me:

Psalm 149:4
For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.

There’s loads of other places that say the same thing, but essentially we are told that, because of the Gospel and Jesus exchanging His Sonship with ours, we have a Heavenly Father that absolutely loves us, but ALSO LIKES US! Hear that. Own that. I have pretty much never heard that preached, though it is an age-old theology called “Propitiation” (defined as returning into God’s favor)

In short….God has not just removed his wrath (“expiation”) but has imputed his favor, his “affection”. God actually likes you. He doesn’t just put up with you and wish that you would do better. He sees you as you in all your uniqueness, but with Jesus-colored glasses. Even more…he has changed us into His Son’s Image. He doesn’t just see us in a better light, he has remade us into our original image…and has returned his favor onto us. And this utterly changes the way I see Him…love Him…obey Him…repent to Him. It’s utterly freeing.

 

 

I preached on this a bit ago…here it is:

http://www.graceinfo.org/learning-media/sermons/sermons/message/adorned-and-adored

TRACS and Words

Say What?Ps​alm​ 12
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say,
“With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
6 The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will keep them

Martin Luther used a system to read, study, meditate and pray through Scripture that seriously helps me. It’s shortened to this: TACS. What is the passage TEACHING? What does it reveal about God that I need to ADORE? What does it reveal about me that I need to CONFESS? What need arises that requires God’s SUPPLY? To help my tendency to not be Jesus-Centered enough, I added an R after the T: How is Jesus REVEALED…thus making is “TRACS“.

Here’s how I used this structure with Psalm 12:

Teach: This Psalm shows that we all have use “words” to our advantage (to make myself look good; to flatter others in order to get what I want; to deceive; to mock; to slander; to hurt…ultimately to mock God). But God’s words are Truth and Pure. They are used to love and redeem; to perfect and instill hope. In order to do this, he sent Jesus, His Word, to us to live Truth that would then be counted on my behalf.

Reavealed: Jesus is the “Word” of God (John 1:1) and is himself pure and true. Likewise when he spoke, he only spoke truth. So when he said that it “is finished”, that cannot be untrue or undone because he himself was the fulfillment of his own words.

Adore: God, thank you that I can trust what you say. It doesn’t seem like it a lot of the time, but in the end, it’s continually revealed that you only speak truth and your words build up your people….even when your words aren’t what I want to hear sometimes. Also, I adore you for making your Word come into Flesh in Jesus to that Truth lived and lives among and in me.

Confess: Forgive me for using what I say just for my own advantage…for stretching the truth; omitting the truth; gossiping; crude joking that crosses the line. I’m sorry. I’m also sorry for not trusting what you say is true. I doubt you and ignore you; I don’t “hide” your words in my heart where they can grow and produce fruit. I call you a liar even though it’s not even possible for you bend or omit the truth.

Supply: I really need you to help me with what comes out of my mouth. Today, let me use my words to lift up my wife and kids; to encourage people that I talk with; to praise you. Help me to also trust you and what you say, leaning on nothing but Jesus as The Word.

Lost Dog

email-jan08-5Man my dog is dumb.

So my daughter took our dog Chili camping. He usually does really well, has a loads of fun and comes back exhausted. This time was different. He went off exploring, which is normal, but never returned. He was gone. And wasn’t wearing his dog tag. No amount of whistling or yelling helped. He was swallowed up by the 801 Sq. Miles of Pisgah National Forest. My wife and I were out of town, so we called in all of our resources. We had a friend who works at the local NBC channel tweet a plea for help to his masses; another friend posted her own reward for the dog; many other friends went out scouring. Amy and I were left 5 hours away overcome with worry, anxiety and prayer. Yes, we love our little dog.

The morning that Chili took off, literally at the exact time, Amy and I were listening to a Timothy Keller sermon on Prayer and Mediation (http://www.gospelinlife.com/how-we-live-as-believers-6324.html). He walked us through Psalm 1 and how, as our roots are dug deep into the river of the Gospel, we won’t be utterly dismayed when dark storms thrash around us. We won’t be like the chaff that has no roots and blows with the wind. Well, once again, call me chaff. I am well aware of my mood, faith and heart fluctuations. It’s annoying to me as well. But it also tutors me in the Gospel. As my heart-pendulum swings, it reminds me of how much I need Jesus, who is not only the example of my faith, and not only the object of my faith, but the power of my faith. I can’t do it on my own, so I keep requiring him to do it for me; keep reminding me that I truly am His and that he won’t let me go; that he has forgiven me for all my ugly sins, including my ugly faithlessness when I forget the depths of his love and care for me.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love.”

So, as it turns out, a couple of hikers stumbled upon Chili and had him join them on the rest of their long hike. When they returned to Asheville, they had him scanned for an implanted chip, which revealed who he belonged to! They brought him back home where he belongs. When I keep straying from my Father, He keeps bringing me back. Over and over. I have the Holy Spirit perfectly and permanently implanted in me, which not only reveals my identity, but has the power to bring me home.

“Here’s my heart,
O take and Seal it.
Seal it for Thy courts above.”

Ephesians 1:13-14
In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Power

power king 1 Corinthians 1:20-21
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

We love to be in control. When we grew to a family of 5 and had to go the mini-van route, one of the key needs we had was the button that allowed for “rear control” of the A/C…but with the ability to override their control. We live our lives like this with God and each other. We give lip service to “let go and let God” but in reality we retain all veto rights to who we are, what we do and who gets what credit. We absolutely HATE weakness and fundamentally DEMAND control. I hate weakness because I want people to love and respect me. I grab control because, deep down, I am sure that I know better than God and that He doesn’t really want what is best for me.

But the Gospel is fundamentally based on weakness. God chose Israel, the weakest nation; he chose outcast women, temperamental fishermen and tax collectors. He decided to come into the world as a vulnerable weak infant in order to save the weakest. The message of the Gospel demands that we simply admit and own our absolute weakness, and this is all that we bring to the table. It’s not that we bring nothing. We bring less than nothing. We bring a deficit. And he takes that deficit for us while crediting to us his strength. Not just salvation, which would be enough, but strength in this life that is all Him. But Him through us. For some reason he decided to empower us to be his hands and feet, knowing full well our tendency to take full credit for what isn’t our doing. But he did and does it anyway. Once again he lowers himself lower than us in order to raise us up with him.

So today, enjoy your weakness. You are far weaker than you can possibly imagine, but have been empowered and elevated far more than you could possibly dream. The more we can understand that concept, the more we will elevate and enjoy Jesus. And isn’t that the whole point anyway.