Monday, January 9, 2017

Searching for the Unsafe Jesus: Luke 2.39-52

Near the end of C.S. Lewis’, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he narrates this conversation between Susan and Mr. Beaver. 

“Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr Beaver ..."Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”

This exchange captures the essence of what Christ was saying to us yesterday through the Scriptures from Luke 2.39-52. Luke emphasizes Jesus’ wisdom in this, the one story we have from Jesus’ childhood. In the Jewish world, wisdom can be described as the art of skillful living. In the Jewish Scriptures (a.k.a the Old Testament), we encounter an entire genre that is devoted to teaching us how to live a good and wise life. Some of the Psalms can be described as wisdom literature. Proverbs is the most common form. Other wisdom books include Job, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. These books, in quite practical ways, teach us how to live well within the orders the Creator God has established in his world. The goal of wisdom literature is “to teach men and women these ‘orders,’ so they may know how to act in harmony with the world around them” (Elizabeth Achtemeier). 

Indeed, the Bible has much practical advice that we would call, “Wisdom.” However, when Jesus comes into the world, we learn even more about God’s wisdom. Paul, who never really got over meeting Jesus (see  Acts 9), writes to the Corinthian Church that Jesus has become to us, “wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1.30, ESV). Did you catch that? Jesus is the wisdom from God. He is the “order” to creation. He is the arc of the universe. He lived in complete harmony with the world, not as it is, but as God intended it. The problem is, we sinners have messed up the order and so twisted the arc that it is no longer recognizable as God's good design. The good news, however, is that God loves us twisted and twisting sinners, so he sent his Son to live in harmony with what God had designed and his life’s mission was to straighten things out. This is why Jesus’ life was a battle. It was no easy task to restore the world to his Father’s original vision. But that is what love does. Love suffers to give the beloved what the beloved needs. When we treasure Jesus, not only as Savior and Lord, but also as Wisdom, he will teach and lead us toward what life was supposed to be. Jesus’ life is the life we are called to imitate. His life establishes what the good God always intended for us. Jesus is the wisdom of God.

This is where Mr. Beaver’s words to Susan ring true. Because Jesus’ work of restoration is not yet complete, it can feel quite dangerous to literally follow Jesus. To really follow Jesus means we might have to increase in humility. Most of us can say from experience that learning to grow in humility is never pleasant. To really follow Jesus means we might have to be generous to those who might take advantage of our generosity.  And who enjoys losing stuff to ungrateful people? Furthermore, to really follow Jesus means we might have to walk with him directly into the face of danger. But the good news is that Jesus promises by his Spirit, to walk with us and that he will never take us to a place he has not gone before! Indeed, Jesus possesses the experience and the power to defeat hell itself, because after he walked to the cross and stared death in the face without blinking, he rose from the dead on Easter and began to reshape the arc of the universe so that all its inhabitants would always be humble, generous, and never afraid. Brothers and sisters, Jesus is the true wisdom of God. His life is good and beautiful and worthy of imitation. Please follow him. Jesus isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you. Thanks be to God.

Click here to download and listen to our message, Searching for Jesus 

Click here to download and listen to our New Year’s Day message, Consolation 

Click here to download and listen to our Christmas message, The Message of Christmas.        

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent Week Four: A Fire in the Belly of God

What motivated the Triune God to come to this dark world to win it back to himself? What was God seeing when he looked at the world prior the incarnation of his only-begotten Son? What was God feeling when he looked at the world? The first thing God sees is his creation, but not as he intended it. This world was created by a self-giving God to be a Temple where God dwells with us to give us life. As sons and daughters of Adam, however, we have refused God’s gracious presence and his gift of life. This is called sin. How does God respond to what he sees? Again, his response is to give himself because this is what God is like (see Philippians 2.5-11). C.B. Kruger writes: “In marked contrast to the gods of human imagination, the Christian God is not self-centered, not a taker at all, but a giver.” This generous, self-emptying nature of God is on display, not only the Story of Creation (Genesis 1-2), but also in the Story of Christmas (Luke 2). This self-emptying love motivated God to send the Savior. Remarkably, the labor pains that lead to the birth of Jesus, point to the fire in God’s belly that is an unquenchable love. This love stoops in humble service to absorb and exhaust the consequences of sin so that we might be raised to God. “Here in Christianity, we have a God who stoops, writes,” C.B. Kruger, “who wants to be united with us and who is prepared to humble Himself and even to suffer to accomplish such a union.”
An unquenchable love in the belly of God is the theological rationale for the Incarnation. It is the love of God come all the way down to us that we celebrate at Christmas. Thanks be to God!
Click here to download and listen to our message, Christmas and the Undoing of Adam.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17, ESV)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent Week Three: The Tender Mercy of Our God

“Love is the fundamental divine attribute in that God is love apart from the creation of the world, love characterizes God. Love is the eternal essence of the one God.” These words from the late Baptist Theologian, Stanley Grenz, capture the central truth of the songs that come from the lips of Mary and Zechariah. Jesus’ mother and his uncle declare that the saving deeds of God are driven by the inward compassion of God. Let’s take a closer look at the central section of Zechariah’s prophecy. 

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76–79, ESV)

As Zechariah holds his promised firstborn son in his arms, he declares over him the plans our promise-keeping God has for him. Zechariah’s son will be the Most High’s prophet whose preaching will prepare God’s people to receive what the Lord is giving them. According to Zechariah the Lord is offering two gifts. First, the Lord is giving salvation. This salvation, announced and embodied by Jesus, includes an announcement of forgiveness. In other words, our debt has come due, but God is paying it it on our behalf. Secondly, the Lord is giving light. We who are rendered helpless by darkness and the shadow of death, are being given the Light of the world. What’s more the Light of the world came into the darkness but was not overcome by the darkness (John 1.5-9)  To summarize, the God of Christmas is a generous Giver who gives himself. 

Who is this generous God who gives himself? If we were to ask Zechariah to peal back the layers in search of the most fundamental essence of this generous God, he would show us the tender mercy of our God. This is similar to what Paul says in Romans 11.32. After exploring the mystery of Israel’s unbelief, the gracious in-grafting of Gentiles into God’s one vine, and the thorny issue of divine hardening, Paul states rather clearly, “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (ESV). The story of salvation is intended by God to display his mercy. This is who God is and what he wants to be known for. Jesus’ uncle proclaimed the tender mercy of God. Jesus’ mother sang the mercy of God. Jesus’ servant, Paul told the story of God’s mercy. 

Against the backdrop of God’s mercy we are prepared to understand the judgment of God, or more forcefully, God’s wrath. The most basic thing that can be said about God is: “God is love.” “There is no God but the Father and the Son throughout eternity bound together by love, a relationship concretized by the Holy Spirit” (Grenz). The answer to every question that starts with, “What was God doing” (Before creation? Before sin?) is experiencing divine love. Furthermore, the purpose and goal of creation is the formation of one human family to share in the eternal love of God. Sin (see Genesis 3) enters the scene and love demands a response. This is what we call the wrath of God. It is the loving response of God to preserve, protect, maintain, and avenge that which threatens his relationship with his beloved. Brothers and sisters the Bible has much to say about God’s wrath, just as it says much about his love. We must believe all that the Bible teaches about God’s love and God’s wrath. However, we must also speak the way the Bible speaks about God’s love and God’s wrath. With the Bible we must assert that the love of God is primary. The wrath of God is secondary. The wrath of God is temporary. The love of God is eternal. Brothers and sisters, if we are asked to describe what God is like, and if our answer claims to be biblical; we must declare without qualification that God is love. Love is God’s most basic disposition. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent Week Two: The Incarnation

Probably my favorite English speaking theologian is Thomas Torrance. His writing about the doctrines of Christ and the Trinity never cease to stimulate within me deep thought and sincere worship. Incarnation refers to the eternal Son becoming human, for us and our salvation. Referring to this incarnation, Torrance writes:
"The very fact that God became man in order to save us, declares that the humanity of Christ is absolutely essential to our salvation … The virgin birth tells us that here in the midst of our humanity God is recreating our humanity as an act of pure grace." 
Theologians call what Torrance is describing the hypostatic union. This ten-dollar word describes what the Bible teaches about Jesus. Jesus is "the miraculous bringing together of humanity and divinity in the same person, such that he is both fully divine and fully human" (Stanley Grenz). Brothers and sisters this is the beautiful miracle of Christmas. Jesus Christ is God coming all the way to us.

Jesus Christ is God coming all the way to us. 

Jesus is fully God. He is one with God in his God-ness. He fully possesses the divine essence. These statements attempt to declare what the Bible teaches. Jesus is visible display of the invisible God. 

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. ...  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Colossians 1.15, 19, NIV). 
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. ...  
But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom (Hebrews 1.3, 8, NIV).

Jesus Christ is God coming all the way to us.

Jesus is fully human. He is one with us in our humanity. He fully possess the human essence. These statements describe what the Bible teaches. Jesus fully possesses the human nature we possess.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1.14, NIV).
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2.5, NIV).
Brothers and sisters, this is the theological reality that Christmas is. The baby in the manger is eternally begotten of the Father. He is fully God. This same baby, however, is a human descendant of Mary. From the Father he eternally receives his divine nature and from his mother he received his human nature. Jesus Christ is what God has planned for humanity forever - oneness between God and mankind forever. Joy to the world! The LORD has come.

Listen here to our exposition of Luke 1.26-56 in which we hear the narrative of the announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the eternal Son of God.

Here's what I'm reading. The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story by Brennan Manning.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent Week One: Zechariah and Elizabeth

The extraordinary story of redemption happens through ordinary people who believe the promises of God. This is what Luke emphasizes as he begins his account of what was fulfilled through Jesus. Throughout the story Luke tells, Jesus is the quintessential friend of sinners. In fact, more than any other Gospel, Luke describes Jesus as seeking and saving those who have been pushed to the fringe of society (Luke 19.10). What's more, the "all kinds of people," Jesus comes to save, include ordinary religious folk like elderly  Elizabeth and her aged husband, Zechariah. As this first week of Advent gets started, let's consider two appeals from their story.

We should follow faithful routines. 

Just like us, Zechariah and Elizabeth were waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled. They were waiting for God to act - to do something about the oppressive Romans government. They were praying with the Psalmist, "How long, O LORD? How Long?" Can you relate to Zechariah and Elizabeth's longing? What emptiness leads to longing deep within your soul? What situation is causing the words, "How long?" to form in the back of your throat? The people of God have always been waiting for God to keep his promise. This is why God's people have always allowed their lives to be disciplined by routines that shape them to wait. Disciplines such as regular prayer, corporate worship, Scripture study, and fasting and feasting with God's people are designed to help us patiently wait for God to make good on his ancient promise. Even more, these regular routines are intended by God to help us discern what God is up to, even when it seems like he is doing nothing. Brian Zahnd is helpful when he writes: 
Waiting for God to act is actually waiting for your soul to become quiet enough and contemplative enough to discern what God is doing in the obscure and forgotten corners, far from the corridors of power or wherever you think the action is.
Brothers and sisters, there is never a time when God is not active. However, his action is not always easy to discern. May we learn with Elijah that God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Rather, the voice of God came as a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.9-18). Zechariah and Elizabeth were disciplined by faithful routines so that when God acted in the "obscure and forgotten corners" they had ears to hear.

We must discern God's promises to the weak. 

The story of the eternal Word of God becoming human on our behalf is full of all kinds of people, the powerful and the weak. Throughout the Christmas story it is the weak and vulnerable who receive the good news of God's promise. In fact, it seems the ones who occupy the position of power are unable to receive the news of the birth of Israel's humble king. Brothers and sisters, we are preoccupied with power (at least I am). Within the past few days, I have spent mental energy contemplating Donald Trump's latest tweet, whether or not Hillary Clinton is calling for a recount of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and whether or not the referees in the Ohio State-Michigan game were biased toward the Buckeyes. On the other hand, the story of the incarnation reveals that the mental energy of heaven is directed toward the weak, the humble, the empty, the downtrodden, the immigrant, the elderly, those regarded by the world as losers. In other words, the good news of Christmas according to Jesus' mother is that God is filling the hungry with good things and the rich are being sent away empty (Luke 1.53). May the same Spirit who brought God's Son into the world through Mary lead us to give our attention to those who occupy the mind of God.

Once again, Brian Zahnd helps us:
We have been seduced by an idolatry that deceives us into thinking that God is mostly found in the big and loud, when in fact, God is almost never found in the big and loud. The ways of God are predominantly small and quiet. The ways of God are about as loud as seed falling on the ground or bread rising in an oven. The ways of God are almost never found in the shouts of the crowd; the ways of God are more often found in trickling tears and whispered prayers. We want God to do a big thing, while God is planning to do a small thing. We are impressed by the big and loud. God is not. We are in a hurry. God is not. We want God to act fast, but Godspeed is almost always slow.
Listen to here our exposition of Luke 1.1-25.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Pastoring toward Unity

How can the words of the Psalmist become our words?
I will walk before the LORD                                                                                              in the land of the living (Ps 116.9, ESV). 
In a world overflowing with "the snares of death ... the pangs of Sheol ... distress ... anguish ... death ... tears ... feet that stumble," how can we confidently assert that we will walk before the LORD in the land of the living? The world described by Psalm 116 is not some Pollyannaish vision of a life without struggle. Instead it is Gritty. Difficult. Painful. In the words of Eugene Peterson, the world of Psalm 116 "adds up to a lot of trouble. ... The land of the living is dangerous country. A lot goes wrong. There is a lot of trouble brewing out there and in here. Resurrection takes place in the country of death." This is good news because it is honest. The worldview of Psalm 116 is honest, but at that same time, hopeful. Resurrection will take place in the country of death! The concern of Ephesians 4 is how to walk with the hope of resurrection while we still call the country of death our home.

If our hope is resurrection, humility will be our reputation. 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1–3, ESV)
Paul has already gone to great lengths to describe the implications of Jesus' resurrection in the first three chapters of Ephesians. Specifically, Paul teaches us that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is the same power he is working among us who believe (1.19-20). What's more, the God who is rich in mercy and love for helpless and hopeless sinners has "made us alive together with Christ ... and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (2.4-6). Within the context of the risen Christ wielding his power in the country of death, Paul describes the Church as a colony devoted to the risen Christ. Did you catch that? The Church exists to testify in word and deed to the risen Christ. We draw this responsibility from Paul's teaching in Ephesians 4.7ff. Here Paul tells the story of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Having accomplished his divine work, Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father and immediately began sharing the rewards of his triumph. As the risen and ascended King, Jesus gave gifts and these gifts are people (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers) who are empowered to equip the saints for the work of ministry that will lead the Church to unity. For unity to be possible, we must live in humility. And as we express humility and patience by bearing with one another in love, we testify that the power of the risen Christ is enabling us to remain humble, patient, and tolerant. Brothers and sisters, if we truly believe Christ is the risen King, we will humbly draw near for Gospel ministry to all who are in him. This is how we walk before the LORD in the land of the living, in humility with each other.

In what relationship is the risen Christ inviting you to inject humility? Many of us have relationships in need of restoration. Brothers and sisters, the risen Christ is calling and equipping us to seek reconciliation and humility is the indispensable key. By the Spirit of Christ, may the risen Christ gently bring healing and unity to all that sin has torn asunder. In Jesus, may it be so.

Listen to our exposition of Ephesians 4.1-16, Pastoring toward Unity.

I'm reading, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, by Timothy Keller .

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: The Resurrection and the Gospel

As Gospel Christians we must see the world through the lenses of reality and hope. The tension between reality and hope is something the Gospel of Jesus helps us maintain.

The Lens of Reality

Without apology the Bible teaches that we are going to die. Because of the trespass of Adam and all who are in him, death spread to all men (see Romans 5.12). So if the Lord tarries, death is a reality each of us must face. Scriptures teaches us that this reality must shape they way we live. The wisdom of the Psalmist is quite clear. 
For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh (Psalm 90.9, ESV).  
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90.12, ESV). 
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart (Ecclesiastes 7.2, NIV). 
Not only do these words teach us the reality that "death is the destiny of everyone," but these words also exhort us to take this reality to heart, that is, to allow the reality that death is our destiny to shape how we live each day.

Brothers and sisters life is short. We (the younger) can sometimes be tricked into living like we, or others are immortal. If we remember that life "is a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4.14, ESV), we won't take ourselves too seriously, nor will we be enslaved to the fear of others. When we are tempted by pride, we must repeat to ourselves: "I am a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes." When we are overwhelmed by fear of our real or imagined enemies, we must repeat to ourselves: "They are a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes."

Brothers and sisters, in over 15 years of ministry in the local church, I have been present at the end of life for approximately 40 individuals. While death should always be considered an enemy (1 Corinthians 15.25-26Revelation 20.13), it seems that death is always surrounded by a mixture of regret and gifts. What's more, how the dying have loved always determines whether or not their death is more characterized by gift or regret. Beloved, if we are to take to heart that death is the destiny of everyone we will devote our lives to love.

The Lens of Hope

The false teachers Paul is calling Timothy to confront have been handing out heavy doses of reality. They believe strongly in the reality of death, but they are missing the Gospel necessity that death will not have the last word. The Apostle Paul describes them this way.
Their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some (2 Timothy 2.17-18, ESV).
These false teachers and those who followed them have swerved away from the Gospel by denying that death will one day be overthrown through resurrection to eternal life on an earth made new (1 Corinthians 15.20-23) We have fallen into the same false teaching when salvation is reduced to "going to heaven after we die." As Jesus reminds us when he teaches us to pray, our desire is for the Kingdom of God to come to earth.

Brothers and sisters, the lens of hope frees us to be honest about death. It is bad. It needs to go and one day, death will go to hell (Revelation 20.13)! Thanks be to God!

Listen to our exposition, Pastoring Toward Resurrection.

I'm reading, The Pastor as Minor Poet, by Craig Barnes.