The Cure For “Post Christianity”

Below new research by the Barna group on the continued decline of Christianity in America. I was shocked and sobered to find that of the 100 cities listed every major area in New York ( save Binghampton) is in the top 21. My current city, Rochester New York, being at 21.

While I’m not that surprised as every church in my region seems to be in decline, it has strengthened my resolve to hold the line on the gospel.

Many respond to stats like this, and wonder what the church has to do to become relevant again. They lament at old church models, and point to new cooler ones as the answer to the question of our lost relevance. I want to assure you, that asking that question is in fact why we are where we are.

Jesus, the firstborn from the dead, who spoke creation into existence and formed Adam with his bare hands, who holds the church in His hands and upholds all things by the word of His power, will never lose relevance.

The church is in decline for a number of reasons, but the foremost being clear.  We as a church have worried too much about saying what people want to hear to keep them in the building, that we have forgotten to declare the needed relevance, though sometimes hard to swallow, truth of Jesus Christ and His Gospel. The Gospel is offensive to the world. The Gospel is like putting iodine on an open wound. It hurts and stings like crazy, but it kills the infection and seals the wound for rapid healing.

For me as a pastor of a church is western New York, this only strengthens my resolve. We need to preach Christ! We need to live Christ! We need to declare Him in his present love and in His future return. My life must represent His message of tender love and meekness He showed to beggars and prostitutes, while flashing His tremendous zeal for righteousness that He expressed in the temple to the money changers. My life must represent the understanding and patience He showed to Nicodemus, and the willingness to lose everything for the sake of love and the message of the coming kingdom.

Give me 50 pastors in Western New York to run with, that are known in Heaven for the time spent on their knees. Who tenderly, with genuine love, are unashamed to declare the truth of the Gospel without compromise. Who would rather build a legacy in the next age through prayer and fasting then books and accolades in this life. Give me those men and I promise we will see a habitation of the Holy Spirit in this region that is so tangible that the hearts of many will return back to the Lord at neck breaking speed.

As for me and my house at New Hope Fellowship, this is what we are contending for.

God give us grace to contend for a historic revival of the lost in this region. And if it’s your will to tarry, then give us the grace to contend until we die. That our lives would be wasted for your glory, because we’ve have touched your glory, and it’s all we desire.

Changing Our Stance On Homosexuality

This morning I watched the news feeds light up because of a few casual comments by the current Pope on not judging people who are gay. Besides the fact that I really truly am starting to like this Pontiff, I thought the reaction by people everywhere was very telling.

It’s been going on for months now. Last month we saw DOMA overturned and Exodus

Pope Francis saying: “Who am I to Judge Gay people?”

International president and founder Alan Chambers change his stance on homosexuality. Desmond Tutu coming out say God is not homophobic. The pressure is so intense on every side for the church both protestant and catholic to “change it’s stance” on homosexuality. Never before has there been such a drive by secular culture to infiltrate faith/ religion and change it’s meaning so the world can feel less judged.

The Pope’s comments from yesterday are sentiments that I echo. It is not for me or anyone to judge another person for who they are. We are all sinners. All are in need of grace. All are in need of transformation into the likeness of Christ, not the likeness of who we want to be. At the same time no man can change the “churches stance” on homosexuality, because no one can change God and His word.

I fear that we have done such a poor job at representing Christ to the world as believers that we have led them to believe that God is a moral idea that changes with time. That Christianity is simply a moral code to live up to and should evolve with culture and time. Which Christianity is not morality; it’s a man who is God.

God is a person. Doctrine is not a man crafted truth, but a God birthed truth to show us who we were meant to be in his infinite and beautiful imagination. It’s a road map to His heart where we can experience the love, joy and peace we were created for where sin has robbed us.  You can’t change His stance, no more than you can reorder the atoms in your hand.

That said, I have many gay friends. Guys I grew up with. Guys that used to serve with me in ministry. Girls who I consider friends who are now lesbians. I love them. When I see some of those guys I give them great big hugs. I listen to them. I don’t treat them any different then the other acquaintances I have. I do not change my beliefs on their lifestyle. However their lifestyle is between them and God.

We face a difficulty in the church, that wont go away or change. The Homosexual movement is only going to grow. The pressure is only going to increase. We as Christians can not give into the pressure to change God’s stance on Homosexuality. Because it’s His stance, not our own.

That said, In our resolve to stand firm with God and His word, we could use to love and accept the gay community as fellow humans. We don’t need to be constantly known for what we are against, but what we are for. We are for love. The love of Christ that saved our hearts, is available to homosexuals as well. They are brothers and sisters we want to see walk in the fullness of who they were created to be by God.

If there is someone who has genuine love for Jesus, who are we to question their salvation because they are presently gay? Lets encourage their faith. Encourage their reach for Christ. Encourage them in their journey with the Lord in the same way we would encourage those who love God but get drunk regularly and don’t want to admit they are alcoholics. To condemn anyone would be to curse them and assume that our words, not Christ’s, are the one’s that save them. To judge them is to declare that their story is over when it’s not.

It is entirely possible to love homosexuals with genuine affection and hold the line on homosexual acts being a sin without shaming and condemning people. My point is that we as a church need the grace of God to learn how. Not because the church will become irrelevant or because we’ll lose the culture. Those fears are silly. Jesus will always be relevant because he’s the creator God eternal, and to think we ever had a Godly culture in America in the first place is delusional. We need the grace to do this well because it’s the Gospel. It’s who Jesus was. It’s how He treats us.

If we want to see humanity walk in restoration, and have true transformation from sin (like homosexuality) we must remember that it’s God’s kindness and mercy that draws us to repentance. It’s true that sometimes kindness isn’t nice, but it’s always kind.

Romans 2: “… Don’t you know that it’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance.” 

Father show us your love that we may learn to love well.

My Confrontation With Westboro Baptist Church

For years I’ve heard of the terrible and notorious antics of the folks just up the highway at Westboro Baptist church.  I have on many occasions been left with my head in my hands in disbelief whenever the stories of Westboro Baptist’s protests are told. Disbelief was usually followed by anger as I’d hear about them protesting a soldier’s funeral, or a gay kid who was beaten to death by his hateful peers. Anger would then lead to sorrow as I began thinking about the poor families being screamed at in their time of great grief. Sorrow also when I thought about the level of deception the people from Westborro must be under to justify screaming hatred. Following the progression of emotions, I began to grow bitter toward Westboro Baptist. Eventually that bitterness turned to hate. Hate turned into slandering them whenever I saw them on the news or heard about the legitimately horrible things they would do.

Most would find my hatred of Westboro Baptist completely justified as they are justifiably doing things to munger hate. However their was one person who wanted me to change my heart and attitude toward the infamous church. Jesus tells us to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, and give to those who harm us. I often teach these things, but just like anyone, have to follow through with what I teach. When I would go to pray after having talked trash about how much I hated Westbrro Baptist, I could feel that subtle prick from Heaven asking me to change my heart. No matter the sin they were in, nothing justifies joining them in sin, nor gives me the power judge them with slander. We don’t have to condone or stay silent in our calling them out in their error, but we have to do it from a place of love least we only continue the cycle of hate. In December at our annual Onething conference I was blessed with a chance to face my hatred head on.

Last year, for whatever reason, Westborro Baptist had decided to target our conference and stand outside in protest of it. The theme of the conference was “Jesus: Our Magnificent Obsession”. Every message, song and exhortation was centered around the theme of Christology, the person and work of Christ. Not even our Calvinist/ Cessastionists friends could have taken issue with this conference. Yet for what ever reason outside was Westborro Baptist with their notorious multi-colored signs, t-shirts and mega phones. I debated going down to talk to them for about 10 minutes, until I decided to just pull the bandaid off and confront them head on. Seeing them in the distance as I approached, I began to pray. “Jesus keep me tender, Jesus keep me tender, help me confront them in love, help me confront them in love.” I kept saying those two phrases over and over under my breath until I reached them.

Their message was confusing. Some signs said “God Hates Fags”, “Your Pastor is a Whore to $$”, others said “God Hates America”, “Stop Lying, God Hates You”, I couldn’t get a handle of what exactly they were protesting. Walking straight up to the leader he began screaming in my face “God hates you! God hates you!” over and over incidentally spitting on my face a few times. I suddenly felt a little foolhardy. Like I had decided to jump into the Hyena cage in hopes of taming them while they prepared to devour me. However I felt the need to persevere. I starred at the leader square in the eyes, calmly and patiently asking him if I could have 5 minutes of his time. The notorious founder Fred Phelps was not present, however his daughter and grandson were. His grandson was the one presently screaming in my face as I solicited a moment of conversation. After about 10 minutes he ran out of breath. Which to be honest was quite impressive in context. Screaming slander on the top of your lungs for 10 minutes without pause takes some serious pipes. He finally dialed down a notch or two and asked “what do you want?”

Trying to diffuse his energy rather than add to it, I asked calmly and quietly “What is it that you are protesting? You seem to be aiming in every direction.” Expectedly he launched into a tirade. “What are we protesting?! How about the fact that your church is taking millions of people’s money at this conference and whoring out the Bible. How about the fact that right now the leaders of this church are making money hand over fist from people without telling them about the coming judgement. How about the fact that you publicly support fags in ministry. How about that!” Genuinely, though not wisely, I snickered. My snickering only fueled another ten minutes of titration. I waited until he was done then I asked him the obvious question: “So you really have no idea what you are protesting or who we are do you? Because we are public about homosexuality being a sin, we are public about our belief in judgement, our conference is free, and we barely break even on it. So obviously you’ve been misinformed.” He stepped back and paused. He pondered another angle to come at us, then launched, “Well the leaders at this church are still living large while everyone else starves!” I snickered again and looked at him square in the eyes, “Sir I am one of the leaders here, and these are my only pair of jeans. If we are making a ton of money here it’s news to me.” I then proceded to laugh, honestly hoping to dial him down a even more. I coxed him along a bit, “Bro, you gota laugh a little bit. You gathered up about 30 people, printed signs and drove an hour to get here from Topeka only to find out you kinda wasted your time.” He snapped back, “But that’s not enough! You have to hate and publicly denounce gays or you’re going to burn with them.” I asked him, “What about those that lie on their resume’s, drink too much alcohol, or cheat on their taxes sometimes. Those are sins also, do those people need to be hated too?” “Yes!!” He yelled. “America is going to hell! God hates them!” Curiously, and with genuine compassion I asked him, “By that notion how do you plan to make it without going to hell?” This question struck his heart. For the first time in the conversation his face looked human. The tention and angst he was wearing disappeared. He hung his head and dropped his signs and mega phone to the ground. “I don’t know.” We stepped away from his still screaming crew and he began to open up a bit.

It was extraordinary. He told me that they simply go where they are told, that he actually never knows much about who they are protesting. He told me that they believe God is going to judge America with fire for it’s sins. He said they protest because they are terrified of being judged because of other people’s sin. He said he often lays awake in bed at night tormented by the idea that he is going to burn at the hand of God’s judgement. He felt that protesting is his way of screaming to heaven that he is not one of the sinners. He said it was a way of saying, “God don’t judge me! I’m not one of them!” Still not liking or remotely condoning anything they do, however for the first time I saw these hateful people for who they really were: broken. I offered to pray for him, and wanted to talk to him more, but he was teary-eyed and a little embarrassed about it. He gathered up his crew, they packed up their signs and left.

I wanted to feel victorious as I had taken on the most notorious protesters in the world and won. I wanted to walk triumphantly back into the conference and pump my fists bragging that I had gotten them to leave. Instead I was burdened for them. Having confronted my hatred I saw them for the lost and broken people they were. It doesn’t change my attitude toward their actions, but now when I see them on the news in a tirade of hatred I pity them. I pity them because they are trying to serve and represent a God they know nothing of. They are unknowingly agreeing with the voice of the darkness over the people they are protesting. And Sadly, they may even be headed for the very fate they are striving so hard to avoid.

They are still the object of God’s affections, the dream of his heart, and still have a chance at redemption. I pray for them regularly and I hope to run into them again.

Holy Spirit, enlighten the eyes of their understanding, that they may have their eyes opened to the truth and love of Christ.

“So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you towardrepentance?” Rom. 2:3-4

The Emergent need for Christ

“Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, the God’s wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.” (Tony Jones “Why Jesus Died,” 4-10-09, http://www.beliefnet.com)

The Emergent church has received much warranted and unwarranted criticism over its inaugural decade. Because the Emergent doctrine is intentionally nebulous in definition one cannot speak generally about the movement as a whole. Therefore in order to gain any sort of pulse as to what is being said by this group, we are left with no choice but to look to the individual leaders who are driving it through books, conferences, and social mediums of every kind. This leaves us with quotes like the one above to help piece together the mosaic of the Emergent movement.

The above quote is emergent church guru Tony Jones, author of the book The New Christians. Though he is clear to state that he does not speak for everyone in the movement, I’ve been hard-pressed to find an author/ “leader”/ Emerging “ethos” contributor within the movement that has a differing opinion with Mr. Jones concerning relative/absolute truths. Hard-pressed to find someone that doesn’t make Christianity a philosophical, humanistic understanding rather than about Jesus. I’ve read somewhere near 45 of the main books driving the movement, talked to different leaders like Mr. Jones, and was once a part of the movement or at least the “vibe” of it for many years.

The goal of this post is to be merely an introduction to some of the concerns within the Emergent church. My fight is to see that the truth of Jesus Christ be forefront in a place where people like Brian McLaren, Doug Padgitt, Peter Rollins, Phyllis Tickle, Spencer Burke and many others are diminishing His value

For the un-initiated, allow me to try to add a little definition to the movement that they do not to define. The Emergent church is a group or collection of people who are seeking to make a form of Christianity that is more relevant to our present Western Culture. In theory, it’s a way for Christians to join the ranks of the society around them and be Christians within their environment. Whether that’s hanging out with the fray at the local bar or joining a local bowling league. The premise is that Christians should not separate themselves from society into sheltered Christian circles, but they join society as Christians. They call this being “missional”; missionaries to our communities. Here is how Mr. Jones puts it:

“The emergent church is a way for us to figure out how to be Christians in a globalised, pluralized environment. Making the church reflective of the society that is around it… The push is for the church to become more participatory. In other words your opinion about the Bible becomes part of your churches orthodoxy”

This statement is where the Emerging/ Emergent “ethos” gets fuzzy and is translated into an unnecessary dichotomy between Faith and Practice. This point is also where the average person shrugs their shoulders and where most theologians throw up in their mouths. Being that my aim isn’t to help theology students but the average “Joe” better understand the Emergent church, I’ll leave the comparison/ contrasts for those capable theologians who have books out on the matter. (see- D.A. Carson, Tim Keller, John Piper, Mark Driscoll John McArthur etc.) I’ll state the problem as plainly as I see it:

To make Christianity reflective of a society and culture that hates God and has made sexual immorality, self gratification, and greed idols of worship isn’t a new way to do Christianity, it’s a way to depart from Christianity. Scripturally, I believe a lot of what is being said is what the Apostle Paul warns us to stay away from in I Timothy 6 when he says:“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of Jesus Christ and the teaching of godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.

Adele Sakler, who heads up the Gay, Lesbian, Trans, and Questioning side of the Emergent church called “Queermergent” is one of many whose life has been led away from Christ and into sin because of the teachings of the Emergent church. On her site Why Queermergent? She describes her transition in the following statement:

“I began to read Brian McLaren and found him writing things I had felt inside but was very afraid to express outwardly to anyone. In 2002 I went to Northern Ireland to do a DTS with YWAM.I met the great Peter Rollins and we developed a great friendship. His teachings and writings on postmodernism and Christianity radically shaped how I viewed my faith. I could no longer hang onto certaintywith regards to interpreting scripture… There were more important things in kingdom living than where we go after we pass from this world to the next, like poverty, AIDS, the environment, etc. About 2.5 years ago I FINALLY came to terms with my sexuality. I found peace with myself and with God. Coming out was fairly painless with the exception of a few people who still think I am in sin and going to hell. I no longer hold this view and I am ok if people think that about me.” (Adele Sakler, Why Queermergent?” queermergent.wordpress.com)

I Timothy 1:15 “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” Again, my fight is not against Adele Sakler, Peter Rollins or Brian McLaren. My fight is for people to know the truth about Christ before it’s too late. I want them to know that there is reprieve from suffering for the next 40-60 years of their lives and to know that they were created for so much more than simply trying to survive life without pain. Humans were created for so much more than coming to grips with their sin. They were created to experience the Divine pleasures of a loving God. We were made to communicate with Heaven, and live lives of peace and joy that only comes from life in the Holy Spirit. My fight, my cry is that people know that they can answer the question “Why do I exist”. We can have real freedom from the one thing humanity has been longing to be free from since Adam and Eve took a bite of that apple; sin.

I agree that the church in our culture is failing. Newsweek estimates that 25% of nationwide congregants have left the church in the last 10 years. The church has failed to love its fellow man as secular organizations out give and out serve the church worldwide. Yet, that lack of innovation is not our greatest peril.

The problem in the church is that it has wavered from making Christ the center and adopted a humanistic deism that puts the responsibility on the church to be inviting instead of Christ to be impacting.

The solution is simple and found in Luke 18:1-9, Col. 3:1-4, and Matt 5, 6, & 7. “When the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the Earth?”

He won’t if we are found putting more faith in our intellect, schemes, and ministry models. The answer is knee wrecking, ear straining, eye squinting, heart wrenching prayer. The answer is a people with faces set like flint, stumbling in a dark world with only the light of His face to guide them. (Is. 50:7-11) In our misunderstanding of prayer, we have cheapened our primary tool to seeing God’s power break in to our lives, and we have been found bankrupt in our attempts to impact society.

My desire is to expose lie of the Emergent church so that Jesus can have His glory. My prayer is that those perpetrating such lies would be set free by the power of Christ that they have so wrongly ignored and misinterpreted.

The Wedding that could’ve waited

Last Sunday morning’s Youth Service I continued my series on Basic Christian doctrine. Right now we are exegetically going through Matthew 5, 6, and 7, other wise known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Sunday I went over “Blessed are those who Mourn” better translated “Happy are those who Mourn, for they shall be comforted.” It got me thinking about a crazy experience I had a number of years ago. This story would be the antithesis of Jesus’ exhortation; a sorta “what not to do”. Either way, the story:

The Wedding that could’ve waited

If you have read here enough you now know that for a number of years I was a professional wedding DJ. I spent three years worth of weekends Dj-ing everytype of wedding, at every type of venue you can possibly imagine within a 100 mile radius of Kansas City. The worst wedding I ever DJed was back in the summer of 2004. The wedding reception was about 45 minutes away in an old barn just outside of Clinton Missouri.

I showed up at the barn an hour and a half before the reception as per usual. It was always a bit of an adventure to walk into a venue to see what you had to work with set up wise. I walked in to survey the lay out and figure out the best place to put my lights, Sound System etc. As I walked toward the old stage at the other end of the dusty room, I heard subtle sobs from the kitchen at the back of the auditorium.  I figured it was nothing, as you learn, sometimes weddings are just emotional for people. You learn to keep your head down, mind your business, make people have fun, and you’ll get paid well.

I pulled up my truck to the back door, and begin unloading my equipment. Poles, Light Cans, Amps, Speakers, it was the one part of the job I disliked the most. As I was hoisting one of the 60 pound Speakers above my head to set a top a pole, I was startled by horrific sounds come from the kitchen. Nearly dropping the speaker on my head, I regained control and got it up. I turned and ran toward the kitchen thinking maybe someone had been hurt. I walked in to find three older woman dressed up for the wedding, huddled together on the ground screaming, crying, and sobbing. Since it didn’t seem to be a physical injury, I paused a little hoping the wails of mourning would subside long enough to find out what was going on. I went and grabbed a tissue box I had seen in the lobby earlier. I placed my hand on one woman’s back to console her and hand her the box. Her lip quivering as she looked up at me and simply said, “He’s dead!”

It took the women about fifteen minutes more to gather their composer. The woman I handed the tissue box to pulled the other ladies up, “Alright girls, we gotta pull it together! There’s work to be done yet”. Puzzled, I asked her what was going on. Straightening her dress and wiping her eyes so as to keep the black mascara under them in place, she tells me the story:

“The bridal party was driving back from Kansas City this morning and The groom’s father Chet decided to stay behind to get something special for his son on his ‘Big Day’. He was running late to the pictures before the ceremony, so he was a speed’n down hwy 50. He took a corner a little sharp as did the guy on the other side of the road. They hit head on, and he died instantly. The Police officer that responded, saw the wedding gift and invitation and sped up here to inform us about 30 minutes ago. Oh God! How could this happen!”

She was interrupted by her own sobbing that had started again. At this point I too had tears. I put my arm around the lady and comforted her. I assumed that the wedding was called off for the day. Once she regained her composer I told her to tell the Bride I’ll tear up the contract, and come back and do it for free whenever they decide to reschedule. She got very firm with me. She grabbed my hands tightly, “Don’t you dare do anything of the sort! We are having this wedding today and you are the paid entertainment! Now you buck up, finish setting up your equipment and show this crowd the best night of their lives Or I wont pay you a single penny! you understand!?” One thing I’ve learned about older mid-west women, when they demand something of you there is only one reply that will suffice: “Yes maam”. That was mine.

An hour went by after I had completely set up my equipment, and people were finally starting to trickle in. Normally when the guests trickle in from a ceremony they are generally happy, shaking hands with people they haven’t seen in a long time, lots of smiles, hugs, etc. Not this group; It was like watching a bad Sean Penn movie. One of the ladies was even standing at the entrance passing out tissues to the misty eyed people walking in. Meanwhile I’m sitting behind my sound board on stage praying that they at least decide to cancel the reception. I look at my watch, and it’s time for me to stand outside and greet the Bride and Groom.

The limousine pulls up about fifteen minutes late carrying the bride, groom, and entire wedding party. I help them out and put them into a line in the order I’m going to announce them. The groom takes a minute, but emerges from the limo. I pull him and the bride aside. “I heard what happened. The food is ready to go- why don’t we announce you guys, eat, do the formalities all at the front end, so we can end early and get you out of here.” “NO WAY!” The bride says “You are going to make us party! His dad would’ve wanted it! We singed a contract for 6 hours, now I expect you to perform the full 6 hours. You got it!?” Continuing with my learned wisdom concerning mid west women I replied, “Yes Maam”.

As you can imagine the next 6 hours felt like 6 weeks. The Father of the bride paid extra to make the bar completely open. In the two hours it took to get through dinner to the cake cutting, I already had a guy on the ground passed out drunk. It only took those two hours to figure out the groups’ collective strategy for dealing with grief: suppress it with entertainment and alcohol… LOTS of alcohol. Finally my time was coming to an end. Most of the people had gone except the bride and groom’s families and their dates. I programed my computer to an  auto pilot song list, and spent the last two hours outside trying to escape the madness. The bride was passed out laying on top of one of the tables, and the groom was twirling on the dance floor with his pants on his head as his friends laughed and poured beer out on the floor in “memory” of his dad.

11pm meant I was off the clock as far as the contract was concerned. I walked back in to a room of drunken zombies. Many passed out, ones that weren’t were almost there. I figured I couldn’t leave until I knew that they all had a way to get home safely, as no one was in any condition to drive. The owner of the barn said he had a bunk house, so we helped everyone in.  But it was a sad state of affairs- and reminds me how happy I am that I don’t have that job any more.

Often I notice this scenario with friends, family, on Facebook, in the news. Our cultural strategy to deal with pain, to deal with sin, to deal with shame, is simply to cover it up. We try to do everything we can to distract ourselves  from anything that is hard or painful. As a culture we are monumentally afraid that Nietzsche was right when he said “if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.” We are afraid of pain, afraid of sadness. We are afraid of that moment before we sleep when the bed room door is closed and we have nothing but our pain and grief starring us in the face. We are afraid to embrace the pain, embrace the grief, embrace mourning.

Sigh…

Oh but there is hope! We are created beings. Beings with purpose. Beings that operate most efficiently when we follow the instruction manual we’ve been given. Jesus lays out these instructions in Matthew 5,6, and 7. He gives us the road to happiness. He tells us that the only way to deal with the pain of sin and circumstance is to mourn it- not ignore it.

“Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” The promise is comfort. Grieving brings freedom to our hearts, ignoring it restricts our hearts. It robs us the ability to love well, and fosters shame and bitterness in our hearts. When pain and hardship come, like the loss of a loved one, mourning them is vital to keeping one’s heart alive. I pray for those families from that wedding often. I pray the Father compels their hearts Christ so they can know the wisdom of functioning the way they were created to. There is real hope and fulfilling comfort for all those that give themselves to Christ.

Intimacy With Jesus pt. 2

“The Steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to and end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” –Lamentations 3:22-23

Struggles in life are common. Everyone has their kryptonite when it comes to having a consistent and fruitful relationship with the living God. In my adolescent days pornography was the temptation and stumbling block that I had to overcome. In my adult years, the green rock that drains all hope and strength from my heart and soul is anxiety. A few years ago it was common for me to lie in bed breaking into a hot sweat, anxious about any gamut of things life can make one anxious about. At times I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. Tossing and turning trying to calm down my fears. My problem fed a psychosis of fear that I thought would never break. It got so bad that even with nothing to fear I would fear sleep itself. I was a afraid I wouldn’t be able to sleep, and if I missed a night of sleep I’d worry that I would miss the next night of sleep then the next, ultimately ending in  death. I know sounds absolutely absurd, and it is, but fear has the all inclusive ability to overtake one’s entire thoughts and emotions. For me this is what fear did, it took away my dignity and convinced me that I was a lesser man then I was.

I figured spiritual discipline was the answer to my problem. I filled my time reading books like St. John of the Cross’ “Dark night of the Soul” and St. Bonaventure’s “The life of St. Francis”. Now don’t get me wrong, I love spiritual disciplines and I love some of the Old Catholic Saints even if some of their conclusions would be best thrown out, but I feel the same way about Luther and Calvin. I would pace in my bed room with my Bible open praying in the Spirit, asking forgiveness for every sin I had ever committed. I would break off curses, bind the enemy, and chastise myself for feeling so anxious. Then once I had finished repenting I concluded that God still wasn’t pleased with my attempt at devotion because I still had anxiety lingering. I rescheduled my time so I spent 12 hours a day in prayer, studied theology during my none prayer time, and worked out in order to “buffet my body”.  These times were not innately fruitless; I got in shape, got a handle on scripture like never before, and probably read about 3 large theological books a week. As far as discipline goes it was a good schedule. As far as my heart and understanding of God goes, there was much to be desired.

This season of my life culminated into a single weekend that ultimately changed my heart and outlook on God forever. It was obvious to my friends and fellow workers in ministry that I needed some sort of break. I had been on this rigorous schedule for about a year and the pleasantness I had once carried had faded. I was becoming depressed, and anxiety was growing not weakening. I decided to take a three day break at a retreat center up in the woods. Staying in the vein of discipline I decided not to take anything but my Bible, Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, and a notepad. I figured I’d do some hiking, do some writing, and meet God in any way I possibly could. Instead of my time being relaxing, my time was tormenting. I spent all three days weeping over my inability to connect with God. I wrote pages and pages detailing all the way I was failing God in my life. I made a list of all the things I wanted to change about my life. I wanted to spend money better. I wanted to cut out any and all entertainment out of my life figuring I didn’t deserve to have fun when millions in the world are dying without the knowledge of God.  I wanted to never sin so God would never be displeased with me. The last day of the weekend as I was driving back to Kansas City completely dejected at the lack fruit my weekend produced. It was then I heard the Lord say to me: “I delight in you”. It was a line that struck me in the gut. I pulled over to the side of the highway with tears streaming down my face as I hung my head. Then he spoke to me again, “lift up your head, my son you have been loved and are loved.” I got out of my truck and walked over to a bridge just off the highway overshadowing a small trickle of water. I leaned on the railing and wept thanking Him for actually speaking to me.

I had spent the better part of a year, trying to earn something that was already mine. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fists trying so desperately to earn the affection of my creator and savior that he had already endowed me with. I don’t regret that year of my life I spent seeking God with everything I had and in every way possible. To this day I pray I’m always pursuing God with everything I possibly can; I just also pray I do it in the grace of Christ. The problem I was facing was confidence. I was not confident in His love for me, I was insecure in it. When he spoke to me that day after my retreat it woke me up. I realized that the answer to my anxiety, and desire to encounter God wasn’t found in my ability to strive but in my ability to rest. Rest in the grace he has provided in the cross. Rest in the love he expresses daily. Rest in the provision we has given me. It produced in my heart Gratefulness, and gratefulness slowly melted away the anxiety and fear that had plagued my soul. It lead me to intimacy.

Last week we looked at how God has loved us. Looking at three of the primary expressions of His love for us in history, today we will look at three ways God loves us. Three ways that he expresses His love for us daily. Again the goal of the first three posts on Intimacy is first to get an understanding of God’s love for us, so we can then know how to live our life in a way that best loves and glorifies Him.

Grace. “For the Grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self controlled, upright, and Godly lives in the present age. Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and savior Jesus Christ who gave himself for us to redeem us from lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14 Grace is one of the first and clearest ways He expresses His love to us. In our day, grace is a message that has been misunderstood. Grace for many is a license to do as you please. It’s a message that has been preached defining our sin as superfluous because His grace simply covers our sin. Promoting the idea that we need not worry about how we act. However in the misapplication of grace we have cheapened this beautiful gift that is renewed to us every day.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Jn. 14:15

As I talked about last week we are image bearers of God that have been broken in the image we bear by sin. Since the intimacy pt 2fall of man, sin has been the cause of much corruption. Sickness, disease, poverty, fear, depression, sexual immorality, lust, greed, pride, murder, etc. have kept humanity imprisoned in a sinful cycle un able to live in the peace we were created to live, and have kept us as objects of His wrath. The grace of God appeared placing the wrath of God we deserved on the son, and covered our sins so we could live in peace. However that was not the complete work of grace. Grace appears daily. Grace is the power of God to keep us from falling into the sin, and thus separating us from him. It does indeed cover our sin, but it also trains us to love him by keeping His commandments.

Grace takes depraved human beings, incapable of real love, joy, and peace and gives them the strength to overcome fear, sin and shame. Grace is the daily mercy of the Lord guiding us, and training us to live holy and righteous; transcendent from the effects of the fall. Grace is Jesus perfecting our faith daily. Lovingly keeping us from stumbling (Jude 24) and sustaining us until the day of our Blessed hope, Jesus Christ returns and completes our salvation by glorifying us with Him. Grace is one of the greatest acts of love God daily gives us.

Intercession. “But if anyone does sin, We have an advocate before the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” I Jn. 2:1; “He forever lives to make intercession for them” (us) Heb. 7:25

The second way He Loves us is through Intercession.

Jesus is our great high priest. He has voluntarily taken the position of intercession before the Father for you and me. Every passing day Jesus is our faithful witness (Rev.1:5) standing before the Father pleading our case. He atones for our sins, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal His love, His jealousy, his glory, his wisdom to us on the Earth. Jesus forever mentions your name, my name before the Father.

Often Jesus feels far off. When we pray, go to work, go to school, live our lives we feel like we are distant at best, of no importance at worst. This is where building our understanding of God’s love purely on how we feel can lead us to a misconception of His love. Instead we can rest and have confidence in the truth; You are on the Mind of God! (Psalm 139:17-18 “How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!  If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand.”)The ministry of Jesus as our Great High Priest guarantees that we are not only on His mind, but that his thoughts toward us the redeemed or not of condemnation but of great compassion. This allows us to live life with confidence. We have a God in Heaven fighting for us, thinking about us, loving us amidst every trial, pain, fear, or accusation.

Holy Spirit; Revelation “But the helper Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send, will teach you all things.” Jn 14:26

One of the greatest daily expressions of God’s love is how He reveals to us himself through the Holy Spirit. Just as I reveal my heart in vulnerable way with my close friends, God has opened up His heart to us through the Holy Spirit so that we may know Him better. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has in store of those who love Him, These things God has Revealed through His Spirit, the Spirit that searched the deep things of the father’s heart… (We have received) The Spirit that is from God, that we may understand the things freely given us by God.” (ICor2:9-12) Catch that? The deep things of the Father’s heart.

God has not abandoned us to our own defenses, Jesus has not left us as orphans, but he has left with us the divine imprint of His nature to dwell within us. Paul speaks of this to the church in Colossi. He tells them not to be ignorant of the mystery of Christ living within us; our hope for Glory. (Col. 1:27) The Holy Spirit gives us direct access to God’s heart, and testifies the truth of Jesus to our hearts.

The Holy Spirit’s activity manifests in a vast number of ways. First, through the Bible. The Word is living and active. When we read it our Spirit comes alive with real power as we touch the truth of who we are and who God is. Second, through Prophecy. We can hear the voice of the Living God, whether in the Word, in our Spirit’s, or in another. Prophecy is often one of the most dynamic ways the Spirit moves. Whether to warn us, convict us, comfort us, or edify us; it’s how Jesus express His heart to us. Third, through Conviction. When we falter in our quest for righteousness or stray from the truth the Holy Spirit is faithful to lovingly convict, and discipline us so we stay in the way of salvation. Finally through special revelation. Dreams, visions, audible hearings of God’s voice, words of wisdom, words of knowledge etc, are all ways he reveals His love, His intention, and His purpose to us who abide in Him.

All three of these expressions of God’s love should cause us to fall into wonder at who He is, and who He is toward us. I have practicals that we will go over in time concerning “How to” have intimacy with Jesus, but to be clear there is no formula. There is no amount of spiritual discipline, no amount of striving, no amount of righteousness you can gain on your own accord that will cause you to enter into a deep relationship with Jesus. We only enter in through His grace and intercession as stay attentive to the Holy Spirit as He teaches us more about this blessed God we so deeply desire to meet.

Intimacy with Jesus pt. 1

I was 14 years old in the fall of 1995. My YMCA Basketball team had just blown it in the Mesa City Championship game. Leading up to the fateful game I seethed with anticipation. I had spent the whole day going over the plays in my head. We even showed up early to the Mesa Junior High Gym just so I could stretch and get my head ready for the big gameintimacy with jesus smaller that would ultimately end in loss.

I heaped a lot of expectation on my 14-year-old shoulders. I was born with the build of a linebacker, the height of a Center, but the competitive heart of Mother Teresa. My whole life I had been a geeky, extroverted, people person stuck in the body of a could be professional athlete. Coaches always begged me to play sports, because they coveted a 16 –year old that was 6’4” 230 pounds. Jocks always begged me not to take weight training, because I’d out lift them then head back to the Drama club and brag about it. On that day in ’95 I was determined to be a competitive basketball force. I was determined to be like my hero Kevin Johnson, and dominate them on both sides of the court. However, where I wanted to show up and eclipse the competition like Charles Barkley, I played more like Oliver Miller. (Die hard Suns fans know what I’m talking about) I couldn’t get the crowd, the people, the guys on the other team out of my head. I spent most of my time wondering how they all thought I was performing. I checked over at the sideline after every play to see the expression on my dad’s face. Was he happy? Was he frustrated? Did I do good? I was so focused on playing right, I didn’t play well.

How often in our pursuit of a personal, intimate relationship with Christ are we constantly so focused on everything else but the actual event at hand? It’s common place for most of us to enter into the time we spend with the Lord stressing over what He is thinking about us. Wondering if we are doing ok. Wondering how our friends, family, pastor, co-workers view us. There is so much mental and emotional traffic heading into our times with the Lord that we never actually develop a real and meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ.

We love because he first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19) The key to getting our “head in the game” is first to gain a biblical understanding of God’s love for us. Over the next few weeks we will look at three aspects of God’s love: Today, How he has loved us. A look at how God has already expressed His unfailing love for us. Second, How God loves us. A look at how God expresses his love for believers presently. Finally, how God will love us. A look at How God has will express His love toward us in the future, namely at the Second Coming and Judgment day.

How God has expressed his love for us.

There are many, and I mean many expressions of God’s love throughout Scripture; through the Creation of man, to the Covenants made with Israel, to the imparting of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Because this is a blog post and not a book, I will define the three of the more distinct ways He has loved us.

Creation. “Let us make man in our image…” Because God is three persons in one deity, He is both internally and externally relational. Before creation the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit shared an intimate relationship with one another. The Father delighting in the Son, The Son in the Spirit and so on. At the apex of creation it pleased them (ps. 145) to create us, humans in His image so we could share in their loving relationship, so we could return that love in worship adoration and glory.

Psalms 8: 4-9 “What is man that you are mindful of Him? Yet you have crowned with glory and honor.”

John 17:24 “Father I desire that they would be with me… that we would be be one even as we are one.”

Revelation 21:3 ” Behold the dwelling place of God is with man, He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

Kant, Moltmann and many other scholars say God is unknowable because we cannot have knowledge apart from experience. However we were created to experience Him, that truth is evident every time we look into a mirror. We bear His image and His likeness. We were created to love, worship and give Him glory. It’s impossible to function in those roles we were created for apart from the experience and encounter of His love. We will never fully know God; never fully grasp the great mystery of who He is. However even as we gaze into a mirror dimly and prophecy in part we do grow in understanding of His heart. That knowledge leads us to worship.

“Make your ear attentive to wisdom, make your heart inclining to understanding,; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.” – Proverbs 2. He loved us by creating us. We love him by searching him out, ‘crying aloud for wisdom and understanding.’

Incarnation. (meaning in flesh) Another way he has loved us is through His stepping out of Heaven to accommodate humanity by taking on flesh and full humanity forever. Jesus Immanuel, who was fully God, who spoke the world into existence, created man with His hands, created and formed himself in Mary’s womb, so He could walk among His creation. He encountered what we encountered. He was tempted as we are tempted. He loved as we love, fully knowing his fate was to be despised and rejected by those very ones He so lovingly created in His own image.

Where other human constructed God’s, human rulers and kings, are depicted as unapproachable forces ready to smite anyone that tries to approach them. They give self serving commands; you obey and serve them or are killed. Where our God is to be feared, and He is all powerful- in His love for us he is also humble. Though He had the power to shake the Earth, demand worship, and throw smoldering fire at those who didn’t obey He became like us and served us. Especially to the priests and Pharisees He took the time to reason with them every day in the temple. Breaking down His eternal plan to them as simply as possible knowing they would reject Him.

What God has ever come down from its exalted place and served those it created? He saw it fit to wait until He was of age to minister. He saw it fit to be baptized, to pray, to fast, to party, to enjoy friendships and family. He saw it fit to obey His mother when she asked Him for more wine at a wedding feast, even though it wasn’t time for Him to do miracles according to the plan He had set before the foundation of time. In 10 billion years He will still be in flesh and relate to us in flesh. The Incarnation is one of the most beautiful ways He has loved us. It is another reason He is worthy of our honor and praise.

The Cross. This was, is and will forever be that ultimate expression of God’s love for us. I once was so bold to tell an intern of mine that if the message of the cross didn’t give his heart any sense of gratitude, or joy then I did not think he had really understood it, or was saved. If the Incarnation causes us to worship at His humility and patience with us, the cross should cause us to weep in adoration. Forever and ever the hosts of Heaven worship Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father in Heaven “because He was slain.”

Ephesians 2:4 “God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

Romans 5:8 “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ Died for us”

John 3:16 For this is How God loved the world that He sent His only begotten son into the world.

At the fall in the beginning of human history sin was introduced into the world tainting the image of Christ that we were created to bear. Causing us to operate in ways we were not created to. Wickedness, shame, fear, greed, lust, pride, malice, envy, and strife became the daily affliction of mankind. God being a just and righteous God, has to judge wickedness therefore all were destined for eternal punishment in the Lake of Fire; we are all deserving of Hell. Jesus in His mercy came to us His enemies, took upon himself the wrath we deserved and gave us access to the throne and his heart. He is held by no law, held by nothing but His word. He didn’t have to save us, he could have wiped us out and started over again. He in His wisdom thought it better to take on our wrath and die for our sins, instead of losing us to our sins.

The cross is a subject I should take a year to write every day about as it’s beauty, mystery, wisdom, and love is so evident I get tender simply broaching the subject. Suffice to say, getting an understanding of the Cross is the quickest way to Intimacy with Jesus. So much about His nature, His heart, and His humility is said in that one action that we will spend eternity marveling at it’s brilliance.

There are many other ways God has loved us throughout the Biblical history, but I will end there for today. That day in ’95 after the basketball game I was so worried about my Dad, and what He thought about my play. The opposing team celebrated there victory as I hit the court in shame and tears at our horrible loss. I instantly felt the arms of my Dad grabbing me off the ground, giving me a huge hug telling me how proud he was of me. In our search to know Jesus in a close intimate way we must learn to rest in the love he has already expressed toward us. Knowing that there is no shame or fear in His love.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with loving-kindness” Jer. 31:3