A Working Title…

freely-10264-preview-1-973x730 I have always wanted to write a book. But, as someone who has the patience of a two-year old combined with a Monkish level of perfectionism, that’s proven difficult. But I am learning. One of the most important things I’m learning is that perfection requires patience. If I’m going to attain the mythic heights of perfection, I am going to need patience. But imperfection makes me impatient. Bit of a catch-22

But perhaps that’s the point. There is a tension inherent in my desire to write which in turn is the tension underlying all of fallen creation. God created a world in which perfection ruled therefore patience was inherent. But with the introduction of sin, perfection went out the window and patience was right behind. Now, all we’re left with is tension.

But God doesn’t waste that tension. Instead, he uses it for his purposes. Scripture is clear: the standard for all of us is perfection. Without perfection, no one will see God. We are to be perfect because He is perfect. But that’s out of our grasp. And, in a fallen world, if we attained it, we’d lose it instantly through our pride springing up.

Instead, God calls us to humility. He calls us to accept the gift of Jesus’ perfection, credited to our account. And then he calls us to patience, allowing him to mold and shape and steer the course of our lives towards Christ-like perfection. And as we are moving in that direction, we die.

That sounds like a bum deal, but that amazing news! We are called to something we don’t have the capacity or the patience for, but God draws us towards it and completes it with the glorification that comes when we see Jesus for who he truly is. This life, rather than requiring our merit, requires our meekness. It requires us to let God do his work in and through us while never allowing us to gloat in our achievements.

This life ends which means that it isn’t the end.

This life isn’t the whole story for us. We work, we write, and we wait. Authors talk about their projects, things they’re trying to get out. These projects usually have a working title, something that marks what they will be even though they’re not finished yet. I am convinced that in this life, God has gives each Christian a working title. It’s pointing us to what we will be even though the work’s not done yet. I am grateful for the tension, grateful for the progress, and looking forward to getting a real title. Until then, I’m good with the working one.

Responding to Injustice

freely-10085-preview-973x1309Washington DC. Lies and injustice. Minnesota and Baton Rouge. Ignorance and injustice. Dallas. Terrorism and injustice.

In addition to the travesty of a public election process that we have been subjected to, we were reminded again last week that we are not as civilized as we think. The difference between living in a Third World country and living in the greatest nation is supposed to be measured by dollars, by food, by convenience, by freedom. But how much freedom do we really have when the second a tragedy occurs it is instantly made into a political agenda item? How convenient is it for a black man to be tried with a bullet instead of a judge? How much food will it take to fill the hole at the family table when five officers never make it home for dinner? How many dollars does it take to paper over the fact that there are cracks in the foundation of our national narrative of greatness?

I understand that we don’t have all the facts yet. I understand that we must be patient with the investigative process. I understand that many don’t want to think about these things. But I do not understand any believer who is unwilling to face the facts that we are living at a time of incredible injustice and incredible pain in our nation.

A candidate for the highest office in our country was revealed to have broken the law and yet will not face charges. And there are those who will say that I am being overly political for calling that injustice. Two men were shot, one for reaching for a concealed carry permit and another for carrying in an open-carry state. And there will be those who say I am anti-police for saying that a black man should expect a chance to at least explain himself. 12 policemen were shot by a terrorist sniper. There are those who will say I am anti-blacks for grieving their deaths. Why does everything have to be political or racial? Have we lost the ability to simply be pro-human? Has the church been so influenced by the political narrative that we cannot mourn injustice, whichever side of the aisle it affects?

But let’s not stop there. Recently, in pulpits and in papers, there have been calls for social activism. There is a deep sense, amongst believer and unbelievers alike, that we have to DO something. So people jump on Facebook and rant about corrupt politicians, all while supporting the opposing, also corrupt, politician. There are staunch defenses of the right to bear arms, a “you can take my gun when you pull it from my cold dead fingers” tirades. There are subtle and not-so-subtle racial epithets thrown around. There are all kinds of words spilled out of the desire to “DO” Something, to SAY something, or, more likely, to BE SEEN as doing something or saying something.

Is our response to the latest injustice governed more by our political affiliation or our Lord’s salvation? Are we seeking to dedicate our lives to a 240 year old document or to the God who reigns from everlasting to everlasting? Are we proud to be a Americans but failing to live as Christians? I spoke with someone this week who said, Americans love their rights, but what rights does a slave have? And that is the issue. To be Christian is not to be a more sanctified American: it is to be a slave of Christ. It is to gladly forfeit rights in order to serve the cause of a master. It is to not seek a city that can be shaken, but to seek one that cannot be shaken. It is to reject reliance on any source of security (guns, politics, rights) other than God.

I preached from Isaiah 59 this past Sunday in response to the events of the week leading up to it. Isaiah 59 tells us…

…that God is not unaware of what is going on.

…that we are not any better than the liar, the racist, or the terrorist.

…that the proper response to injustice is not political posturing but lament and humility.

…that one day all wrongs will be made right by the mighty hand of God.

As Christians, our primary responsibility is not cultural crusading. The Moral Majority tried and failed. Our responsibility is to share, declare, and live the good news that there is a kingdom that looks nothing like this one, an eternal kingdom, ruled by a righteous king. But in the course of that declaration of the gospel, we need to recognize that sin has warped not just individual hearts, but national hearts as well. We need to proclaim the gospel far and wide because no one else but a Righteous King can restore an unrighteous slave and nothing but a Kingdom of Righteousness can overcome a kingdom of darkness. We have to trust in the triumph of God’s righteousness, the establishment of His justice.

Our trust is not in ourselves, not in political change, not even in fixing every injustice of this world. Our trust is in the Coming King who will set everything to right, the Redeemer who will mete out justice and mercy, who will squash rebellion and restore the broken, who will break the proud and raise the humble.

What is required of us, Christians?

To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

To be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to anger.

To declare the infinite glory of a King who is Righteous, to speak of a Kingdom that is faultless, and to revel in the joy of your Master.

To love God, love others, and make disciples.

Come Lord Jesus and rule our hearts, our lives, our kingdoms…fix us, because we sure can’t fix ourselves.

Three Critical Elements of Fellowship

A first-century believer suddenly dropped into a modern church wouldn’t have a clue what was going on.

That’s my hypothesis anyway, based on 10 years of ministry experience and focused reading of the New Testament.

I believe one of the most evident points of confusion for that first-century Christ-follower would be the contrast between the modern church’s approach to fellowship and what she was accustomed to.

We don’t; they did.

This marginalization of a vital mark of the New Testament church only makes sense, though. In a cultural milieu that places an inordinate amount of emphasis on expressing one’s self, being one’s self, and promoting one’s self it only makes sense that fellowship, dependent as it is on denying one’s self, submitting one’s self, and reforming one’s self, has fallen out of favor.

If we have any hope of regaining fellowship as a celebrated and integral part of church life, we have to figure out how to overcome the overwhelming cultural influences of the day. Though I know that there are more, I would suggest three (helpfully alliterated) components for rebuilding fellowship.

Gaining the right historical perspective

My mom gave my wife and me a cutting from a plant that my grandmother has. She might have gotten hers from a plant that her grandmother had. Now, I can go to Home Depot and buy a new plant anytime. They’re cheap, they’re usually healthy, and when I inevitably kill it, I can go buy another one. But it doesn’t mean anything. A plant with a family heritage behind it is much better, even if it’s visually the same. The history makes it so much better. I look at the plant differently.

Too often, we have too short a history to have true fellowship. We have the wrong perspective. We settle for Home Depot fellowship. Cheap, fast, and disposable. We have fellowship with someone until they make us mad. Then we dump them and move on. It’s a perspective problem. The kind of perspective that fellowship grows best in isn’t what that so and so said last week, what he did last year, what she posted last month. You’ll never have fellowship if your relationships are defined by past offenses, anger, and accusations. That’s too short-sighted.

Instead, we need to recognize that true fellowship is based on the history of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, coming to earth, being a man, walking, talking, eating with us. Dying, bleeding, buried. Raised, exalted, and glorious. Fellowship with other people is grounded in the fact that God sought fellowship with you at the expense of His Son. With the right perspective, fellowship stops being about you and what you want and how you were wronged and becomes a desire for God to be glorified and for there to be unity between brothers and sisters in Christ. For the Christian, joy is not possible if he or she is out of fellowship with God OR with a fellow believer. Jesus really came to earth, and that historical reality changes everything!

Emphasizing holiness

Contrary to most people’s expectations, fellowship is not best gained by deemphasizing holiness. Instead, fellowship is not possible without strongly emphasizing it! There has to be a standard, there have to be expectations for fellowship to work. Everyone in church life talks about fellowship, but we have to understand that our words don’t mean a thing if our experience contradicts them.

Fellowship is not based on words; it’s based on lived truth. I’m not saying that salvation is dependent on your works. Scripture’s pretty clear that that’s not the case. But I am saying that salvation is revealed by works, and fellowship is dependent on them. If you are continually walking in darkness and yet still professing faith, you’re a liar and aren’t going to be able to fellowship with God or with anyone else. If you are occasionally falling into sin, repenting, and seeking restoration with God and others, you’re practicing the truth.

Another reason to emphasize holiness is the simple fact that a life that is in fellowship with God will be in fellowship with others. It is natural. If we are in good relational standing with the Creator, we will line up with His creatures, particularly His image-bearers. There is a one to one correlation between your relationship with God and your relationship with others. If you are walking in the light of God’s holiness, you have fellowship with others.

Ultimately, though, all of our efforts at holiness will fall short. And that’s good news! Because self-sufficiency does not lead to fellowship, with God or with our brothers and sisters. Scripture calls us to a godly struggle for holiness while also revealing that we will never be good enough. It’s at that point that we must recognize that Jesus’ blood is the only avenue to fellowship with God and with others. Left to our own devices, we won’t make it. But God makes a way through his grace. That’s hard for us to accept. We all want the boast of self-sufficiency. We all want to be master of our own fate, captain of our own ship. But we can’t. We need Jesus. We need Him for salvation, and we need Him for fellowship. That’s why this last point is so important.

Recovering humility

Pride makes us want to pretend we are sinless. Pride kills fellowship. To pretend that we don’t have sin to repent of is effectively declaring that Jesus died for nothing. That’s a lie. God won’t let us get away with it. The antidote for our pride, the potion for restored fellowship, is humility. The recognition that the world is not waiting breathlessly for my next social media update is a good step towards humility. Confessing sin to one another is an excellent step to building in ourselves the mind of Christ.

Fellowship is ultimately just mutually acted out humility. If the modern church is going to demonstrate appealing fellowship to the world, we have to be humble. This means individual humility, where no one believer thinks more highly of himself than he ought, but it also means corporate humility. Whites and blacks, old immigrants and new immigrants, Calvinists and Arminians: none of these are better than any of the others. But until we all recognize it and live it, fellowship will remain marginalized and disposable.

Let’s do it.