Saturday, June 22, 2013

Hoarders at Heart

I think there is a misunderstanding about what it means to "give your life to Jesus". I think the misunderstanding stems from the fact that some are preoccupied with what this means will be lost, and ignore or are blind to what it means will be gained. And this preoccupation results in a resistance to do so. I think this because I know people in all the categories I am about to mention. I was myself in all of them at one time.

Some are resistant to give their life to Jesus because they fear it will mean an intellectual loss. They fear that they will have to concede to a truth that they don't believe to be possible or necessary, and in the process will surrender some amount of their intellectualism or even intelligence.

Some are resistant because they fear it will mean a behavioral loss. They fear they will have to give up or change a behavior or lifestyle that is considered immoral or not in their best interest, but that they believe is either perfectly fine or neutral.

Some are resistant because they fear it will be a literal loss of relationships or possessions. They fear that they will have to break ties with family or friends who don't follow them as they follow Jesus, or they will have to give up literal possessions as they live more sacrificially loving God and others.

Some amount of all this is true as it pertains to what giving your life to Jesus means you will lose. And I could work through that and clarify what is true, and what is more complicated than just an outright "loss" of something. But what I would rather do is fix the preoccupation. I would rather highlight what is to be gained. Large amounts of paper have been filled with explaining what the "loss" of becoming a Christian - giving your life to Jesus - really means; how it is different than you thought, or not as bad as you think, or what. But I don't believe that is the approach of Scripture. In the Word of God, we see the wonder of what is to be gained. And then when we compare the difference, it is worlds apart.

Peter tells us that after we have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. Because to him be the dominion forever and ever.

First of all - and this is difficult to say - this promise is not for those who are not in Christ, and who have not given their life to Jesus. It is difficult to say because the Bible is so helpful, but for those outside Christ, it is foolishness. And I know people outside Christ, and the only thing that I know will really help them, Scripture, is now to them foolishness. I could quote Scripture all day and without Christ it is likely going to fall on deaf ears, but by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (that is a very big but!). Once you give your life to Jesus, the words and truth of Scripture are wonderful and helpful. So in the meantime, trusting the Holy Spirit to illuminate what would otherwise be foolishness, let me help facilitate giving your life to Jesus, or encourage you if you already have.

You have to understand who Jesus is. Then you have to understand what Jesus did, and how it applies to you. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by all things were made, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were made through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him and all things hold together. Let me say that one again. In him all things hold together. So whatever the "cost" or "loss" of giving your life to Jesus, the gain here is incomparable. It is a fair interpretation to say the implication of this verse is that outside him all things fall apart. So the loss outside Jesus is worst case scenario. And we are still just on who Jesus is. What about what he did?

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (of whom I am the foremost, by the way). Though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. God, the Father, the creator of all, made him, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in him. He, Jesus, knew no sin. Yet, God made him to be sin. Why? On our behalf, so that we might have his righteousness - right standing - credited to us as we stand before a holy God who warrants justice and sacrifice for our wickedness. Jesus was put forth as a substitution for us by his blood, to absorb the wrath of God that we deserve.

That is the Jesus who commands you to give your life to him. The Jesus who is the image of the invisible God and in whom and through whom and for him and by whom all things were created and hold together. That Jesus, who came to earth, became like us in every way, yet was without sin, and died on our behalf so that we could share his perfect standing with God because of his sacrifice. And we are preoccupied with what giving our life to this Jesus will cost?! May it never be. What is to be gained is far better.

I think that all people know the authentic attitude of their heart. If you say or even pray that you have given your heart and life to Jesus, but you haven't completely, I think you will know it. We don't need to spend too much time clarifying exactly what it means to give your "whole" life to Jesus. If you haven't yet, you know it. God writes his law on our hearts, so we know. He says that if we seek to gain our life, we will lose it. If after giving our heart to Jesus, there is still some seeking for gain outside Jesus, then it will be clear to us that we have not given our whole heart and our whole life to Jesus. Let's not get bogged down in the grey area. Once you know there isn't a grey area, then it should be clear.

But I know it is not easy to surrender all that you know. I know that is it hard, seemingly impossible, to not be preoccupied with what will be lost. I know that what will, or you think will, be lost is dear to you. I know this because I am a hoarder at heart, just like you. Do you watch the show Hoarders? You should. If for nothing else, you should watch it to check your self. That's what I do. For me, not only is it convicting because without Christ, it is quite possible that I would end up like those people in regards to the amount of physical stuff I would have. Ask my wife. But also, it is generally convicting because I see in my heart the same tendency to hold on to things that seem to make my life more comfortable and familiar, but actually are just more enslaving and disastrous. And the people on that show, like me, are almost completely blind or indifferent about what will be gained if they change their life: more walking space in their house, cleanliness, joy and peace instead of anxiety, etc. They are preoccupied with what they will lose. Not that shirt! Not that old toaster! Let me just keep that old stereo (that doesn't work) and throw away the other one (which actually does)!

So knowing this, I want to encourage you with some of what you will gain by giving your whole life to Jesus, and what you will continue to gain once you have, or if you already have. That is what matters. There is more than this that will be gained. But this is a lot. The God of all grace will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.


Do you need to be restored? Do you have brokenness? Has a relationship, or a situation, or an injustice, or a mistake, or a failure, or a tragedy, led to brokenness in your life? Are you tired of temporary restoration that doesn't prevent more brokenness in the future? Are you tired of pretend restoration that is really just an act as you hide your still present brokenness? Don't you want to be restored? The God of all grace, that is, Jesus, who called us to eternal glory, will restore you. You will gain eternal restoration in Christ. That is worth any loss, is it not?


Do you need to be confirmed? Are you tired of the inconsistent, unfulfilling approvals and confirmation from others? Are you tired of the anxiety of not knowing if you are good enough, or ever will be? Are you ready to be done doubting whether God really loves you or can forgive even your sin? Do want to be confirmed, once and for all, that you are a child of God, and if a child, also an heir? Jesus has caused us to be born again, according to his great mercy, to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you! Are you ready to give your life to Jesus knowing that ultimately all that it will cost you is perishable, defiled, and fading anyway? Do you want to be confirmed in your standing, and your inheritance that is eternal?


Do you need to be strengthened? Are your physically, mentally, and emotionally tired? Do you have trouble getting up in the morning because your job is either too hard and strenuous, or too boring and seemingly meaningless, and you just can't muster the strength to go? Do you want supernatural energy to face the complexity of that conversation or situation, or intensity of that task? Are you ready to be able to have an eternal perspective in every even mundane and fleeting situation, yet also have the attention and awareness to be where you are every moment? Do you want to be able to run as fast as you used to, or hit a golf ball as far? Wouldn't you rather not have to run or just hit them straight instead of far? (I digress). In Christ, you will be able to do all things through him who strengthens you. All things? Yes! All things that matter. In Christ, you will have the strength to comprehend the breadth, length, height, and depth of the love of Christ - to apply to every situation. God will strengthen you with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.


Do you need to be established? Is there an unfinished nature about everything you do? Do you feel like the accomplishments and efforts in your life are in constant flux and not permanent? Are you tired of constantly working for some status or standing that seems elusive? Are you unsure if you will ever be "presented mature in Christ" and what that will even look like? Are you waiting for a moment or a sign? Are you just waiting to graduate? Will you be established just as soon as you get that job? Or get married? Or have a family? Or once your kids graduate, get a job, or get married, or have kids of their own, who graduate (on so on)? Or once you can retire? Or write that book, or finish that project? Or? Don't you need to be established? The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. It is God who establishes us in Christ, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. In Christ, you will be seen with good order and firmness of faith. If you receive Christ Jesus the Lord, and walk in him, you will be rooted and built up in him - a foundation not like sand that is washed away, but like rock, unmovable - established in the faith.

What loss?? In Christ all is gain.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Is There a Reason?

So, this is my jam.

I could even be so bold to say I think it is one of the best songs written in my lifetime. I love it. Why? Well, mostly, because it makes me want to preach. Not like, it makes me want to be a preacher - that is not my gifting nor my call. But this song inspires me to want to preach. Think of it like when someone may say, that makes me want to sing (or dance)! That does not mean they want to, or think they should, become a singer or a dancer. Which is good. Those people should probably not become singers or dancers, and in the same way I shouldn't become a preacher. But just like you want to sing in the shower sometimes, I still want to preach sometimes, and may even dabble a bit, if not behind a pulpit, then behind a screen or maybe even around a table and a cup of coffee.

This very well-written, memorable but not annoying, simple but unique, delightful folk song (and video) makes me want to preach because I am very convinced about something that this songwriter seems to question, but still wrestle with, and with that I can identify. But I am so convinced that I am compelled to joyfully shout from the rooftops (or the internet) that there is a glorious reality that doesn't have to be questioned, though it rightfully warrants some wrestling. I say it warrants some wrestling, because I don't expect anyone to come to this realization free from struggle; indeed that struggle perhaps is inevitable.

What am I so convinced of?

First, there is a reason things are this way. Second, the "love that will find a way" is not a concept or an illusion, but it is a person. He has a name. I wonder if you know him?


Is there a reason things are this way? Or is this how they've always been and they intend to stay? Why do we say the things we say, every day? Are we gonna keep on building prisons and fill them all, and keep on building bombs and drop them all? Do we have baskets of lemons that all taste the same, and a window with a pigeon with a broken wing? Do we spend our whole life working for something, only to have it taken away? Is there chaos and commotion wherever we go? Is there a reason we live this way, every day?

I am sure you know my answer, lest you think what inspires me to want to preach is a depressing message of hopelessness. Can you imagine? You get all dressed up, get your whole family ready for church, make the 20 minute drive with children screaming, get all settled in your pew, sing a few songs, and the pastor gets up, looks you in the eye with a smile, and declares, "There is no reason or explanation for the futility and suffering in your life. There is absolutely no answer for the hard questions, and no hope for the beggar outside your door. I can't explain the reason for the way we live every day. If you stub your toe on the way out, don't say I didn't warn you. God bless you and good luck out there. Amen."

No! That is not my answer. My answer is that the pigeon's broken wing is proof that his wing is supposed to not be broken. Think about it. Have you ever thought of life in that way before? What is the big deal about a pigeon who can't fly because of a broken wing? Who cares if we can't walk because of a broken leg? Those are ridiculous questions because it is obvious to us that wings are meant to fly and legs are meant to walk, and those things not happening results in pain, and seems unnatural. God cares about pigeons, you know. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But would it really be obvious that wings are meant to fly and legs to walk if they always worked without any problem? Would we know that pain hurts if we only ever had the lack of pain? How would we know our sin if we never sinned? Or that it was bad? If things weren't this way, how would we know they shouldn't be?

This is not a mind trick (haha). I'm not necessarily arguing that "the reason" things are this way is simply to show us that they shouldn't be. The God of the Universe is more profound (and gracious) than that. I'm trying to convince you that there is, of course, a reason, and the existence of unexplainable, even painful things does not inherently mean there is not a reason for them. Of course there is. Right? We can and should question what the reason is, but good heavens, let us not settle that there isn't one!

Scripture is very helpful on this question, if not specifically to the pigeon or the existence of prisons or bombs or slavery or death, but certainly in general. Let's look at the best chapter in the Bible (Romans 8). Paul says that he considers that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us. So, yes, "things are this way". There is suffering. But how tragic to only acknowledge that reality without also acknowledging the equally true reality of glory. That doesn't give us a specific reason for the suffering but it tells us first and foremost alongside the suffering is the true reality of future glory. That alone should give us a lot of comfort. A lot. Like, all we need.

But Paul helps us more. He says that the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. Ok, so, still no reason. But! Our only comfort is not the acknowledgement of a coexisting reality with suffering. It is not as if God only says, take heart, I know your broken leg hurts, but know that it is supposed to not hurt. So take heart. You are right that it hurts. But also true is its supposed to feel neutral. Isn't that good news?

No! God desires us to eagerly long for it not to hurt! Not just know it is supposed to not hurt, but eagerly long for it not to! Eager longing does not give us a reason. But it does give us something to do in the meantime, and it certainly further contradicts any possibility that there isn't a reason.

Paul continues: For the creation was subjected to futility. (Duh, we already knew that). Not willingly! This was not our choice. It was not our idea to have our legs be breakable, or worse, for prisons to be necessary, or bombs exist with the sole purpose to destroy. So what's up? Why was the creation subjected to futility? Are we going to get our reason now? Because of him who subjected it. What? Who him? God? Why?

In hope! What hope? That the creation itself would be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Wait a minute.

Am I saying that God subjected the world to bad things for the sole purpose of fixing those bad things? Like, he broke my dishwasher just so he could fix it? Was he bored? Was he trying to show off?

I am getting close to blasphemy here you know. But I'm just putting words in your mouth, so actually you are getting close to blasphemy (see what I did there?). Seriously though, we need to understand the hope that Paul is talking about here. In hope. What hope? That we would be free from bondage, which we didn't choose, and that logically should have never existed if God was just going to free us from it anyway. But guess what? God is God. And we really are in bondage. And God is not to blame for our bondage. Don't go down that road. Please, for the love of God, don't lie to yourself all your life that your sin, and your captivity to things that you wish you didn't do or say, and the evil in the world, is God's fault. We know it isn't. We know! Why else would Jesus come to earth, identify with us in every way, yet not sin? If he wanted to identify with us in every way, he should have sinned also, right? Unless! Unless, God in his grace was saying, "Even though it's your fault, I am going to free you from it. I did not create it, I hate it, and I'm getting rid of it. And the reason it should be clear to you that you alone are to blame for it, and it wasn't some ironic predicament that I created for myself just so I could solve it and be amused, is because of the way I am going to free you. I am going to deliver my only Son, one with my being, over to suffering, death, and separation. For you."

I hate to break it to you, but hope is not a reason. We still, actually, aren't at a reason why things are this way. But where we are is even better. Christian hope means that whatever the reason, we know, without any shadow of a doubt, what the reason isn't. The reason isn't - couldn't! - be that God doesn't love us. He sent his Son to die. It couldn't be that he doesn't love us!


Do you believe? Do you know it will? Yes! And guess what? Love is not elusive. The music video above masterfully sets up the scenario with people living ordinary lives - selfishly is his implication - minding their business unaware of their surroundings or the suffering in the world. Then, in almost creepy fashion, he sets various hurting people in the exact context of these people going about their lives. Below minimum wage workers, wounded soldiers, the homeless, women and children in captivity and hungry; and the face of the hurting people is hopelessness and helplessness, and the face of the ordinary people is conviction.

But where is the love? He says he does believe that love will set us free. He says he knows it will. Yes! He says. But where is it? What is it? What are we to say to the hurting people? To ourselves?

Friends, love is not elusive. Love is God. Yes, God is love, but more than that, love is God. Love is Jesus. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation of our sins. He made him, Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin for our sake. That in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There is a reason things are this way. But we both know and don't know that reason. We know that love will set us free. And we know that love is not a what or a why, but a who. It is Jesus. I wonder, do you know him?

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

- 1 Peter 1:3-12