LenBanks

a continuing story of trust, grace and community

Tag: Jesus

The  Beautiful Paradox

Over the years I’ve heard from many who don’t understand why so many in the Church appear to have a “woe is me” mindset. I can see their confusion, because if anybody should be joyful, it should be the Christ follower!  And yet there is a paradox that exists in our faith.

In fact there are many!  We’re already saved yet are working out our salvation. We are at the same time both in eternity and yet also bound by time. We are righteous but know full well we are being sanctified. This last one leads to the what I think is the most beautiful paradox of all. It’s the place where mourning and joy exist in their fullest at once. It is in that state where grace is realized in such beauty!

The Sermon on the Mount is a powerful and core teaching by Jesus that can be found in Matthew 5-7. The first section has become known as the beatitudes and has challenged and transformed me as I have wrestled with what seems like an impossible way to live.  We know Jesus came to set us free from the “law” and yet at first glance this sermon calls us to a life even more severe. And so one is compelled to look deeper to reconcile the apparent contradiction.

The first section of the beatitudes is where the tone is set.

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  Matthew 5:3-6 NIV

I used to think of each of the Blesseds like individual traits to attain.  “I like the peace maker, but mourning, not so much.”  Sort of like a buffet.  But I’ve come to realize it’s more like a 6 course meal.  It’s not a buffet, not individual attributes that we pick and choose from, but a layering, a building to become the person Jesus calls us to.  And the first is necessary to move on to the next.

When you are poor in spirit having come to the end of yourself, acknowledging you have nothing to bring to God, it’s then you mourn deeply for the reality of sin and it’s destruction in your life. It’s then that the power of meekness, the control of yourself is able to set in. The choosing of God’s control rather than sin’s.  And at that point one is spiritually bankrupt, desperately hungering, desperately thirsting for God’s righteousness!  The promise?  We are filled. God imputes, or puts in us HIS righteousness!  Then and only the does the rest of the sermon makes sense. Then and only then can any of us begin to live the sermon out!

For example, take the passages on murder and adultery (Mt 5:21-30). It’s easy in our righteousness to live a life of fidelity and never murdering someone. Most succeed in that!  But by age three we’ve all called someone a name in anger and by 12 we’ve all lusted.  And so in my abilities I am a failure. And if we haven’t come to the end of ourselves and realized we have nothing, we are nothing apart from Christ, then we will never live the life God has made available to us through Jesus.

Do I have a purpose and potential?  Of course!  Do I have gifts I bring to the table?  Absolutely!  Are they of any value?  For this life and the common good?  Sure.  But for eternity, no!  My righteousness is nothing and His is everything!  And in His hands those gifts and potential will become something wholly different, better.

So the beautiful paradox, the sweet spot…is being both mournful and filled with joy at the same time.  Not dwelling in ashes, but acknowledging my capacity and propensity to sin.  Not “woe is me” but most definitely full on mourning.  “Woe is me” is a self-focused declaration. The mourning Jesus calls us to is recognition of our sinful condition.

And the joy?  It can and should be full-on crazy celebration!  As I mentioned earlier, the sermon can seem like an even more severe life than the law. And here is what most fail to see and even when we see it, we find hard to experience. Jesus knows we can’t. We can’t live free of anger and lust and judgement and unforgiveness!  That’s why He offers us His righteousness. That’s why mercy is given. That. Is. Grace!

And until I come to the end of me and bring my nothing to God, there is no room for grace to be experienced. And so the dance of the paradox begins. Living in spiritual poverty and the riches of Christ together is the challenge.

If you’re like me, and you are, you begin to take credit for spiritual maturity at times. You take for granted the all-encompassing nature grace must have in our lives. The longer I live in Christ the more I realize how much I need Him. The dos and don’ts are easy, grace is not. It requires dying and mourning and spiritual bankruptcy. But then and only then do we experience freedom and joy.

By the way, this why we desperately need each other!  But that’s another post.

It’s a journey and one in which I hope you find joyful mourning.

A Life Filled With Awe

In recent months a number of thoughts have been bouncing around in my mind.  But even deeper, my heart.  Life has been going on with all it’s busyness.  Demands for work projects, recovery pain from latest marathon, family activities – just like everyone, I am busy.  But like an underground spring, there have been thoughts of what could be.  What I hope for.  What I sense is missing or coming up short in my life.

I’m not depressed at all.  Rather quite hopeful and encouraged!

These thoughts have been spurred on by a few passages of the bible that have come up in some of my readings or small group discussions.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47 (NIV).

Lord, I have heard the news about you; I am amazed at what you have done.  Lord, do great things once again in our time; make those things happen again in our own days.               Habakkuk 3:2 (NCV)

He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.  To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.  Colossians 1:28-29 (NIV)

Each of these passages have burrowed deep into my heart to create this longing.

As pastors, church leaders, and workers in our churches (paid or not) we are part of a powerful experience, opportunity and responsibility to be part of presenting “everyone fully mature in Christ”!  I know life can be busy and overwhelming.  I know that we can lose some of the wonder and joy and passion for what we do in ministry and see it as another obligation or task.  And at seasons in my life it has been reduced to that.

I want the awe!  I want the amazement!

I don’t long for some 1st century re-creation of the church.  It can never be exactly like that.  I’m not expecting signs and wonders.  I’ll take them, sure.  I don’t envision a series of revival meetings with ecstatic behavior either.

What I see, what I hunger for is a revival of community.  The principals of the Acts community can be developed.  And there is no greater miracle to be seen than “Christ formed in us”.  I want to see the Lord adding to our numbers daily.

I want these things for my generation!  My time!

I want to see a church strenuously contending with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in us!  I’m seeing signs of that in my particular local church right now, but my hope is for the Church, not just my church.

I don’t want to dismiss what I know He is already doing now, or imply we are not “strenuously contending” now.  I see the power of God at work all the time and am moved to praise and gratefulness.

I just have this sense there is something…more.

I want to encourage us today to make space in our hearts for the wonder to grow – the wonder that God would use each of us to transform lives.

Let’s not get caught up in the distractions of politics…God is bigger than America!

Let’s stop whining about the marginalization of the church in America and be the church America…and the world needs.  Our authority is not given to us by congress or the zeitgeist of culture, but by Christ!

Let’s not try to impose our faith on culture, but compel our culture to adopt our God through the irresistible grace He offers!

Let’s devote ourselves to the teaching and the fellowship and the prayer.  Let’s fill our worship centers with praise and celebration and let’s fill our homes with each other – admonishing and teaching and encouraging and proclaiming.

God’s Sense of Humor

This past weekend our lead pastor became ill and for the first time in all the 12 years I have served with him he was too sick to present the message.  So on late Saturday afternoon I get the call.  Of course I am happy to do it and since we script our messages out pretty well, it’s not like I had to start from scratch.  But even still, I had to take some time to immerse myself into the message, rework and personalize it, and prepare myself to share.

So where God’s sense of humor comes in here is that, as many leaders, I am a bit of a control freak.  At least a person of strong opinions and a sense of how things should go.  I just think it’s funny that God had a control freak present the message at the last minute with no time to really control it.  The message topic/title?  When Control Meets Jesus.  🙂

While “control” was the issue being addressed, the answer was found in trusting God.  And since my year has really been about learning a deeper level of trusting Him and just how trustworthy He is, I loved that I was able to really speak to this.  I believe it came out of a deep well as if I had in fact been immersed in the text all week.  I hope you listen to it and are strengthened in your faith and trust.  You can find it, and all my messages, in the sermon section of this blog.

 

Dance the Dance

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11 NIV)

In recent years I have developed a strong bias towards being a practitioner of the faith of Jesus Christ rather than a studier of the Word. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in reading and studying the bible, but I have observed so many over the years who have spent hours on bible study and little time on application. Lives were broken and inconsistent with the bible they studied so much. Or I noticed so many who equated maturity with knowledge. And even worse I also observed so many who became pharisaical and determined their holiness by their knowledge.

But I also may have anchored to this view to cover for a bit of my own laziness and lack of deeper study. Being real here.

In any case, I still believe that knowledge without application or life transformation is selling God short. Jesus IS the word and therefore our interaction with the bible should be more about relationship than education.

The above passage struck me today as it compels us to add knowledge and insight to our experience. Why? It appears that our love, ability to discern what is best, and our righteousness are all linked directly to it. This is not surprising or new to me, but it does cause me to be careful not to swing to one extreme or another. It’s a delicate dance to balance study and application. To make sure we don’t see education, which is the American way, as our primary means of changing. But to also make sure that we don’t also just go out there and try to navigate the choices of life with too little information and insight of God’s mind and heart. We can’t just live on sermons of others, no matter how good they are. Remember the phrase, “A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing”? We need to get into the word on our own regularly so that we will not just know what God says to us on how to live, but so that we will know God.

I have heard too many times from people leaving their churches that they weren’t being fed. But I say, pick up the fork and eat yourself. God has a feast in His word for each of us. We’ve been invited to the dance. To rejoice in Him.

And because His word is alive, and again, is Jesus, we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ” when our love abounds in knowledge and deep insights.

So dance today. Immerse yourself in His word, be transformed by being with Jesus. Seek the deep insights. And like me, try not to swing to either extreme.

I’ve been posting worship songs that reflected my heart to “yearn” for God, but there are just times you want to jump, shout, and be filled with an exuberance. That is where this song comes in. I rejoice that God, the “maker of the heavens knows my name”. My soul will ever sing His praise!

No Room for Guilt and Shame When Growing Deeper

This weekend I found myself having a conversation with a wonderful lady who was “filled up” with the love of God.  She had shared though how during the week she struggled with yielding over trust to God in a situation and that it surprised her because she thought she had settled that issue.

I then found myself sharing something that I had actually never articulated before and I pass it on to you.  I too have been filled with shame and guilt and discouragement thinking that I too have settled issues only to be returning to them again and again.  I have come to see this differently.  Of course there are times when we actually return to the same issue as we don’t always really give it up and grow through it.  But more often we sell ourselves and the growth that God is actually accomplishing in us short.  Becoming like Jesus is a life long process and just like we can’t see a tree grow moment by moment, we do see it year over year.  We need to get a higher view of our journey and not judge ourselves in the moment.

First off guilt and shame are NEVER God’s desire for us.  So whether we are dealing with the same issue over and over or not, we need to find ways to react that lead us toward God.  He came to offer grace and freedom from guilt and shame.  Godly sorrow and the Holy Spirit’s conviction are more appropriate.  They lead us forward to change and growth.

But in addition to that, I suggest that what we sometimes interpret as discouragement from facing the same issues over and over may in fact not be the same thing at all, but a deeper level.  Here I am not talking about sin specifically, but the areas of yielding trust and faith to God’s control in our lives.  Every step of the way on our journeys is going to be met with opportunities to trust Him.  And they are not like going back to the fist step on our path.  I too wish that I was perfect in trust.  But I am not, and neither are any of us.  But that doesn’t mean that we are not maturing and growing.  And in that process we are digging into deeper layers of issues in our lives that need to be handed over to God.

Instead of interpreting your latest opportunity to trust God as a failure of having yielded yourself fully to God last time, see it as growing deeper.  At the last opportunity you, to the best of your ability and passion and awareness may have fully offered yourself over to Him.  But as He is working in you for His good will, He may be taking you to a deeper or different aspect of something familiar.

Keep leaning in to God’s heart and growth for you.  Don’t let your own guilt or shame derail what God is doing in you.  Instead, and again, let the godly sorrow and Holy Spirit’s conviction propel you to a deeper walk with Him as you become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.  Philippians 3:12-16 ESV

(Listen to Jeremy Riddle’s Sweetly Broken.  “At the cross you beckon me. Draw me gently to my knees.”)

Living Worthy

Just to be straight from the start I am making many references in this post to the writings of Matt Chandler; The Explicit Gospel and To Live Is Christ To Die Is Gain.  They have recently been informing my thoughts, particularly since my growth group is going through the second book as we focus on the Letter to the Philippians.  I wholly encourage you to read these books!

In Philippians 1:27 Paul writes, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  From my “moralistic, therapeutic deistic” view of life I was raised in, this was always a verse that shamed me, kept me in check, and was anything but liberating.  As so many of us have been raised in the church have come to believe, perhaps not in our teaching, but in our behavior, we are constantly attempting to “manage” our sin to be worthy or acceptable to God.  We know about God’s grace and and even teach it, but then somehow behave in a manner that is all about managing sin to appear moral.  So many of our sermons and Sunday School lessons could be boiled down to “stop sinning, pray, read the Bible”.  And certainly those are expected behaviors.

But that flies directly in the face of what God says to us.  Through Christ we are ALREADY acceptable.  His work on the cross was complete and we are free.  The disciplines are not the goal or even the path to growth!  They are the results of growth, of an intimate relationship with Jesus.  I know that sounds odd and likely it’s not quite as black and white as that.  But the focus of our lives should be Jesus!  And it is too easy for us “not see the forest through the trees” and live the kind of life that elevates the disciplines over the relationship, even to the point of pushing out intimacy altogether.

So what does it mean to live worthy of the gospel?  It means to ascribe worth to God.  Let our lives not be self-focused, but God-focused.  To Live is Christ!  Every moment of our existence should be to bring glory to God.  He is not shaming us or guilting us or asking us to manage our sin that we might be counted worthy.  I could never be worthy!  Salvation, the gospel, is not about me and my need, but God’s great majestic love and mercy.  Because He is loving He chose to rescue me from my sin.  He alone is worthy and there is no other God like Him.

So living worthy means to direct our eyes to Him and allow Him to be big in our lives.  To give over residence to Him so that our self-efforts have no space left.  Then as Paul continues to write you will, “stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.”

So then shedding the entanglements of sin and living out the Christian disciplines are responses and natural outcome of a life where we have fallen in love with Jesus.  They are no longer attempts in hope that we will be picked to be on the team, but the results of one already on it.  It’s a difficult dance to be sure.  For us to see where the motivation in our hearts begins.  Is our relationship with Christ the foundation or the goal of our behavior?  I think this is where Revelation’s letters to the churches come in – “you have forgotten your first love”.  We may start well but somewhere along the way it becomes about the routine, the discipline, and we begin to deceive ourselves into thinking we’ve got it handled.  But we don’t!  John’s plea to not “claim we are without sin” is not for the first moments of our conversion, but for our whole life.

But even here I am not trying to focus our eyes on our sin!  Stop striving to manage sin, to be worthy in your efforts and instead rest in God’s greatness, the power of the transforming gospel, and direct your life’s passion to ascribing worth to Him.  Let your “striving” be for living together as one for faith of the gospel.

Prayer:  God help me, help us as your body, to recognize the transforming power of the gospel and to be free from trying somehow to make ourselves worthy.  Help us not to get caught up in shame and effort, but instead to rest in the full measure of your grace and see just how big you are and can be in our lives.  May our life’s goal be to know you in the power of your death and resurrection.  A power that causes our sin to die once for all and to be made new again in life.  And may we be filled with such a response of praise that our whole life ascribes worth to you through a unity of faith in the gospel!

Beyond the Sun

Waves of sadness and joy course over me as I have an “aha” moment.  Once again, God has shown me something.  Not anything new to mankind, but a deeper awareness of what he has been saying all along.

I have have been hungering more for God and leaning in to that posture more and more lately.  I am excited to see what God is doing in me and around me and I want more of that. 

But how that takes shape is continually surprising.  Recently I found myself repeating an experience that I have had in the past.  Something I knew then was not the best for me but it didn’t hold the same weight of grief when done in the past.  But this time, it truly grieved me after the fact.

Jumping ahead, this morning I am reading Matt Chandler’s, The Explicit Gospel, and he writes this, “In the end, there is nothing under the sun that brings lasting fulfillment.  You have to look beyond the sun.”  This of course is a reference to Ecclesiastes and the preacher declaring all is meaningless, there is nothing new under the sun.  While reading this, the song in my headphones became clear to me. “set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain, that I can’t control.  I want more of you God, I want more of you! (Set a Fire, Will Regan & the United Pursuit)

Back to my grief of sin.  I am not trying to justify or excuse it in any way, but there was a positive side to this.  I discovered that as I fill my life’s ambition with more of Christ, the impact of anything less than him, is greater.  I was broken because I had disappointed Him.  That is a right response.  But rather than get stuck in the shame, I now see instead the joy.  I have tasted the Lord, and He is good!  I went back to try something else, but it just didn’t satisfy like it used to!  In fact it tasted outright bad.  Am I glad I tried it again?  No.  But am I glad that I had this awareness, YES!

What is under the sun is meaningless and is old, stale and unsatisfying.  It may not be “sin”.  It may just be normal pursuits.  But in comparison to the fire that God set’s within our hearts, it just won’t do.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fjn9sw6aXnk&w=560&h=315]

God is unchanging, unstoppable and unshakeable! I remember years ago when taking teams of students to Mexico, every time we hit a bump in the road on our plans that I would gather the entire group together and give a good news/bad news update. I would start with the bad news, delay of getting to location, truck breakdown, loss of supplies, etc and then follow it up with the good news, “But God is still on the throne!”

God is not surprised by anything. He never steps away from the throne to take a break. He is all-powerful and all-engaged in our lives. We can place our trust in Him and yield our dreams to Him. Believe you me, He dreams more for us and to a greater measure than we could ever imagine!

Live “dangerously” and be transformed by who He is. Shed the “first world problems” of what our lives get so consumed with and focus on the greater needs and concerns of life – the lost and broken world in need of the love and forgiveness of God.

I am not suggesting our issues are not real to us – they are. Let’s just get perspective in light of eternity and in light of a sovereign God. This is my journey as of late. To be reminded of the weightier purposes in life. To know God more intimately and thus be compelled to share Him more!

The Faith of a Child

DSC03557As a KidMin I have a great opportunity to often see child-like faith in action, particularly when I run a Day Camp/VBS.  Having the kids everyday for a week they have huge faith steps and share great comments and stories.  This week was no exception!  We used Group’s Kingdom Rock curriculum this year and the five Bible points were so foundational and wonderful and the kids have really enjoyed it.  But because they were such basic points, they speak to me and our team of volunteers too!

  • God’s Love Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 18:1
  • Family and Friends Help Us Stand Strong, 1 Thessalonians 5:11
  • Prayer Helps Us Stand Strong, Philippians 4:6
  • Trusting God Helps Us Stand Strong, Isaiah 26:4
  • God’s Word Helps Us Stand Strong, Psalm 119:105

As the week went on we are able to see and hear examples from the children about what they are discovering.  One day I “carried my burdens” in a dramatic way to start our large group time.  I had a huge bag full of pots and pans and selected individuals came in to add to my cares by asking me to help them.  The point of the drama was for me to give my cares to God in prayer and not worry and I played up just how hard it was to carry all these burdens.  But before I could even get anywhere near the stage to complete the point of the drama, about 20 kids jumped up to come and help me lift the bag above their heads.  They were living out the point from the day before – Friends and Family should encourage each other!  So beautiful!

I received an email from one parent thanking our team for a great job.  Her appreciation was based on a comment by her 6 year old son on Day 4 of camp as he was getting ready for bed and listening to the music, “Sometimes life is unfair, but I just am feeling good listening to music and loving God.”

The pure trust and acceptance of kids is exactly what Jesus meant when he said unless we have faith like a child we cannot see the kingdom.   Of course they aren’t perfect, but they sure seem to get this idea of letting go to trust.

Children are all about trust.  They have virtually no ability to care for themselves and so they yield to others all the time – parents, caregivers, teachers, etc.  And so when you invite them to love Jesus who so clearly loves them, they are quick to do so.  But of course as we age and become more self-sufficient and aware of our surroundings, we  wrestle back control, not only from parents, teachers, and other adults, but we often do it with God too.  The challenge for us as we “mature” is to not make the mistake that maturity means self-sufficiency or independence.  We always need someone!  God designed us to live in community with others, and significantly with Him.  And it takes the faith of a child to know when to let go and trust Him.

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