What happened?

Expectations. We all have them, whether they are expressed. Our expectations tend to color the way we see the world. They give perspective and meaning, whether real or imagined, to our experiences. When our expectations are met or are exceeded, (ok maybe that only rarely happens) life is good. But when those expectations are not met, even if they haven’t been clearly defined, we get frustrated. I’ve been there. You’ve been there. The disciples are there in Luke 9.

Jesus sends out the 12 with His power and authority to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. The disciples get back and can’t wait to fill Jesus in on all the cool stuff they have done. They experienced a taste of the messianic kingdom to come. The kingdom that Jesus, as the King, came to bring. They were caught up in the same fervor that the rest of the nation felt as they anticipated the Messiah. They expected that He would bring in times of refreshing and healing, but they also expected that He would, as the Son of David, be a Warrior who would lead the nation in overthrowing Roman rule. And now as the disciples have been with Jesus, seen Him at work, and have experienced some of that same power, they see themselves as generals in the King’s army. Like Joshua, they are ready to take the promised land.

Then Luke includes the story of the feeding of the 5,000. That’s a lot of people. You guys know…5 loaves, 2 fish. They’re in the wilderness. There’s 12 baskets left over. The imagery is meant to remind the disciples of Israel’s past to instruct them about their future. Jesus is teaching them something important not only about Himself, but also about themselves. John 6 makes it more explicit. There was another time when Israel was in the wilderness, and the nation was miraculously provided for, and it wasn’t as they were entering the promised land to do battle. But it was during a 40-year holding period as they awaited that time. And far from the conquering warrior-leader named Joshua, there was a humble, servant-hearted leader named Moses. The latter is what Jesus is calling them to. So instead of being the military élite who will lead the people into battle against the Romans, the disciples are being called to take up the role of shepherds who nurture, provide for and protect the flock.

If that wasn’t disturbing enough, Jesus then says something even more shocking. After Peter confesses that He is “the Christ of God” (think the LORD’s Anointed, like King David), Jesus says that far from the glory of a Conquering King, He would be rejected and killed and raised the third day. Talk about unmet expectations. At one moment, they are in with the Guy who’s going to change everything and return Israel to its former glory. The next, He says, “Guys, I’m not going to be around that much longer…” And then He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and of the Father and of the holy angels…”

They must have been stunned. The cross was not only a symbol of horrific pain and death, but it was also a symbol of great shame and disgrace. In fact, friends and family of one who was crucified would deny knowing him. And Jesus says, “Far from parading at the front of the army, following Me looks like humiliation and disgrace and even death. Forget the temporal glory.” As is so often the case, Jesus says that even though it looks like you are losing, you’re winning. And if you think you’re winning, there’s a good chance you are losing. Those ideas are wrapped up in the Greek word that is translated ashamed (to experience a painful feeling or sense of loss of status because of some particular event or activity). Jesus contrasts the cross with life, and shame now with shame later. He says leadership is not lording, but serving.

And I find that I am so like the disciples. I want the kingdom now, not later. I want to feel like I’m winning, not losing. I want to be respected, not humiliated. I want to celebrate, not suffer. I want ruling, not serving. I want Jesus, the Conqueror, not Jesus the Suffering Servant. And often I’m frustrated.

But the good news is…one day the disciples expectations (and yours and mine) will be more than met. A day when the kingdom comes, when winning is apparent, when following Jesus looks like “well done”, when suffering is finished and celebration begins, when Jesus is seen as the Conquering King because He was the Suffering Servant, when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God, when seeing is believing and believing is seeing, when we experience an eternal weight of glory, when we see the Father face to face. O what a glorious day!

Until next time, stay salty.

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Who am I?

Who am I…

My son came in the other day. Once again he had gotten a discipline notice at school. Again for being the class clown. I asked him, “Why do you feel like you have to cut up in class? You are a bright student and a natural leader. Kids like you, but you are developing a reputation so that parents are not so eager to have you around their boys. Your attempts to be popular are having the opposite affect.”

His response broke my heart…”Daddy, if I don’t make them laugh, they won’t like me.” How often had that same lie been whispered in my own ears on countless occasions. For my son it was making his classmates laugh, for me it’s being well-liked as a teacher and preacher, being an A student, being considered a great athlete. The lie pulsates and grows, wrapping its tendrils around my soul. “If you don’t ____, they won’t like you. They won’t except you. You are worthless.”

I think I first started listening to the lie about the same time in my life that my son is now going through. And now 30+ years later I’m finally beginning to see the lie for what it is. You see, I told my son that day, “It’s not being the smartest, or the prettiest, or the funniest, or the fastest, or the coolest, or the richest, or the most successful. It’s not having the biggest house or the fatest bank account or kids in the right school. It’s not the praise and the accolades of others that bring significance. It’s being a son of the King. That’s what gives you value. That’s what makes you special.” And as I said that to my son, something shifted for me. A weight lifted. And my son, by accident…yeah right…dispelled the lie that I had been seduced by for so long.

I pray that you too will see the lie for what it is. Your value comes, not from what you do, but from who you are in relation to the King.

Until next time, stay salty.

Which is it?

If there is one issue that has fueled debate in Christendom and ignited more than a few tempers, even sparking the Reformation, it is the place of works in the process of salvation.

This past Sunday a group of friends and I decided to hit the issue square on as we compared two passages that are seemingly at odds with one another: Ephesians 2.1-10 and James 2.14-16.

In Ephesians 2.8-9, Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works lest any man should boast.” James 2.17 seems to counter, “Faith without works is dead, being by itself.”

Reconciling these two passages has troubled many a commentator throughout church history and caused Martin Luther to declare James “a right strawy epistle.” But I believe without a doubt that there is no contradiction here.

Paul writes to a largely Gentile group of believers in Ephesus explaining their transference from death to life. (I love the “But God…in 2.4.) Salvation is a total gift from God. Period. End of story. But don’t miss 2.10 because there Paul says we were saved for a purpose…to walk in the good works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. That’s our bridge. We weren’t just saved so that we could go to heaven, as amazing as that will be. We were saved to do the works that God has called us to, to expand the kingdom, to share the gospel, to love our neighbor. It’s not about fire insurance, but about a new life.

James writes to a largely Jewish group of believers that have been scattered abroad. Last week we talked about trials and temptations from James 1 (see last blog post: http://wp.me/p1Kcf-2t). Trials are faced seeking wisdom, so that as faith is tested endurance and maturity are produced allowing us to rejoice. Temptations are faced by receiving the word implanted. The idea is that the word takes root and produces fruit (30, 60, and 100-fold…think Jesus and the parable of the soils). This means that we cannot just be hearers of the word; we must also be doers. (BTW from a Hebrew’s perspective to hear and not do is not to hear at all. The great Shema from Deuteronomy 6.4-6 is labeled as such because the Hebrew verb for “Hear” is shema.)

A couple of terms that will be important to define as we look at James are: dead, works, useless, justified. James has already indicated what he means by “works”…caring for widows and orphans in their distress, giving food and clothing to the poor, loving your neighbor.

The Greek word translated “dead” in English has the same meaning as it does in Greek. It refers to a corpse. Now suppose you and I were to go to a wax museum and were to look at the likenesses of folks like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Pocahantas, etc. Would you say, “Wow, look at all the dead people”? Of course not. You might comment on how lifelike they seem, but they are only imitations of what was real. On the other hand, if I took you to a morgue, you could say, “Wow, look at all the dead people.” I think you get my point. Something can only be described as dead if it was once alive. James is writing to a group of believers. Their faith was once flourishing, but now has died. It isn’t non-existent. But it has lost its vibrancy.

The Greek word translated “useless” carries with it the idea of being unemployed or idle or lazy. It’s a faith that is not producing as it should.

James uses two examples in this passage: Abraham and Rahab. It’s interesting that Paul in Romans 4 (Abraham) and the author of Hebrews in Hebrews 11 (Rahab) use these same two characters to highlight faith. But there is an important distinction, and this goes to what James means by being justified in 2.24. Both the Romans and Hebrews passages look at Abraham (Genesis 15.6) and Rahab (Joshua 2.8-14) from God’s perspective. From His vantage point, a person is saved by faith. And that’s it. But James looks at these two characters from man’s perspective. Abraham is called a “friend of God” by folks who witness his faith in offering up Isaac (Genesis 22), while Rahab’s faith is seen by the two spies when she sends them out (Joshua 2.15-21). So works justify us before men, but never before God (Think of the tax collector and the Pharisee…the Pharisee left justified in his own eyes, while the tax collector left justified before God – Luke 18.9-14.).

But just like Paul, James echoes the same sentiment: if your faith isn’t producing good works – both the fruit of the spirit and love for your neighbor – then something is wrong. From James vantage point, your faith needs to be resucitated…it needs new life. You see James isn’t writing to give folks a barometer of whether faith exists, but whether or not it is alive and vibrant. Because that’s the goal.

There is definitely more to dig into in this passage. I encourage you to grab a group of friends and wrestle through it for yourselves.

Until next time, stay salty.

Consider it all joy?!?

What a way to start a book! James sure knows how to get our attention…”Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…” What? How can trials produce joy? Trials produce a lot of things in me, but rarely joy. But James says the joy comes not in the pain of the trial (fire of circumstances), but in the endurance that the trial has the potential of producing in our faith. And endurance leads to maturity.

Sounds a little backwards. Most of us don’t want to endure, we want to escape. Trials are difficult and seldom fun. There’s generally a lot of relational friction and personal angst. And I believe that most of this is caused by our inability to view our circumstances from anything other than our own limited, earthy perspective.

You see when God creates heaven and earth in Genesis, there is no separation between the spiritual and the physical. God walks in the garden in the cool of the day. It’s not until sin enters the picture that we see a split between the earthly and the heavenly. And if we follow the story throughout the first several chapters of Genesis, and indeed throughout the rest of the Old Testament, we see that the seed (many) of the woman (as opposed to Seed, one) from Genesis 3.15 are those who call on the name of the Lord, who have a heavenly focus, while the seed of the serpent are those who are focused on terra firma. So the descendants of Seth call on the name of the Lord while the descendants of Cain build cities, make bronze implements and fashion musical instruments.

Jesus tells His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount not to worry about the earthy things like food and clothing, but set their sights on heaven (Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.). Paul says, “Keep seeking the things above where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above…”

So James says, “Ask for wisdom.” Ask for the ability and the wisdom to see the trial or circumstance from God’s perspective. Set your mind on the things above. This world is transitory. Focus on the world that is eternal.

But endurance and maturity are not automatics. Experience alone (just “surviving”) doesn’t produce maturity. I bet you can think of a time when you said, “I’m never going to do that again.” You had an experience with some unpleasant consequences. And then, some time later you find yourself in very similar circumstances facing identical consequences. We’ve all done it. I know I have. More so as a kid (hopefully), but we’ve all seen that the experience itself produced no learning, no changed behavior.

However, evaluated experience (i.e., wisdom) produces maturity. Learning to see the trial from God’s perspective and asking the question, “God, what is it that you want me to learn from this experience?” produces wisdom and maturity and results in life.

Trials are external. Next James addresses the internal. Temptation is borne out of our internal lusts. And temptation yielded to causes a kind of death in the life of the believer.  Sin hampers our relationship with God and quashes our effectiveness in carrying out His mission for our lives. James’ remedy…receive the word implanted that is able to save your life. Life is fulfilling all that God has called us to in loving Him and loving others, in expanding His kingdom. Very cool to see the centrality of the word in fighting temptation. It reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the sower where the seed is the word of God and the goal is fruit 30, 60 and 100 fold.

Quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger isn’t just a New Testament proverb. It allows us to approach our circumstances and the trials that come in learner mode, humbly seeking what God wants to teach us through the fire and how He wants to conform us more to the image of His Son.

Echoing Jesus’ words at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, James contrasts doers of the word with hearers only. Guess which one he wants us to be. The doer of the word is blessed in what he does. The doer of the word also turns the circumstances around. Where we might be tempted to focus on ourselves in the midst of trials (“Woe is me!”), James says the cure is to focus on widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

I don’t know about you, but James 1 had several aha moments for me. I’m asking for wisdom a lot more and seeking what God wants to teach me. A very different perspective on trials.

Until next time, stay salty my friend.

Another word on the spiritual life

Juice fasting. Friends I’ve talked to swear by it as a surefire way to lose weight. Generally for some specified period of time, say a week, the faster drinks nothing but fruits and vegetables that have been pulverized in a juicer. The natural nutrients from the liquid concoction “flush out” toxins in the body that have built up through the consumption of processed foods and animal products and allow the body to “reset”. It also helps adjust your palate so that you find fruits and vegetables palatable once again. Folks I’ve talked to boast of amazing results. And while most do it to lose weight, they discover that the true benefit is a healthier lifestyle centered on eating fruits and vegetables. They discover that mom was right: eating vegetables is a good thing, and fruits make a very healthy snack.

So what does juicing have to do with the spiritual life? Just as most (maybe all) of us were introduced cake, cookies and candy, bacon and eggs, thick steaks, juicy hamburgers, french fries and the like along the way leading to a physical crisis, so also many of us have been introduced to a kind of fast food Christianity that tastes good but leads to spiritual malnutrition. It’s a Christianity that looks good on the outside, but has no spiritual depth; more like conformity to the world than conformity to Jesus. It replaces the proclamation of the deep truths of the Scripture with sermons that barely scratch the surface. It provides worship centered more in how I feel than what is theologically correct. It leaves us feeling sluggish and lethargic instead of invigorated.

So I propose a spiritual juice fast of sorts. Let’s get away from spiritual junk food and reaquire a taste for the deep truths of Scripture. Let’s not settle anymore for sermons that don’t really satisfy our spiritual hunger and that leave us looking elsewhere for more. Let’s abandon worship that fails to remind us of the great theological truths of the faith and fails to usher us into the presence of God. Let’s get back to reading our Bibles, and not just on our own, but also with a group of friends, talking about how the truth of the Word might impact our lives. Let’s pray fervently for each other and for God’s work to be done in and through us. In the process, may we discover more than a few new spiritual disciplines, may we discover Christ being formed in us in incredible ways and the kingdom expanding at an amazing rate.

Until next time, stay salty my friend.

Desperate faith

Luke 8 ends with two stories intertwined…the story of Jairus’ twelve year old daughter who is near death and the story of the woman who has had a hemorrhage for twelve years.

While thinking about the woman, it struck me that here was a woman whose life was consumed by her condition. It had been twelve years. She had seen all kinds of doctors. She had spent all her money. Her condition made her an outcast (she would have been considered unclean) – no societal contact, no worship, no life. But she’d heard about Jesus. She knew that if she could just touch the hem of His garment, He could not only heal her, but in the process, also make her clean. So she’s on a quest to reach Jesus. It’s likely no one else noticed her. They were busy with their own lives. Yet she was there. And she reached out and touched His garment, and she was healed.

Her plan was to escape notice and melt back into the crowd, but Jesus had something else in mind. He put her on display. Though no one else took the time to notice her, Jesus did; and He celebrated her faith….

We all have a story. It may not be as dramatic or tragic as the woman’s story. But we all have one. Some of our stories drive us toward Jesus and some away. My prayer is that we become more like Jesus in this way: that we notice those whom others overlook, that we listen to their story, and that we point them to Jesus. He loves to celebrate desperate faith.

Until next time, stay salty.

Rule of 5

At Catalyst this spring, John Maxwell talked about the concept of the Rule of 5. The Rule of 5 asks the question: what 5 things will you do everyday that will help you realize your full potential in an area of life (professionally, personally, etc.)? It takes a longterm view of growth. Think crock pot and not microwave. It also requires patience and intentionality and recognizes the inherent value in the journey. It’s training for the race of life. Much like discipleship.

It prompted me to start thinking about my own rule of 5. What are the 5 things that I currently do or should be doing to grow personally and professionally. I quickly came to 4 that I was already involved in: reading Scripture broadly, memorizing Scripture, translating Greek and Hebrew, voice exercises. I decided to add reading for enrichment (theology, spiritual life, leadership, church history, teaching/preaching technique) to the mix. As one who loves to preach and teach, my rule fits me and how God has gifted and called me. It’s a part of His redemptive work in my life. Your rule will be different based on how God has wired you and the ministry He’s given you. Whether you are a pastor or a banker or a school teacher or a mom or a factory line worker, whatever the ministry God has given to you, discover your rule of 5.

I heard someone say the other day that experience alone does not make us better. It is only evaluated experience that allows us to grow. Your rule can be a way of evaluating your experience and a tool that God uses to grow and continue His redemptive work within you.

I encourage you to live life on purpose. Follow Jesus with intentionality. Discover and follow your rule of 5. Stay salty.