The bible reads, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:3-6, ESV).
We too often play the victim. Someone else is to blame. It could be our parents, our culture, our social status, our need . . . the list is far too long to attempt to list completely. The point is: we have an excuse. There is a reason we are the way that we are and we are justified in what we have done and what we have become. I think you know people who are like this. The person who continues to lose their job over and over – but it is always the employer’s fault. The person who always ends up the dysfunctional and dangerous relationship – but it is just chalked up as bad luck. These are extreme examples, of course. But we can all see a glimpse of ourselves in the examples. It is just easier to lie to ourselves than it is to change. Some people even have the audacity to go as far as to blame God himself. Why did he do this to me? Why didn’t he do anything to stop?
But then when will we actually repent? When will we own up to what WE did wrong? Yes, we might not have done everything – but did we do ANYthing? What if we come clean? What if we are honest with the One who knows our heart? Then and only then do we recieve what we did not deserve. Then and only then will we recieve grace. I firmly believe that the world is watching. They are wondering if the church believes in grace enough to ask for it themselves. The church would stand out for sure. What other leaders actually say, “I made a mistake.” What other individuals actually apologize without quickly following up the statement with a resounding (and void) ‘but’? Own your sin . . . answer for it . . . and the irony is that it won’t be an issue for very much longer.
The Apostle Paul warns, “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one–who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:27-31, ESV).
Here is what scares me . . . the longer we have been reciepents of the Cross the greater the temptation to act as if we no longer need it. We forget who we once we were, who we could have been, and in many ways – who we still are. Those blind spots becoming glaring. I don’t want to be that way. I don’t want to be guilty of thinking that I have earned that which I can never earn. Isn’t it true that we can do all the right things for all the wrong reasons? Do we act in obedience in order to do good or to look good? Are we about meeting a need or settled for being just plain needy? What comes out – pride or praise? Now don’t get me wrong – my life is now to be a living sacrifice. My life is now to be dedicated to worship the One who rescued me. My mission is now to give away the grace that I have been given. I boast for sure – but I boast in the lavish love of Jesus Christ. I boast in him alone.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you–that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome” (Romans 1:8-15, ESV).
Think of all the Apostle Paul had accomplished up to this point . . . especially concerning that most scholars agree that this letter was written as part of his third missionary journey. He was a man on a mission. We know that he was repeatedly imprisoned, placed in chains, shipwrecked, flogged, starved, naked . . . and eventually martyred. He was a developer of leaders, planter of churches, and pastor to pastor. Nearly half of the New Testament was put on paper as inspired by the Holy Spirit. And yet, Paul never was satisfied. There was still something that still burned within him. Compelled by the Cause of Christ. He was determined to go to Rome. He would not quit until he was able to share the gospel with, what was at the time, the very center of civilization.
And yet, Paul did not get what he wanted at exactly the time that he wished to have it. Rome was a great distance away – in both miles and years. But make no mistake: Paul had no quit. It was a life-long goal. There was something supernatural about this tug at his heart. So with that being said, what compels you? Where is the gospel taking you? What keeps you up at night? What people group do you know well? What need breaks you heart? If Jesus were to walk right up to you tonight and simply say, “Come, follow me” – where would he be taking you? What would it cost you? Would you be willing to go? Where is your Rome? What is your Rome? Who is your Rome? Where does the gospel of Christ taking you?
The bible reads, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions; your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia. From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad; daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor; at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir” (Psalm 45:6-9, ESV).
There is a reason why our churches do not talk much about the Kingdom (or at least in its proper context). We prefer talking about the church (even though the Kingdom of God and Kingdom of Heaven were mentioned so much more in the New Testament). I encourage readers to check out the works of George Ladd, N.T. Wright, Alan Hirsch, and Leonard Sweet to name a few.
Regardless, I don’t think our avoidance of the Kingdom has as much to do with being unfamiliar as it does with being uncomfortable. Let’s face it, our postmodern Western world loves its independence. The United States was founded on the idea that we should be self-governed . . . that we have rights. We have the capability to make our way. Shape our future. Build a legacy. We don’t do well with kings. But maybe the reason we why we don’t like authority is because more often than not we see it abused. Someone uses their position, power, or popularity to take what is not theirs – or better said, what is ours.
We take those fears and we throw it in the face of God. Some walk through their lives pretending as if he does not exist. They take matters into their own hands. They answer to no one. Or so they think. But am I that much different?
I still strive for the empires of this world. Independence of a new kind. There are moments that I mistakenly believe that I am finally getting what is rightfully mind. Am I willing to lay my rights down? My name down? My comfort? My title? My safety? My schedule? My plans? My dreams? My hopes? I have always thought of myself as someone who likes change – but maybe I only really like the change that I can control? I have always prided myself on being pretty organized . . . but maybe the reason I am so organized is because I need to be aware of everything is coming my way? I have always half-kidded with friends and family . . . obedience comes pretty easy for me . . . but I would prefer to know the details beforehand. But there comes a time in every one’s life – probably multiple times – where one just needs to do what Christ says when he says it and just steps back to watch what he does because of it.
After all, my life needs to be in service to the Kingdom. Christ invited me in . . . and now he works in and through me. Or does he? Do I continue to surrender? Do I continue to submit?
The Psalter writes, “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him; the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health” (Psalm 41:1-3, ESV).
Something that I read out of Francis Chan’s “Crazy Love” a few years ago, concerning finances, really shook me up. If I am to one day plant a church of my own, I would strive to ensure that half of our budget goes OUTSIDE the church. I know that this would be a struggle, and some would say unrealistic, but what better way to send a message to the unchurched about our priorities. But honestly, is it as difficult as it might initally sound? Outside ventures would include (but not necessarily be limited to) . . .
* Rent to the local school district, movie theatre, community center, or coffee shop (since the church would not own property unless the facility served the community on a daily basis – such as a coffee bar or gym).
* Network commitments (Shared Ministry programs and/or Church Multiplication Programs).
* Local programs (i.e. mentor programs, prison ministries, hospital services, food banks, shelters, pregancy centers) or community events (partnering with the city councils through sponsorships and supports – parades, festivals, holiday events, etc.).
* Global initiatives (missionaries, relief programs, emergency response).
Are there needs that I am missing? Of course, it all depends on the specific circumstance of the community – but I am speaking in general terms. I am looking forward to the feedback.
The biblical narrative reads, “Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?’ So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” (Genesis 37:5-8, ESV).
Dreams are dangerous things. Much like spiritual gifts – they have little to do with maturity but are often mistaken as such. Dreams are an act of grace – God gives them when he wants and to whom he wants . . . and sometimes even before we can actually them – at least correctly. Joseph concluded that the dream was about him. That he was at the center. He was so star-struck with the picture of his older brothers bowing down to him that he failed to even consider why they would be doing something so strange and unexpected. It was not until a series of uncomfortable and unfair circumstances that he realized that his life – and his dreams – where not his own. It was then that God was slowly but surely positioning to be a Savior to the people of Promise. It was here that his dream was finally realized . . . but the dream had very little to do with him at all.
It being Christmas evening, my thoughts naturally drift to the great Invasion – the quiet birth of a King in a little place called Bethlehem. That was a time when, following four hundred years of silence, that people began to dream once again. Zecheriah. Mary. Joseph. Simeon. Angels spoke. People listened. People worshiped. Their response was not to focus on themselves but what the Lord seemed to be doing behind the scenes. There is no greater example of this attitude than Mary. The dream did not excite her. The dream was not about her. In fact, the dream cost her. It probably terrified her. But she said, “Yes, your servant is listening.” Waiting. Willing to do exactly what he said, when he said it, and how he said it.
I want to be that sort of dreamer. I have dreams of my own. Like I have said before, dreams that I hold pretty close to my chest. Dreams that I really don’t quite understand. That I am not ready for. And I am certain, that if I am not careful, I am in great danger of thinking these dreams are for me . . . and not for the One who has placed them within my heart. How many people have we seen fall into that trap . . . loving the dream so much they lose sight of the very Giver of that dream? We begin to think that we have earned it – or that we will in due time. We might attempt to make the dream become realized rather than allow it to supernaturally unfold? We might be so scared at the sight that we are left paralyzed – failing to act? May we be like Joseph – the one who was older and wiser – the one who knew that God had used all of his life experiences for his eternal glory and not for the personal gratification of Joseph.
The Psalter wrote, “Do not forsake me, O Lord! O my God, be not far from me! Make haste to help me, O Lord, my salvation!” (Psalm 38:21-22, ESV).
I write this blog just twenty minutes before Christmas Day. An odd post, I know. But isn’t this the very heart of Christmas? That God did not forsake humanity? That he is anything but far away? That we know a God who has wished from Day One to know us, be known by us, and to make himself known through us? That he has hoped to dwell among his people . . . temples and tabernacles aside . . . he was relentless enough to come in the Flesh. He chose the exact time in history – in the midst of 500 years of political oppression and 400 years of prophetic silence – to be Salvation. So many would reject him. Herod would kill a town full of infants. Religious elite would conspire against him. One of his very own would betray him. And yet, he loved. And yet, he sacrificed. And yet, he had the final say.
I pray that no matter what tomorrow looks like for you . . . whether it be a prayer, a song, a gift, a meal, a tradition, a hug . . . that you will see that Christ is God with Us. Even if, as much as this breaks my heart to consider, your holiday is anything but merry . . . that you will see him. That you will know him. That you will know peace, hope, joy, love . . . really know him. Merry Christmas.