Friday, April 16, 2010

God-Man Part 1

I have always found the humanity of Christ fascinating.

I do not often use the word fascinating , so when I use it you know I mean it. Why is it fascinating?

Because Jesus was the most unique human individual to ever cross the horizon of this world. Why? Well obviously, because he was fully divine yet fully human. This is one of the great fascinating mysteries of God. How could an individual be both God and man? The easy answer is that in fact he was not both God and man, but simply a very good man.

But this doesn't really work. Jesus said he was God, therefore if he claimed divinity and was lying then he was not a very good man, either. Or he was insane. As CS Lewis once put it, Christ is either Lord, a liar, or a lunatic.

When I was a child, I came to the conclusion that Jesus was basically God wrapped in a human body. But that doesn't really work either.

Because if that were true, than Jesus would not have been fully human, he would only have had a human body. But time and again we see Jesus displaying a remarkable degree of human emotion and feeling.

Now of course, it should be understood that God, being the designer of our emotions, also has emotions and indeed experiences them in a much more nuanced and profound manner than that in which we do.

But it seems evident to me that Jesus experienced emotions in a very human way. But these experiences were only possible because during his time on earth Jesus Christ was not omniscient, or at least not all the time.

The most concrete evidence for this rests on Jesus' statement that he had no idea when the world would end, and that only the Father did. But there are other examples strewn throughout the Gospels that indicate Jesus' semi-omniscience. In Luke's Gospel, we find Jesus praying in Gethsemane that this cup of wrath would pass from him.

And he is praying desperately.

So desperately, in fact, that he sweat blood. When in all of Scripture do we observe the Lord God experiencing desperation? Well, never. Except for the Gospels. Desperation is contingent upon not knowing. Uncertainty.

Later on, we find Jesus being desperate again, in one of the most emotionally charged passages of holy writ. As he hangs dying on the cross, Jesus famously screams, "My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?!"

Honestly, this is one of the single most fascinating scenes in the Bible. Christ is directly quoting Psalm 22, originally penned by a young David yearning for God's presence in his life. It is quite likely that Jesus read through the Psalter as often as he could, and it may very well have been his favorite book of the Hebrew Scripture. Principally because prophesies of his life and doings are all over the Psalms, but also because Jesus very much identified with King David.

But that's not why I think Jesus' wrenching cry is so intriguing. For that we must consider the Trinity; or at least try to, since by definition we cannot.

The one phrase with which I think we can almost adequately use to describe the tri-personal God-head is loving community. God the Father, burning and spinning and shining forth like the thermonuclear core of a supernova. God the Son, the generative and conductive force of the universe, sustaining and edifying life. God the Holy Spirit, fluid and aflame, suffusing the planet earth with the love of God and gently tugging our hearts toward Him. These three distinct and unique persons are three yet one, different yet all the same.

This is another one of the great fascinating mysteries of God. The point is that these beings have always existed together and in perfect union with one another. What does this have to do with Jesus' cry? Think about it. We say Jesus died for our sins, which is a quaint thing to say in Sunday School but in practice was extremely brutal. And part of his atonement act was to take all sin upon himself and drape his cloak of righteousness over us all. But in the act of taking upon our sin, Jesus broke with the perfect union of the Triune God.

As we have discussed before, God is holy. That is what makes sin evil. God cannot be in relationship with sin. And when Jesus cried out, he had become sin, and God turned away from him. And for the first time in eternity Christ knew what it was to be totally alone.

The point of all this is that Jesus was a man. In a later post we'll discuss his development as a human being and consider the implications of that on his deity. But suffice it to say that Jesus was not omniscient whilst here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Has there ever been a time in your life when Jesus has come and destroyed everything?

For me, He came a year and a half ago, bearing a sizable wrecking ball. I had always, or at least since about 7th grade, wanted to be a lawyer. Initially, I had dreams of becoming an ambulance chaser or a divorce lawyer, someone who made a lot of money without having to do much. As I got older, my jurisprudential ambitions turned toward the more humanitarian aspects of law, such as human rights or government work.

By my senior year of high school, I had decided to go the University of Illinois and eventually the law school there. But in October of that year, one morning I woke up and knew I was actually going to be a pastor. The rest of that day, as I can recall, I was in a state of mild shock, slowly processing this bomb that the good Lord had dropped.

But the more I thought about it, the more I could link up events from over the previous year that had culminated in this vocational announcement.

It had all started in the early Fall of 2007. Throughout that year, a deep sense of disquiet and unrest filled me until I was nearly rupturing it from my joints. I could feel God urging me, pressuring me, to make a change. He was not entirely clear as to what that change should be, so I decided that I would step up and be more involved in student government, thus I ran in the election for student council president that spring.

That fever dream ended in a fiery crash, from which there were no survivors. And I was left dejected, not only because everyone hated me, but because I was convinced that me winning the election was God's plan (narcissistic much?). He wanted change, I tried to change, and failed. This event threw my entire outlook on life off balance. It redefined how I thought about myself - namely, with much more humility.

This newfound humility, for its part, led to what I sometimes refer to as my "second conversion", though that term does not do the event justice. While in Canada on a missions trip, God revealed Himself to me in an irrevocable and unequivocal way. Now I understood. The change would not be on my terms, but on His.

And so it happened. I started senior year with a vision and a purpose endowed by God. I founded a group of like-minded students who were all dedicated to enacting the Kingdom of Heaven in the here and now. I was back on top of the world, and as such my old ways of pride and arrogance began to creep back in.

But come that October, God had to debase me once again. Goodbye to law school, wealth, security, and prestige. Welcome to the land of the pastor, a land flowing with depression and small paychecks. Since then, I have tried to dutifully run the race marked out. Some mornings, most mornings, it feels like I've made a terrible mistake. Family and friends have, gently, expressed that I have lost my mind. They are probably right.

But I digress. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for me to simply ignore God's call on my life and carry on with my plans. And I could have done good works aplenty; served my fellow man, advanced the cause of Christ. But ultimately, I would have been going through the motions of religion, honoring God with my mouth but not with my life.

As we have discussed before, everyone has a calling to proclaim the gospel. But how does God want you to do it? Inquiring of the Lord, asking what He wants: that's the easy part. The trick of it is following His direction, even if He takes away your life. Or at least the one you planned to have.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1


This isn't an actual posting. I just wanted to apologize for the mind-blowing length of my last few posts.

If I find it hard to read them, then I know you do do to.

In the future, I will abstain from writing short novels, this isn't the place for that.

Thank you.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not."

"I tell you the truth", Jesus answered, "today - yes, tonight- before the rooster crows you yourself will disown me three times."

But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you."

Have you ever made a promise like that to Jesus? The fact of the matter is, you did the moment you were saved. You allied yourself to His cause, pledged to dutifully carry your cross, and ceded your rights to His will. Peter was one of Jesus' closest friends when He was on earth, and if anyone were to say that to Jesus, it would be Peter.

But Jesus calls him out and says that no, he won't. That Peter does not understand what has just flown out of his well-meaning mouth. That when the time comes, Peter will not only deny ever knowing Jesus once, but thrice. But Peter insists that he will stand by Jesus to the end.

It is easy for us, as it was for Peter, to declare our undying devotion to Christ. But what happens when the rubber truly meets the road?

Then seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. But when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, "This man was with him."

But he denied it. "Woman, I don't know him," he said.

A little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of them."

"Man, I am not!" Peter replied.

About an hour later another asserted, "Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean."

Peter replied, "Man, I don't know what you're talking about!" Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times."

And he went outside and wept bitterly.

This is possibly one of the single most heart wrenching passages in Scripture. Why? Because every single Christian can identify. Every so often in my life, there has come a point when someone plays the part of the servant girl and says to me, "Surely this man was with him." And I deny it. Maybe not as directly or as vehemently as Peter did, but as certainly.

And immediately, my heart is confronted with Jesus' words as recorded by Matthew: "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven."

Peter heard these words when they were first spoken, and no doubt they returned to him as he crouched outside the house of the high priest, weeping bitterly. I do not think it a stretch to assume that he thought he was toast (figuratively and literally).

I can imagine that the shame of it ate him alive over the next few days. After the Crucifixion (which Peter did not have the gumption to attend, but who can really blame him?) and the Resurrection, the disciples had gone to Galilee. Twice now, Jesus had appeared to them and talked with them.

But none of the Gospels record Peter and Jesus exchanging words. Perhaps Peter was too ashamed, or perhaps he thought that Jesus would curse him in front of everyone if he spoke up. Whatever the reason, Peter was at this point torn up inside.

"I'm going out to fish," he said one evening. Peter had been a fisherman in his pre-Jesus life, and now that his shot with Jesus was through, he was returning to what he knew best. To the only thing, in his mind, he was any good at. But that entire night he and the other disciples caught nothing. The lake was as empty as his heart.

Early the next morning, the weary men spotted a man standing on the shore, just far enough away for his features to be fuzzy, but close enough for his voice to carry.

"Friends, haven't you any fish?"

"No!" They replied.

"Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some."

Why not? So the men hauled up the sodden net, carried it across the little boat, dropped it into the water, and WHAM! Almost instantly, their net is full of big, meaty fish. The weight made the boat list; the disciples were almost pulled in. John looked at Peter and said, "It is the Lord!"

Peter's eyes widen. He wraps his cloak around himself and for the second time in his life steps out of a boat on the Sea of Galilee. This time, of course, he just falls in and swims to shore. After they eat breakfast with Jesus, the other disciples get up to see to the fish, leaving Jesus and a sheepish Peter sitting by the fire.

Jesus looked at Peter, who probably cringed under the stare. Quietly, Jesus asked, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"

Hope stirred in Peter's dejected heart. Timidly, he responded, "Yes, Lord. You know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."

Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"

Peter answered more firmly this time: "Yes, Lord, you that I love you."

Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."

And for the third time, Jesus asked him, "Do you love me?"

Peter was hurt at this third repetition of the question. Was Jesus mocking him? He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."

Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."

As I said earlier, there are times in our life when we disown Jesus before men and fear that He will in turn disown us before God. But Jesus treats us the same as He treated His dear, fuddled friend Peter. He gives us not just one chance, but as many as is required. And for each time we disown Him, mock Him, degrade Him, or besmirch His name, He asks:

"Do you truly love me?"

It's a piercing question. How will you answer?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"Not so with You"

People desire power and control over other people. This desire is one of the chief aspects of our sin nature, expressing itself daily in our lives. Our world revolves around the dynamic of striving to gain the upper hand on your enemy or assailant. The abuse of power and authority is rampant throughout our society.

One of Jesus' most radical teachings was the suggestion that in the Kingdom of God, the first would be last and the last would be first. This grinds against everything we understand of the world. When we think about power and authority, it is always power and authority accompanied by force and aggression. Humanity is much more prone to war than to diplomacy.

Late in His ministry, Jesus washed His disciples feet as they reclined to take a the Passover meal. This act was almost offensive to the disciples. The master never washed his students' feet, for foot washing was a lowly, servile act. But what Jesus was trying to illustrate was that leaders in the Kingdom would have to be servants of all.

Jesus and the disciples had discussed this idea before the Triumphal Entry, after James and John had asked Jesus to give them positions of authority in the earthly kingdom they thought He was about to usher in. Instead Jesus says this to His disciples:
"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave - Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)

I have been in positions of authority over other people, and this passage can be hard to swallow. My natural tendency is to assert my authority over the people I'm leading, to proclaim my own importance. This is something that many pastors struggle with today; this tension between being a spiritual leader but without being the superior of his congregants. How can you maintain good leadership without reminding them who the leader is? With sacrificial service.

The Apostle Paul, minister to the Gentiles and founder of countless churches, is a near perfect template for sacrificial service. He had direct spiritual influence over the many churches he helped plant and was commissioned by Christ Himself to carry the gospel to the Gentile world. But yet in his epistles, we never observe Paul aggressively enforcing his ideas or arrogantly lording his special calling over those he is writing to.

Instead, we see him trying his best to tackle the near insurmountable task of ministering to the vast Roman world without bitterness or (much) complaint. Much of his work went thankless and without the honor due it. The question, of course, is how did Paul do it? How could he hold that much power over so many people and not turn the infant Church into the Paul of Tarsus show?

I think the answer lies in the motivation behind his actions. Paul did not minister to all those people for himself. If he was then he would probably have given up after the first time he was stoned (by an angry mob, not marijuana) if not way before. He wasn't doing it for the people. If you consider how screamingly idiotic the Corinthians must have been, he probably would have thrown his hands in the air and retired.

No, Paul was doing it for the Lord. Which is great; but why? Paul gives his answer in his first letter to Timothy (1:13, 14), a young pastor in Ephesus who was undoubtably struggling with this very issue.
Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Paul's point here is that no one on earth could treat him as badly as he once treated Christ, but Christ died for his sins anyway (a public service for us all). Thus, since we first treated Christ with such contempt, it is fitting for us to sacrificially serve others as He sacrificially served us.

True leadership is found through sacrificial service, not power plays and aggression. Even if you aren't a pastor in a church, you still have the choice of lording your authority over others, or sacrificially serving them.

May it be not so with you.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Season of Despair

An unequivocal feature of the human condition is an obscene fear of failure. There are many forms of failure: there is the failure of not fulfilling a promise, the failure of losing a competition, the failure to complete a task. There are a whole lot of ways to fail. But, to my mind, the most biting is the failure attached to religious obligation and expectation.

I failed to tithe. I failed to pray today. I failed resisting sin. The list goes on and on. One of the reasons the Bible is so splendid is that it records, often in excruciating detail, the failures of a great many people. It starts in the beginning (obviously) with Adam and Eve's goof in the garden, and goes through the doubts of Abraham, Moses' blatant defiance in the desert, David's tryst with Bathsheba, and all the others.

Then we come to the Gospels. As the end of His time on earth was drawing near, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane with His disciples. Once there, He takes His inner circle, Peter, James, and John, and withdraws under the dark olive trees to pray. He tells the trio to remain alert (since Jesus knew that the Temple posse was a-comin') and to pray. Jesus leaves them, prays in utter anguish for a few minutes, and returns to His most trusted friends, to find them asleep! Twice!

Presumably, these three disciples more than the other nine would have noticed the tendency of Herod, the priesthood, normal people, and really just about everybody, to attempt to arrest/kill Jesus for most of His public ministry. One would think they would understand that when Jesus says watch, you watch.

If nothing else, these guys were on the edge of their seats constantly, expecting Jesus to suddenly blast the Romans into the Mediterranean and establish God's Kingdom on earth. Just a few days previously, Jesus was paraded into the city as a conquering monarch. The entire city of Jerusalem was expecting fireworks.

But here we have the disciples - the poor, bumbling, human disciples - dosing off when their friend and Lord needed them most. They failed big time.

More times than I would like to admit, I've failed the Lord big time. Some things aren't that big, like when I refuse to talk to that student sitting across from me at the cafe, despite the Holy Spirit nagging me to do so. But a lot of things are pretty big; sin habits going unchallenged, disciplines going unpracticed.

And when I sin, especially when I do it consciously, I am overcome with a searing sense of failure. God has placed the target far away, and try as I might, I just can't hit the mark. What is Jesus' reaction to such failures? Let's turn back to the gospel account.

And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And He said to Peter, "So, you could not watch with me one hour?"

First comes the rebuke. I can imagine the disappointment in Jesus' voice, one of His best friends having failed him.

"Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Again, for the second time, He went away and prayed.

After the rebuke comes instructions, and then Jesus says something interesting: almost giving the disciples an excuse. "It's ok that you failed, I know you're trying, but you're only human."

Largely, Jesus reacts the same way with us and our failures. He's at first disappointed, but then reminds us of the task He's set us to, and then reminds us of His grace. Failure is inevitable, and so is God's response: "Keep on keeping on, kid. And don't worry, I've got you covered."

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now He has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation...
Colossians 1:21, 22

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dark Places

Our world is a beautiful and a dreadful place. Her beauty is expressed through waterfalls and bumblebees and cumulus clouds and other natural things. But her dread is largely a human component. Murder, strife, warfare, deprivation. Our civilization is one that seems to teeter on the edge of destruction all the time, and no longer from acts of nature but from ourselves.

But today we are going to ignore all that and instead focus on the dark places of the human soul. Consider man: within him are the most noble dreams... and the most horrible nightmares. Once upon a time, all we were capable of was good. But our forebears, standing in that primeval garden, made a certain choice. And that choice led to death for us all.

But what is choice? A choice, in its purest form, would be a decision between at least two things; a decision removed from coercion, manipulation, or force. A free decision. Because if it is not free, then it's not really a choice, is it?

Thus: life in a fallen world. God, in His love, has extended His grace to us. In return, we must abandon all else and pursue Him and His way. But, as we have discussed before, human beings are very easily distracted. There are many things besides God that look inviting and promise satisfaction.

And so we choose, in full sight of God and in complete knowledge of our actions, the wrong things. We soon find, however, that our freedom to choose is not inviolable. Sin is much like a boa constrictor, in that you can at first drape it over your shoulders because it is fun, or thrilling, or impressive. But it soon becomes evident to you that the boa constrictor isn't going anywhere. In fact, the more you struggle against it the more it constricts until the life is all but squeezed out of you.

The phrase, "a slave to sin", takes on a new meaning. Sin is not something you can dabble in or just try out. It will, slowly but surely, rob you of the ability to choose, until the only option on the table is to plunge deeper into sin.

Who then can be saved? One of the most vital doctrines of Christianity is the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God, in all His grandeur and majesty, has chosen us, His church, as living temples for His Spirit. Why? Because no one can make it on their own. Thanks to our dear friend John Calvin, this idea is known as the total depravity of mankind.

In my life, without the gracious restraint of the Holy Spirit, all of my thoughts and actions would only be evil, continually. As my sins and iniquities pile up and threaten to crush me, it is Jesus who descends into that hell alongside me and turns my face back up to the light.

And then I have a choice.

I can choose to grasp His hand and get pulled up out of the pit, or I can continue to dig it deeper.

There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.
Ecclesiastes 7:20

For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I wish to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing.
Romans 7:18,19

Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Our God is a God who saves, from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death!
Psalm 68:19,20