Focus. When I write I realize that I need to work hard to get my head in the right space. I need to cut out the distractions, slow my mind down, clear the clutter. And it takes a while. There are so many competing streams of thought running through my brain, and so many outside distractions vying for my attention, that it takes discipline for me to focus my writing. To quiet myself so that I can communicate clearly the ONE THING I want to say. My goal as a communicator is to be more like a laser beam, and less like a fog lamp. Focus.
This is the principle of “irreducible minimums.” It is the process of reducing something down to its most elemental level, so that it can’t be reduced any more without being fundamentally changed into something else. In Chemistry class, we learned about molecules, for example, the smallest identifiable unit into which a pure substance can be divided and still retain the composition and chemical properties of that substance. In my high school Composition class, Mrs. O. always challenged us to “use fewer words.” Get to the point. Cut to the chase. Irreducible minimums.
The prophet-poet King David gave us a moment of clarity like that in Psalm 27. For a moment, in the midst of declaring his faith in God to carry him through a season of intense hardship and danger, David pulls back the curtain to reveal the central most focused desire of his heart.
“ONE THING I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD, and to seek him in his temple.” (27:4)
That’s focus. “In all of my heart, God, you alone enthrall me. When I clear away the clutter, and boil down my desire to its purest essence, it is YOU that I want.” David says, “If I lose everything else, but have communion with my Lord, that is enough. My soul is satisfied in Him alone.”
Paul makes a similar declaration in Philippians 3:8. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” Do you see? This is Paul’s ONE THING. Knowing Jesus. Relationship with God trumps everything else.
So I examine my heart. I ask, “What is my ONE THING?”
I encourage you to spend some quiet moments with this question, too. And I can help you. It may be too easy to give the expected answer here. I mean, for those of us who go to church regularly for worship, isn’t it expected of us that our answer would be, “well, JESUS, of course. My ONE THING must be JESUS”? That’s too easy. I’m not asking you to put your finger on what you think the right answer should be. I’m asking you to consider what is actually TRUE.
Pleasure is like a gauge that measures value. So maybe instead of trying to simply name your irreducible minimum – your most important, most deeply seated desire – it may be easier to reflect on what it is that brings you the deepest pleasure. What do you enjoy most? What floods you with delight? Now we’re getting at it. The heart of your heart. Meditate on this. Clear away the distractions, and pray for clarity. All of us have our own ONE THING. Focus. What is yours?
Be honest with yourself. And with God.
David and Paul understood something about God that transformed them, emboldened them, and gave focus to their whole life. By the grace of God, they came to understand in the heart of their heart the truth of Psalm 16:11, which David wrote: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
How much joy do you want? How about a bottomless well of it? That’s fullness of joy. And how long do you want it to last? 75 years? 85? How about forever?
I know my ONE THING. I know that I know that I know. I want fullness of joy in the presence of God forever. I want to KNOW Jesus more and more, because in Him alone will all of my other desires be swallowed and satisfied and overpowered.
So today, find a quiet place to get alone with your thoughts and to talk with God. Ask yourself what brings you the greatest happiness. What is the ONE THING that you can’t imagine being without, even if it costs you every other desire and dream cluttering up your heart space?
I submit to you that David and Paul had it right. Until being at peace and in love with Jesus becomes your irreducible minimum, you will always feel the nagging tug of dissatisfaction. But when He becomes your ONE THING, you will find joyful rest for every longing of your heart.
This is a very unique time of life. Nine weeks from now I will graduate from the Association Free Lutheran Theological Seminary. If God wills it, I will soon be serving a congregation as a pastor, but today we don’t know where. Nine weeks. These seasons in the in-between are formative. They stir deep thoughts, and honest prayers in us. I’m examining what kind of pastor I hope to be. How God has wired me to serve Him.
These are my top five pastor non-negotiables:
1. I will delight in God. My ONE THING.
No matter what, I must fufill this purpose. God made me to delight in Him, to find my joy and my peace in Him. To honor Him in all things. To seek refuge in Him. To lean into His strength. To claim sonship in Him through the blood of Jesus, shed for me. And to fear Him. And love Him. Whether or not I ever pastor a church, I will delight in God. David wrote about this in Psalm 27:4. His ONE THING was close communion with God, and he wanted it forever. If I don’t live in close communion with Him, I can’t pastor. Ministry is overflow. Ministry is love, and I can’t generate that by sheer willpower. I won’t fake it. So this is first.
2. I will be the husband and dad my family needs.
Amy and the boys need me to be a husband and a dad. I will honor them, lead them well, and protect our relationships above all others. With God’s help, I will live in the tension between the needs of ministry and the needs of family with peace and freedom and joy. If my family is a wreck, my heart will be, too. So this is second.
3. I will speak the truth in love.
Preaching and teaching the Word of God. All of it. That is the life-blood of the Church. The hard words that convict, and the jaw-dropping promise of mercy and forgiveness and FREEDOM found in Jesus alone. I believe the Bible is absolutely TRUE, and inspired by God, and it lives and speaks to hearts right now, today. It is the voice of God, and it saves souls. My primary ministry priority in any congregation will be speaking the truth of God’s Word in the depth of love that He has for all who hear it. And He is shaping me; I am loving this call to PREACH and teach now more than EVER. So this is third.
4. I will love people.
God loves people. When Jesus spoke about the most important commandments, he said LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE. This is the boiled-down, nut-shell, laser-beam focal point of our life’s calling as followers of Jesus. So whether or not I am ever a pastor, God asks me (and equips me) to love people. Especially then, as a pastor. How awesome is this? My job is to LOVE people. And especially those who are hard to love. And those who need it most. I can’t believe I get to do this with my life. So this is fourth.
5. I will build relationships. For years I have said “Ministry is RELATIONSHIP.” Disciple-making means proclaiming the truth of the Gospel, so that those who believe it will enter into restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus. That’s first. But we are also called to be relationship-builders with people. Both within the local church (doing life together!) and within our communities, familes, circles of influence. Anywhere we bump into PEOPLE, we are relationship-builders. Because real relationship opens doors. It reflects the love of God, and it allows for the kind of honest conversations that lead to sharing our God-story. As a pastor, I will teach, lead, and model the high priority of intentional relationships. So this is fifth.
There are a thousand ways I am willing to be flexible as a pastor someday. Someday soon, we hope! But these five I go to the mat for. These five are priority. My first things.
When you boil your goals and values and priorities down to the very core, and you strip away all the non-essentials, can you identify your ONE THING? Cut through the clutter and see what it is that you’re really living for.
>> Please follow along in Luke10:38-42. You can read it online here.
This July, 1,800+ souls gathered together for a week of worship and Bible study and relational bonding at the YMCA of the Rockies camp up in the mountains of Estes Park, CO. This was FLY 2013, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Youth Convention, held every two years. My wife Amy and I were grateful to be asked to speak this year on July 4, for the Thursday evening services. As I spoke to the men and boys in the Longhouse, Amy had an opportunity to speak to the girls in the Assembly Hall just up the hill. The theme of the convention was “Broken,” taken from Isaiah 53. The text we focused on for the evening was Isaiah 53:10-12.
Last night I watched “Blue Like Jazz” for the first time. It would be accurate to say I am a fan of Donald Miller, although I have to qualify that statement. I appreciate the ART of Donald Miller because it is honest and insightful. I do not look to Donald Miller for theological profundity. Likewise I found “Blue Like Jazz” the movie to be beautiful in some ways, because it was honest and insightful, but not because it was theologically profound.
So people are asking me what I thought. I’m conflicted.
Here’s what I like…
“Blue Like Jazz” tells the truth. “Christian” art (a label I am rapidly liking less and less) doesn’t always do that. In fact, much art slapped with a “Christian Art” label tries to paint a picture (in some case, I mean this quite literally) representing a sanitized world, safe for church people to enter without feeling too threatened or having their feathers ruffled out of alignment. Thomas Kinkade is perhaps the poster-boy for this kind of art, which looks one the one hand to be deemed “safe” for Christian consumption, but on the other hand, is actually very dangerous in its “sanitization” of our condition. In a brilliant critique of Kinkade’s work (read the whole article here), Daniel A. Siedell writes:
“The Edenic world Kinkade projects is pretty much the fallen world without the dirtiness of the city and the inconvenience of other people, a weekend getaway in the country. All we need to do to return to Eden is get our lives in order. Kinkade’s much ballyhooed ‘light’ merely adds atmosphere and glow, a pleasant touch to an already charming scene. And because it makes us so comfortable, it is a very dark light indeed.
Kinkade’s work is the meticulously painted smile on the Joker’s disfigured face. It refuses to deal with the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world. And more troubling, it enables his clientele to escape into an imaginary world where things can be pretty good, as long as we have our faith, our family values, and a visual imagery that re-affirms all this at the office and at home.”
This is a problem. Art has power to disrupt and challenge, but the Christian marketplace comes with its own set of rules designed to protect us from offense. Therefore, “Christian” art is almost never provocative to the degree that it might lead to actual life-change. It sooner leads us to be comfortable, while reaffirming our faith. And we need encouragement, us church people.
But don’t we also need to be disturbed and broken-hearted? God is in the business of redemption through the ongoing process of death and resurrection. The death part… it doesn’t look like a Kinkade painting.
Neither does “Blue Like Jazz” the movie.
In fact, “Blue Like Jazz” shows us the yucky side of churchiness without the transformative power of a life rooted and abiding in Jesus Christ. It shows the carnality and brokenness and narcissism of young adult lives given over to the pursuit of pleasure and identity and meaning when God has been rejected wholesale. The movie is dark and sad and tragic if you consider the eternal ramifications of the sea of lives surrounding young Don Miller. If you are planning to see this and expect it to have the feel-good (albeit disquietingly “safe”) vibe of “Facing the Giants” or “Soul-Surfer,” you might find “Blue Like Jazz” disturbing. Reed College is full of substance abuse and profanity and emptiness and sex. Lots of it. “Blue Like Jazz” isn’t unnecessarily graphic, but neither does it pull many punches.
I’m sick of Kincade. In this, “Blue Like Jazz” was a refreshing change. It shows brokenness. It made me hurt for the broken people, and hunger to be bolder as an image-bearer for Jesus. Broken people need Jesus. I have Jesus.
“Blue Like Jazz” wasn’t written for the “Church” market, so if you are looking for a movie that is, consider yourself warned. Instead, Taylor and Miller seem to be telling a story for spiritually curious people who want to know if God is real when the world is such a mess and the churches in many neighborhoods look more like social clubs for hypocrites than beacons of light and hope.
Here’s what I didn’t like…
“Blue Like Jazz” embraces a metaphor, woven throughout the narrative. “My dad says jazz is like life, because it doesn’t resolve…” Like much of Donald Miller’s theo-philosophical ponderings, neither does “Blue Like Jazz.” And I understand that we are works in process, and that art is often more effective when it leaves some questions unanswered. This leaves room for the consumer to wonder, and think, and search. But it is unsatisfying in a movie that asks out loud, “Where do we find meaning and purpose in life?”
There ARE clear answers to many of the questions Miller and Taylor are asking, but it is cooler to leave them unanswered. It is cooler to leave us to ponder on our own.
** MINOR SPOILER ALERT **
Sure, by the end of the film the young, restless Don Miller comes to some kind of ambiguous belief that God is probably real, and this Jesus stuff… he buys it. But there is little power in his transformation, because it is very hard to see what this transformation actually looks like. Except, of course, for a compulsion not only to ask forgiveness for his own hypocrisy and lack of courage, but also for the many failings of the Church, writ large. That may be cool, and more palatable to the jaded (or wounded) spiritually-curious viewers. But my heart aches for them to hear a better story.
A better story starts with an all-powerful and very present God Almighty, who is not only Sovereign and perfectly Holy, but full of mind-bending LOVE that obliterates our best attempts to understand it. That perfectly pure One created every soul who ever lived to be in a mutually joy-giving relationship with Him. But we, the creatures, spat in His face because we thought we knew better what would satisfy. We died that day. And every day since, man clamors to find identity and meaning and lasting pleasure, but none of it really satisfies us. Reed College exhausts us, and we feel the shame of it.
A better story would speak the truth of the Bible, that JESUS CHRIST came to save SINNERS, even the very worst. That He offers HOPE and JOY that really is lasting and satisfies our longing for identity, meaning, and pleasure free from guilt. This is THE true story the world needs to hear.
I don’t mean to saddle “Blue Like Jazz” the movie with the calling of the Church. God did not call Steve Taylor and Donald Miller to use this movie to make disciples. He calls me to do that, and you, too, if you love Jesus. But I sense a missed opportunity here. That’s all I’m saying.
“Blue Like Jazz” is smartly written, well acted, and cleverly rendered. It works. I see the need for movies and more art in general to explore faith while looking honestly at brokenness, although I remember the words of Paul to focus our minds and hearts on “whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In order to focus on what is true – on the life-transforming power of the GOSPEL – allow “Blue Like Jazz” to do the work it is intended to do. Let it disturb you and stir compassion in you for the brokenness we live in.
Then get in the Word, read the Gospel, and do something.
Our primary text was 2 Corinthians 5:16 – 6:2. We discussed the CHANGE God brings to our relationships, the CALL we have as those who speak for Him, and the CHOICE we have in light of the cross. It is a message about the way are called to relate to EVERYONE around us, and a message about who we are called to be in Jesus Christ.
Jesus radically changes the way we view and relate to EVERYONE in our life.Spouses, friends, family, enemies. Saved people, hostile people, kind people, spiteful people. Everyone.
NOTE: My friends at Living Hope will remember that I began this message with a story about my college buddy Jason Upton singing in chapel and how that changed my view of who he was. I couldn’t legally post the copyrighted music clip I used on this website, but if you are interested in hearing more from Jason, the song I played was called “Freedom,” found on his album “Faith,” which you can find on iTunes right here.
June 24, 2012.Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN. Sunday night service. This message follows the death and funeral earlier in the week of our congregation’s dear friend Jeremy Erickson. Many in our church prayed hard for Jeremy’s recovery. We asked for a miraculous healing, but Jeremy left us for heaven even so. The death of a loved one raises many questions…
Does God exist? If so, can he hear our prayers? Is He simply so HUGE that He doesn’t bother with our little lives? And who is to blame for this loss? Didn’t we pray hard enough, or correct enough? Was it sin in Jeremy’s life that caused him to suffer and die? Or was that God’s plan? And if he can do anything, but he didn’t choose to heal Jeremy, how can he be good? Even more to the point… is his heart good towards me?
So many questions. This message wades into the deeper water, where our theology is tested in a sea of grieving. In the deep water, God comes to us.
Click on the tab below to stream the audio…
Jeremy Erickson. Entered heaven on June 10, 2012. Thank you, God, for his life and friendship. Jer, I’m looking forward to seeing you again.
This fall I began a long walk through a series of posts called “Pursue Joy.” You can read the introductory post (“God wants to wreck your life”) here. It’s what I believe about life and theology – in a nutshell. So far I’ve hit three out of five pillar ideas in past posts.
First this. God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name. This stands in contrast to the misconception we have growing up in church believing that God’s love and Jesus’ ministry is focused primarily on US.
And then this. Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip, this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.
And that leads to this. BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.
Good times. You are now up to speed.
So God is GOD-focused rather than US focused. And we were created by God to be GOD-focused rather than US-focused. And whether you realize it or not at first blush, this is very very VERY good news for schleps like you and me. Schleps with a ME-focused nature. Wildly better news, in fact, that our little minds can absorb. Today I want to answer the question… “WHY?”
Point #4 in my “pursue joy” framework is this: This is the greatest possible news. This is pure gospel. That we have been created to and saved not unto begrudging servitude, but unto the passionate pursuit of JOY. Not mere pleasure, or happiness which is fleeting, but a pursuit of soul-thrilling JOY that deepens and expands forever into the infinite glory of God.
I talk about JOY a lot. One of the most common press-backs I get from brothers in Christ is what I call the “take up your cross” argument. Their concern is that I am so focused on the “good stuff” (i.e. the JOY stuff) that I am missing the forest for the tree. The cross, in particular. After all wasn’t Jesus a “suffering servant” (ala Isaiah), well acquainted with grief? If we are called to emmulate His life and ministry, isn’t our faith going to be forged in the furnace of suffering?
Yes, it is.
Jesus said we would suffer. We will grieve. We may live with little. We may be called to give up the little we have. We may give up home, comfort, security, and family for the sake of the Gospel. We may die.
But even Jesus endured the cross “for the joy set before Him.” (Hebrews 12:2) And to think that lack of comfort or earthly security or even loss of our loved ones equates to lack of JOY is to misunderstand JOY. Joy is bedrock. It is God-given. It grows in tandem with faith, as God proves His love again and again. The path to deep and lasting JOY is often THROUGH the valley of suffering and hardship and uncertainty and sacrifice.
So don’t confuse JOY with comfort or pleasure or even happiness. It is deeper. It is stronger. It is better. It is of greater value.
We should be eager to give up comfort, pleasure, security… if the path of obedience always leads us to deeper joy. And it does. It always does.
John Piper, whom I love, clarified this even more for me today. Watch this…
It was like a bomb hit my office. Both scary and exhilarating.
And I know that those of you who visited my office 15 years ago at Emmaus Lutheran Church are certain I’m talking about my decorating style, what with my, um… free-form approach to filing sheet music and whatnot. But that’s not it at all.
A hundred loose threads of theological string running through my brain were suddenly were drawn tight, snapping into place to form a perfect, beautiful knot. Right then, with trembling hands and tears running down my face, I knew what I was for.
I called Amy. Which is the thing you do when your whole life has suddenly changed direction. You call your spouse.
Before I wander farther into the woods here, let’s step back and take a clear look again at the trees. I’m in the midst of a series of posts here about the foundation of Biblical beliefs that fuel my life and undergird my calling as a Pastor and proclaimer of the Gospel, and I’m categorizing all of them under the rubric “PURSUE JOY.” So far I have posted an introductory column (read it here), and have expanded upon the first two of five Biblical propositions in the series. Click on either one below to read those posts:
So far I’ve attempted to make a clear Biblical case for the fact that God’s highest purpose and most profound desire is for the ever-increasing praise of His glory. The Bible is FULL of this truth from cover to cover, but many Christians have mistakenly fallen into the misconception that what matters most to God is US. That Jesus came to earth primarily to rescue US, because of His profound love for US and His desire to bless US. While it is true that we are deeply loved and exceptionally valuable in His eyes, the Bible makes it clear that we have been called as a people of God for His glory (Isaiah 43:6-7) and that Jesus ULTIMATELY went to the cross not simply for our sake, but for the glory of His Father and His name (see Jesus’ prayer in John 17:1, for example, and what John has to say about our forgiveness in 1 John 2:12).
Then I explain from a Biblical platform why this is in no way some kind of grandiose ego-trip. Instead the God-centeredness of God stands as the most extravagantly loving basis possible for our relationship with God. As God is our heavenly Father, he seeks to give us the best possible gift (see our relationship to God clarified in Romans 8:14-17, and God’s Father heart to us in Matthew 7:11). The best, highest, most valuable gift to us in all of the universe and beyond the bounds of time is GOD HIMSELF. And so, in His supreme love, He gives us Himself to marvel at and adore for eternity – the highest and best for us is to not focus on us at all, but to fix our attention and lavish our affection on the ONE object of supreme and unfailing worth. That is why Our deepest satisfaction comes in the fulfillment of our God-wired need to WORSHIP, and when the object of our worship is God Himself, we are satisfied, and God is glorified, and the union of the two is a consummation of such beautiful genius that there are not words for it. That is why in my last post I wrote, “In praising that which is MOST praiseworthy are we most DEEPLY satisfied, and the genius of this design is that the expressing of this praise brings us the most soul-satisfying PLEASURE in the universe. In fact, the joy that both awakens and satisfies our most primal need in life finds its voice in our fervent worship of the ONE who is worthy of it.”
To pursue JOY is to WORSHIP God.
The irony is that most people pursue happiness while running away from God. Colder… colder…
Now, back into the woods…
I was there in my messy office at Emmaus, stuck somewhere between the staff meeting that had just wrapped up in Mavis’ office and getting to work on the upcoming Sunday service plans. I had been hired as a Worship Pastor, of sorts, albeit under the title of “Minister of Celebration.” So I was the Music and Arts guy on campus, with traditional and contemporary services to plan, choirs to direct, Children’s Musicals to arrange the music for, and leadership in the Worship Services. There was a lot of “stuff” to do related to my music degree – the one I was finishing up at Northwestern College with a career track in kind that would move through High School Choir directorship and on to College-level (or higher) conducting in a choral program some day.
But the “stuff” was not the “heart” of my job. I had come into this leadership role not too far outside of high-school. I had two years of Bible School under my belt, sure, and I had just a touch of worship leading experience as a drummer for the AFLC Youth FLY Convention in 1993 and again in 1995, but suddenly I was being paid to LEAD PEOPLE in worship, and I figured I better get a handle on what that meant… I mean beyond the laundry list of things that bugged me about other worship leaders.
In studying what it meant to lead worship, I learned that worship is an act of the heart… and my job was not to create an experience for people in the pews every week. It was to create “worshippers.” My job at its heart was literally to help the people of our congregation love God more deeply, more fervently, more honestly. Music and the arts were great tools for inspiring God thoughts, but they were simply a means to a greater end. The end was WORSHIP. Worship was the goal.
With my mind and heart full, on a day when I was particularly grateful that God had allowed me, for this season of my life, to enjoy such a rich job description, I pulled the Missions magazine out of my staff mailbox, along with a reminder of an upcoming deadline for my church newsletter article and a copy of the council report from last week’s meeting. Missions. Ugh.
If ever there was a reminder of my mediocrity as a follower of Jesus, the monthly “Missions” magazine that got dropped into my box was it. There they were – the REAL Christians – out there among the bush people and the teeming hordes in India and the orphans left to fend for themselves on the street in Brazil. There they were. They stood as an example of my weakness and selfishness.
I did not want to be a missionary. I knew that this meant I was not a fully mature Christian. Not a REAL disciple of Jesus. Sure, my heart beat fast when I would think of ways for our church to grow deeper in love with God. I mean, I wanted to take the church by the collar and give ’em a good shake, and with a smile in my eyes, shout about how awesome our God is, and why He’s worth our abandoned, unreserved, unselfconscious adoration. But I didn’t want to go to Ecuador. Second class. Second rate. Second choice. The missionaries… they were God’s first choice. They were the truly selfless ones.
But this looked… interesting. What is this? The monthly Missions publication was focused on… worship. Worship in the field. Worship in evangelism. Worship styles that incorporate other culture’s musical traditions. Worship, worship, worship…
Despite the innate sense of guilt that I felt even holding this magazine in my hands, I turned the cover. Within one minute, the bomb went off. I read these words, and my world changed…
This is what I’m for. This is what I’m for. To help people everywhere understand that they have been created to worship, and they’ll never be deeply fully completely satisfied until they embrace the truth… we are created to be worshippers. Tears. My career path has changed. I’m not in ministry part time as I prepare for a career in music performance. I’m not in ministry part time at all. This is what I’m for.
Missions exists because worship doesn’t.
“I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations… to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations.” (Isaiah 66:19)
We aren’t merely in the business of selling fire insurance to people all over the globe. We are in the business of helping every soul on the planet understand what they are for. Because if people don’t know Jesus, how can they worship Him? And if they can’t worship Him, how can they find true and lasting joy? And most important of all, how will God receive the GLORY He is due through their life? This is what the Church is FOR…
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging toGod, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
That was the day my life changed direction forever. Flashes of light. The scripture alive in me. My course was set. For the rest of my life, Lord, I want to spend the rest of my days helping people love you. I can do that in suburban America, or rural America, or even a wildly different culture like Canada… I want what you want – for you to receive ever increasing praise and honor. I understand. It is what we are ALL for in the first place.
That brings us out of the woods to look at our next tree in the “Pursue Joy” series. These are the truths that my life is now built upon…
(3) BECAUSE God is so passionately God-focused, He has made us and redeems us in order that we might find our ultimate fulfillment in the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and throughout eternity.
Whether I am playing drums, or at the piano, or in the pulpit, I will always be a worship leader. My pastoral ministry in caring for people and in counseling people will be a ministry of the GOSPEL… that more souls will be set free to worship. My preaching will be full of the GOSPEL… that the house of God rings with His praise more and more until Christ returns.
I’m pausing briefly in my series on the pursuit of joy (check out part one, two, and three) to make this important announcement:
Seth is out of the family. Man, I loved that kid, too. It will be hard to lose him, sure, but he did, after all, leave the dishes half finished. Levi is out, too. He talked back twice yesterday. It’s hard to kick a seven year old out of the house in Autumn, but Seth is going, too, and he’s a pretty resourceful kid. They’ll probably cobble together lunch money with some kind of street performance involving music and dance. They’ll do alright. Too bad they can’t be Skogerboes anymore. If only they had followed the rules…
This is so ridiculous that it hardly works as a metaphor… and that’s exactly why it works as a metaphor. Let me explain…
Today in my Christian Ethics class we confronted a conceptual stumbling block that I’ve had for years concerning Christ’s imputed righteousness. That’s fancy pants seminarian talk for “the righteousness Jesus credits to me because he has forgiven my sins.” I have struggled to correctly understand what this means in relation to my “split personality…” I’m a sinner. And I’m a saint. I’m wretched. And I’m righteous.
This is a mystery. But it is a stone cold reality. Believers in Jesus – followers of Christ – ARE righteous in God’s eyes, because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross on our behalf. In church-ese, he has been made the propitiation for our sins, and his sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago was the substitutionary atonement for us, redeeming us to relationship with God, and we have been clothed with Christ’s righteousness. That means that HIS righteousness has been imputed (given) to us. WE ARE RIGHTEOUS.
At the same time we live corrupted by sin, and like Paul, we who love the Lord are frustrated and horrified that the things we want to do we can’t do, and the things we DON’T want to do we can’t seem to let go of. WE ARE SINNERS.
For years I have wondered how all of this works together. I have read the passages that explain how Jesus is my Mediator (again with the church talk… so sorry) literally translated my “advocate,” like a defense attorney. Only he’s NEVER LOST a case. He only has ONE LINE OF DEFENSE, and it works every single time. He stands before His Father, the Righteous Judge, and He shows the nail holes in his hands and feet. His blood is the payment. The debt is accounted for. The sin is erased. “And when God looks at me,” I’ve been told, “He doesn’t see my sin at all. He sees Jesus’ righteousness.”
So after He saved me, Jesus is basically my Elmore Smith.
Elmore Smith was a 7’0″ center from Kentucky State University. He played in the National Basketball Association from 1971 to 1979 as a member of the Buffalo Braves, Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Cleveland Cavaliers. While racking up an impressive stack of stats as a point-maker and rebounder, what Smith is best remembered for his shot-blocking, earning him the nickname “Elmore the Rejector”. He led the league in total blocked shots in both 1974 and 1975, and holds the NBA record for most blocked shots in a game since 1973, with 17.
This is how I have seen the work of the Trinity in regards to my sin and in view of Christ’s imputed righteousness in my life: When I sin, I grieve the Holy Spirit (my Counselor) who lives in me and continually reminds me of God’s Word, the refining Law that points me to the cross. In heaven, I have imagined the Father (Righteous Judge), ruling in holiness and unapproachable light, sitting on His throne in perfection and purity, the unattainable standard by which I will be measured in order to gain access to heaven some day.
And then there, before the Throne of the Judge, stands “Jesus the Rejector,” my spiritual Elmore Smith, shot blocking my sins with 100% accuracy, so that the Judge behind Him will never see my imperfection.
It kinda works, right?
But there’s a problem… My sins really do matter. And The Trinity is in perfect communion. And the God-head is ONE. And the Godhead is omniscient (which is church-speak for “KNOWS EVERYTHING, past present, and future.”)
If God the Father knows all that God the Son and God the Spirit know, then it isn’t possible that my sins are “unknown” to Him. So yes, I am righteous… the Bible says that I am. My sins are covered by Jesus’ righteousness imputed to me. But God knows all, and He sees that I sin. How can I sin… and be perfectly righteous?
What really helped clarify this conundrum for me today was the understanding that this imputed righteousness is a righteousness of POSITION. In other words, as a Christ-child, I still sin. I need the cross everyday, and I need to turn to Jesus in repentance daily. He is my Advocate, and His blood has covered my sin… but they are not unknown to the Father. And yet my sins don’t affect my POSITION as a child of God. That is Jesus’ work, not mine.
Just like my kids’ rule-breaking is not unknown to me. Although they may think they get away with it now and again, I know. I always know. And I want them to do what is right. I want them to follow the rules out of love and respect for me… out a a belief that they know I have the BEST in mind for them. But they mess up. They break the rules. They sin.
Do I ask them to take responsibility when they sin? Yes. Do I expect them to turn and go the other way? Yes. But I don’t kick them out of the family.
They are still my beloved kiddos. I will fight for them and direct them and raise them to live healthy, fulfilled lives, and when they mess up, I will forgive. But they will always be my kids.
So it is with the righteousness of Jesus. It is a righteousness of position. It is placement within the family of God. We are His beloved children. When we mess up, He will forgive. Does our sin matter? You bet. Jesus is not my Elmore Smith. God knows it all. But our position is not dependant upon our striving hard enough. Our position is secure in the work Jesus has already done in our place.
Does this smack of “eternal security” to you… or to decipher for the non-church crowd… Does that mean once we’re saved we’re ALWAYS saved no matter how we live? Absolutely not. The Bible is clear that if we rebel hard enough, long enough, our heart for God will become a heart of stone, and we can fall away from the faith that saves. Even children can rebel long enough – hard enough – that they become “dead to the family.” Sometimes legal action is taken to sever family ties. But even without any formal ceremony, family ties can be cut if the child wants out. Sin is a dangerous flirtation with death and darkness. Sin matters. But if we want to be God’s children, and we live in daily repentance for our corrupt nature and misguided behavior, the righteousness of Jesus is ours. Our standing in God’s family remains secure in Him.
Imputed righteousness. There’s your daily dose of “church-ese” decoded for real life.