Archives For identity

 

I’m wildly in love with my wife.  She’s smart, she’s quick-witted, she’s beautiful, she loves Jesus, she’s a great mom, she is discerning, she’s wise, she really loves people, she’s beautiful, she cherishes relationships, she’s not satisfied with “fine” or good enough,” she loves our kids intentionally, she’s beautiful… I can literally do this all day.

Why?  Why do lovers sing the praise of their beloved?  Because we have to, right?  We promised.  It’s our marital duty to praise our spouse.

That’s about as romantic as wet blanket.

NEVER!  I freely praise because she is worthy of it, and because my love needs to find expression.  I shout the fact that I married a miraculous woman because I take JOY in her.

This is the third post in a series.  Through a series of posts here, I want to unpack the biblical framework that undergirds my life and theology and ministry motivation.  In the first one, I established the basic proposition that we have been created to PURSUE JOY. I also laid out five key ideas that I am expanding one by one in this forum.  Then, in the second post, I discussed the first and foremost of these core ideas – namely, that God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.  The Bible is clear that God’s highest priority is His glory, and that He alone is worthy of such adoration.  God is God-centered.  And that brings us to our second core idea, and the purpose of today’s post…

Far from being a hyperbolic cosmic ego trip,this truth is the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him.

How can this be?  Even the Bible tells us that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and that “love seeks not its own.” (1 Corinthians 13:5)  And we know intuitively that self-centeredness is antithetical to love, which “seeks the good of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24).  So how can God, who IS love, be so God-focused?  And how does this fit with our childhood songs and Sunday School lessons that all seemed to shout “Jesus loves me, this I know?”

First of all, we must be honest.  We must recognize the quiet rebellion alive in our questions.  God alone is God.  He is devastatingly magnificent, wholly righteous, sovereign in power, and incomparable in every field.  God is God.  We are not.  Who are we to question the motivation of the God who holds the breadth of the universe between His fingers?  As God reminded Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?”  He then spends two chapters posing a series of rhetorical questions to Job (and to us) about where we stood as he created the firey stars and the farthest reaches of the universe and knit together the largest and smallest of creatures out of nothing with sheer willpower and His mighty Word.

And so we walk humbly before this power, and we question Him with trembling.

The truth is, we ask these questions of God about the tension of love and vanity because we have reduced Him in our mind’s eye to the size of you and me.  When any other human being seeks his or her own adulation, it turns us off.  We like strength, we will celebrate valor, we showcase generosity.  But we don’t like it when we see someone blowing their own horn and calling for worship.  Why?  Because we are ALL flawed.  Humanity is a messy jumble.  No one is worthy of the kind adoration and devotion that our heart is wired to give.  No one on the planet.

Have you put God in that box?  If all the languages of the world were employed, and the sky was parchment, and everyone on earth wrote their praises to God without rest for eternity, we would not be able to adequately ascribe to God the depth of His worth and the excellencies of His great character, to say nothing of the praise of His grace and the awe-striking gift of redemption in Jesus Christ.  God actually IS WORTHY of non-stop, ever-flowing, ever-increasing praise and honor. Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive honor and power and glory and praise.

We cannot and must not find in God’s pursuit of His own praise even a shred of hypocricy or a vapor of the charge vanity.  God calls for what He alone is worthy of.  God is worthy to be praised.

So… alright then.  If you were able to jump that hurdle, we may agree that God is worthy of highest honor.  But how does this translate into such great news for US?  How does God’s incessant pursuit of His own glory become “the most wildly loving foundation possible for our relationship with Him?”

John Piper’s Desiring God helped me connect the dots here.  He writes of the struggle within theologian and author C.S. Lewis to reconcile the loving nature of God with the overwhelming tide of calls to praise Him written into God’s Word… by God Himself.  And then, for Lewis, came the lightbulb moment…

The most obvious fact about praise, whether of God or anything, strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows in praise, unless sometimes we bring shyness in to check it. The world rings with praise: lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poets, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games, praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. My whole more general difficulty with the praise of God depended on my obsurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely valuable, what we delight to do–even what we cannot help doing–with regard to everything else we value.

And then, as Piper points out, here comes the key sentences:

I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the joy is not complete until it is expressed. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are. The delight is incomplete until it is expressed.

YES!  That’s it!  I want to climb on the roof of our Seminary housing units and shout to the students walking by that my wife has captured my heart because expressing my joy in her brings my delight in her to consumation.  Delight unexpressed is incomplete.

This is truly genius Design at work.

In God’s pursuit of glory comes His demand for our praise, and our created desire to worship… something.  In Him alone is our thirst satisfied.  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.  GENIUS.  We are satisfied in Him – He is glorified in us.  He delights in our praise – we delight in Him.  He receives glory – we find JOY.

Further, God proves the profound depths of His love for us in bringing us the most wildly extravagant gift possible.  It is not only wildly extravagant, it is truly the pinnacle gift – the best and highest possible gift to His children.

God gives us Himself.

May all honor and glory be lavished on Him.  May my life ring with it.  Even in typing this now, my heart is full – I’m full of JOY in Him, and I revel in His goodness and His love.  Less of me God, and more of you!

And thank you for Amy.  She’s so much more than I deserve.  It’s my joy to praise You for her and to praise You with her.

The primacy of God’s glory makes everything about Him… not about me.  THAT is truly the best of news, because it is a proclamation of freedom.  Profound freedom.  We’ll dive into that next time in “pursue joy part four.”  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.  Refine my thinking.  God bless you, and may you find soul-shaking JOY in Him alone.

Click here to read part one  >>  “god wants to wreck your life”

Click here to read part two  >>  “carly simon, jesus loves me, and the supremacy of god”

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“i’m shouting from the roof :: pursue joy :: part 3” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You know what drives me nuts?  I mean just frothy lipped, make-it-stop, face twitching crazy?

Carly Simon’s 1972 hit, “You’re so Vain.”

Yes.  I recognize it has been thirty years.  What’s that you say?  Let it go?

I can’t go for that. No how. No can do.

Lo, these thirty years later I am still plagued by an inner dialogue that will not let me rest.  And yet somehow, inexplicably, the rest of the world seems to allow “You’re So Vain” to stand at #72 on the Billboard “best songs of all time” list.  How can this be?  Carly, why do you vex me so?

Does no one realize that her chorus foists a premise into pop culture that is nonsensical?? I want to tear my ears off.  Go with me here…

“You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. You’re so vain… I bet you think this song is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”

[pause]

DOES THIS NOT BOTHER YOU GOOD PEOPLE?  If the dude thinks the song is about him… which CLEARLY it IS… does that not make him factually correct??  Not so much vain as just… RIGHT?  Are you with me here?!

You’re so vain… *insert deep soul-weary sigh here*  I can’t handle it.

Why on earth am I bringing up Carly Simon you ask?

Because we need a reboot.  The Church needs a do-over. (In the circles I run in we call this repentance.)  We somehow have become enslaved by the idea that the point of all this Christianity business is to get us reconnected to God… to get us saved… to give our life meaning.  And it is… but it’s not.

“You’re so vain… I bet you think this faith is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”

Don’t answer that.  Yet.  Because you may be picking up my vibe here. (It’s kinda hard to miss my vibe, let’s be honest.)  You probably know that the “right answer” here is something like… “No.  It’s not ALL about me.  Or US, I mean.  I’m supposed to say it’s not about us – it’s all about Him, right?  God wants us to praise Him, too, right?  He wants us to thank Him… because He died for us – to save us.  He came to give us life to the full, right?  Because God is love, and He loves us SO MUCH, right?  Jesus loves me, this I know…”

So we should definitely say “thank you.”  Because He has done so much for us.  For us.  For us.

You know what?  I believe all of that is true, too.  “Greater love has no one than this: that He lay down his life for his friends.”  At night, when little Ezra is curled up in his blankets and I’m laying on His bunk in the dark I hear his little voice say… “Jesus?”  I know what he wants.  And then I sing with him just like my Mom and Dad sang with me… “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Kids need to know that in their very core.  JESUS LOVES US.  This we KNOW.  But there is even better news… News that becomes foundational in a spiritual life spent in the pursuit of JOY.  We never get to the stanza that fleshes out the deepest love and highest pursuit of God.  And it’s not us…  We get stuck sometimes in a Carly Simon world somehow where the highest and deepest and most profound message to the lost and the curious is “Jesus loves you.”  And He does… but maybe at some point we need to write a new stanza.  Graduate from the tippy cup to theological meat.  How about this…

“Jesus loves God more than me, so He died to set me free, dead in sin I could not praise, brought to life this hymn I’ll raise:  God loves His great name! We’re made for His fame!  We bow and He reigns!  The Bible tells me soooo…”

Last week I began this exploration of a theological construct that affirms (even demands) that we revel in a shameless pursuit of JOY.  Read part one here.  Far from being a selfish pursuit, I’m building a scriptural case that the pursuit of JOY is ultimately the most selfless… the only truly selfless option.  Moreover, God wired you do long for JOY, and He commands you to go hard after it.

As we began I listed a series of interconnected precepts, all of which I believe are soundly backed by the truth of God’s Word.  After all, if I’m just making this stuff up, it will have no lasting impact.  It will be a giant pep fest… a waste of time.  But our faith is built upon ONE normative standard: the truth of the inerrant inspired Word of God.  So these propositions build upon each other and resonate together because they are true to the Word.  If you think my understanding needs shaping, I’ll heartily welcome correction along the way.  But I promised to unpack these ideas one post at a time, so today we begin with number one… with the assertion of primary importance… with the assertion that at the HEART of the heart of God is His desire to be GLORIFIED.  To know what faith is all about and answer the “why am I here?” questions of life, it makes sense to start with the One who IS, and who always has been, before we were, and will always be.

The rest of this post will simply be a list of verses that point to the primacy of GOD’S GLORY as the motivation for GOD’S STORY.  His story of redemption is all about HIM.  My next post will talk about what great news this is.  But I need to make the case first.  If you’re skeptical, that’s OK.  Maybe you’re thinking “God is love, and love is selfless, and this sounds like a ginormous EGO TRIP and that doesn’t sound like the God I know…”  I’m just asking you to pray, and then read this list.  And then see what God is revealing about His first love.  I think this is an accurate place to start:

(1)  God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.

 

Scriptural Basis for the Supreme Value of God

 

Isaiah 42:8

“I am the LORD:  that is my name!  I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.”

 

Isaiah 44:6

This is what the LORD says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty:  “I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God.”

 

Isaiah 45:5

“I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God.”

 

Isaiah 45:18

For this is what the LORD says — He who created the heavens, He is God;  He who fashioned and made the earth, He founded it; He did not create it to be empty, but formed it to be inhabited — He says:  “I am the LORD, and there is no other.”

 

Psalm 135:6

The LORD does whatever pleases Him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.

 

Before there were people:

 Psalm 90:1-2

Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.  Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

God’s purpose for creation:

 Psalm 19:1

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

 

Psalm 96:11

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them.  Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the Lord…

God’s reason for creating people:

Isaiah 43:6-7

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth — everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made,”

 

Isaiah 43:20-21

“I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

 

God’s purpose in delivering His people from bondage in Egypt:

 Exodus 8:1

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD says:  Let my people go, so that they may worship me.'”

 

Isaiah 63:11-14

Where is He who brought them through the sea, with the shepherd of his flock?  Where is He who set His Holy Spirit among them, who sent His glorious arm of power to be at Moses’ right hand, who divided the waters before them, to gain for Himself everlasting renown, who led them through the depths?  …they were given rest by the Spirit of the LORD.  This is how you guided Your people to make for Yourself a glorious name.

 

Psalm 106:7-8

When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to Your miracles; they did not remember Your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.  Yet He saved them for His name’s sake, to make His mighty power known.

 

The purpose of God’s mercy (in light of Israel’s repeated rebellion):

Ezekiel 36:20-23

And whenever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the LORD’s people, and yet they leave His land.’  I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.  Therefore say to the House of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:  It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.  I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them.  Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.

 

Psalm 79:9

Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of Your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for Your name’s sake.

 

Jeremiah 14:7

Although our sins testify against us, O LORD, do something for the sake of Your name.  For our backsliding is great; we have sinned against You.

 

I Samuel 12:22

For the sake of His great name the LORD will not reject His people, because the LORD was pleased to make you his own.

 

God’s purpose in Jesus’ birth:

 Luke 2:14

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.”

 

Jesus’ primary reason for coming to earth:

Romans 15:8-9

“…Christ became a servant to the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, to confirm the promises made to the Patriarchs, so that the Gentiles may glorify God for His mercy…”

 

Jesus’ decision to go to the cross:

Luke 17:1

Jesus… Looked toward heaven and prayed:  “Father, the time has come.  Glorify You Son, that Your Son may glorify You.”

 

God’s reason for sending His son to the cross:

Romans 3:25

“God presented Him (Jesus) as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in His blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished…”


Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension to heaven:

Philippians 2:9-11

Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

Jesus will come again in power to consummate His mission on earth:

 II Thessalonians 2:9-10

Those who do not obey the gospel will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might, when He comes on that day to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at in all who have believed…

 

The Church exists for God’s glory:

I Peter 2:9

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.

 

God’s glory is the point of missions:

Isaiah 66:19

“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.”

 

This is the God-ordained destiny of every nation:

Psalm 86:9

All the nations You have made will come and worship before You, O Lord; they will bring glory to Your name.

 

We have a purpose for living:

Matthew 5:16

(Jesus said) “Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good deeds and praise (glorify) your Father in heaven.”

 

In our praying:

Matthew 6:9

(Jesus said) This, then, is how you should pray:  “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

 

The reason we are forgiven:

I John 2:12

I write to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of His name.

 

At the end of time:

 Revelation 5:11-13

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders.  In a loud voice they sang:  “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”  Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them singing :  “To Him who sits on throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!”  The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshipped.

 

In summary, Paul wrote:

Colossians 3:17

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

 

I Corinthians 10:31

“…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

 

This becomes the heart of the Church:

Psalm 115:1

Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness.

 

———————————————————————————

The first precept under-girding this call to pursue JOY is this:  God is wildly, passionately, zealously, jealously committed to the glory of His own name.

Discuss… 


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“carly simon, jesus loves me, and the supremacy of god :: pursue joy :: part 2” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

 

Sure I was a little overweight.  That’s my point.

That being said, AWANA shouldn’t have tried so hard to break me.  I was only 10.  I wasn’t cut out for this.

We did some cool stuff, for sure.  There was the day we broke the world’s record for the longest banana split, laid out in the church fellowship hall like a long snake made out of PVC pipe halves and aluminum foil.  Hundreds of gallons of ice cream.  A truck full of bananas.  Hershey’s syrup in gallon jugs. Whipped cream and cherries.  Good times.

I also remember the relay race where we were given straws, and told to run the full length of the gym to a 2 liter bottle of A&W Root Beer sitting at the other end.  We were supposed to drink it as fast as we could through the straw we had been given, and then sprint back to our sweaty, belching elementary school aged teammates at the other end.  Do you know what happens when you sprint 94 feet, slam a bottle of A&W in 14 seconds of frenzied frothy sucking, and then run BACK across those 94 feet?  Three things are a certainty… (1) You will have root beer in your sinuses.  It has to go somewhere.  This will make you sneeze, which will hose anyone in the vicinity with a sharp spray of carbonated snot.  (2)  You will belch.  Long, sonorous, resonant belches that will echo off the walls of said gymnasium with an echoey fortitude that should garner the respect of any 7th grade boy.  Unfortunately, you will be surrounded by 74 other elementary students of both genders whose own fortuituos uncontrolled belching will drown out the magnificence of your own.  Add to that the sound of all the 3rd and 4th grade girls who are crying because they have root beer in their sinuses, and you have a cacophony through which the most violent of belches has trouble being singled out.  (3) Bloating.  Enough said.

So that was awesome.  High fives all around to the dudes who thought up that relay race.  Good times.

But the bulk of my memories  from my days in AWANA are more sinister in nature.  I still break a cold sweat when I hear a coach’s whistle blow.  Sure, they sold it to us as a “game.”  Sure, it was supposed to be “fun.”  But it was genius in its calculated simplicity.  Profound in its energy-quelling capability.  Rendering us limp and compliant, it became the favorite “warm-up activity” for all of our bible coaches.  Perhaps you, too, have been subjected to its soul-crushing  efficiency?  Many of you former Puggles and Cubbies and Sparks know EXACTLY what I’m talking about…

The Circle. *ominous tones here*

Basically, four students are fitted with flags hanging from a belt around their waist.  They are squared off at a co-equal distance from one another at four points around a large circle on the floor.  There they wait.  Breathing heavily.  Dreading the sharp blast of the coach’s whistle that will signal the start of their Ordeal.  The running of the proverbial gauntlet.

A clock ticks. Somewhere overhead, the distant screech of a bird of prey.  Muscles quiver. A whistle pieces the silence. It has begun.

What follows is basically 12 minutes of sprinting.  The goal is simple… be the last guy with a flag still attached to your belt.  We set off at a dead run, counterclockwise, scrambling and striving to grab the flag of the poor victim in front of us.  Meanwhile, we are being chased from behind from the captain of the track team.  I mean, if there were 3rd and 4th grade track teams… that’s who is behind you.  This is not a game of wolves chasing geese.  Oh no.  This is a game of wolves chasing more wolves. Carnivorous, snarling, hungry wolves.  Wolves scraping and clawing at that little red flag hanging from your belt, like the last vestige of your dignity.  The physical manifestation of your athletic prowess.

I hated the circle.

We played this game for 45 minutes.  Set. Breathe. Whistle. RUN! Fail. Set. Breathe. Whistle. RUN! Fail. All roads leading to fail.

So this is coming to mind now as I start my Seminary year because I’ve been reminded again of a core, absolute, life-changing truth about the Gospel that I will give my life for.

Jesus comes to us.

Let’s make the AWANA Circle of Pain a picture of spiritual well-being.  It’s a giant circle, with all of your friends and family and preachers and teachers and youth group leaders and your brother who is agnostic.  They are all lined up around that circle ready to run – to prove their worth in the spiritual arena.  Except for your agnostic brother, of course.  He’s just siting there in the path – he’ll probably trip up a number of those who try to run by.  But everyone is there.  Breathing hard.  Clock ticking.  Waiting for Jesus to blow His whistle.  Ready to run to protect their flags – the true measure of our spiritual wellness in America.  The flag that shows everyone that we’re just as spiritual as the next guy.  We try just as hard as the guy in front of us.  At least we’re not like that guy behind us, struggling to catch up.  Everyone is getting tired, sure.  We’re exhausted.  But we can’t lose our flag.  We can’t show everyone our weakness.  Got to run a little harder.  Catch the guy ahead.  Try harder.  Strive.  More.

Hear this.  If you don’t know Jesus yet – really know Him – then don’t think this is what the Christian life is all about.  As if we all are measured against the morality norm of the church culture.  As if we have to run the race like we’re trying to beat the saints alongside of us.  As if its all about us doing this thing we have to do.

And if you DO know Jesus, you may need to remember this… it’s time to give up.  Get out of the circle.  The standard is not whether or not you maintain your flag anymore.  You have no flag.  Jesus took your flag with him to the cross.  In this race, you don’t compete against men.  Your standard is perfection.  The goal is unattainable perfect holiness.  You can’t win.  It’s too hard.  It’s actually impossible.

Jesus comes to us.

The measure of our worthiness has nothing – nothing – NOTHING to do with how fast we run the race.  We don’t need to try to catch up to the spiritual superstars running ahead.  We don’t need to fear the jaws snapping from behind.

Jesus brings rest.  Jesus brings life.  Jesus gives you an identity, a hope, a future.  Jesus ran the gauntlet in your place.  By His stripes – not your striving – you are healed.

AWANA leaders, hear me now.  You have my sincere thanks for the Bible lessons.  Thanks for the ice cream.  Thanks, too, for the uncontrollable belching and sinus headache.  But you did not break me.  You and your circle of shame.  A substitute has stepped forward to take my place.  I see him over there walking the circle – talking to everyone by name – collecting their flags.  The scramble is over.  I’m not running anymore, always struggling to maintain position, and never reaching the goal.  It’s over.

Thank God Jesus comes to us.

 
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“AWANA tried to kill me :: carnivorous wolves and the gospel” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

worthless

August 11, 2011 — 2 Comments

You live your life either convinced that you are worth loving or in pursuit of validation.

There are two options.

Now… think about the course of your life.  Christian faith or not.  Same for everyone.  You are either at peace, or you are striving.  We don’t believe the poets and the third grade teachers who tell us that self-esteem is a primary value… that we need to speak positivity into our own lives and “love ourselves” well.  We know that an empty well cannot refill itself.  We know, don’t we, that in order to feel valuable – worth loving – we must hear that message from an outside voice.

God formed man from the dust, and then God Himself breathed life into man.  No other creatures were blessed like that.  Created in His image.  Reflecting God Himself.  “Let us make man in our image,” God said to Himself.  The triune God in relationship with Himself.  We are wired to need relationship, because we are made in His image.  We draw our identity from our relationship with Him, as he has created us and said, “It is VERY GOOD.”

Unless…

Unless you don’t draw your identity from a Father who loves you.  Unless you are swayed by the father of lies who delights in your pain and humiliation – the evil one who thrives on your insecurity.  He whispers in your ear.  Then you will try to stave off the impending feelings of worthlessness with chemicals, adrenaline, overachievement, or more often than not… relationships.

World champion tennis star Lindsay Davenport:

“There’s going to be a void in my life when (tennis is) gone. I’ve never been one to sit around. I tried it once and after three days, it was like, ‘This sucks, I’m so bored, I have no purpose.’ I do know, number one, that I want to start a family and have kids. So, as far as having another career, I think that would be tough to do right away.”

It’s a short walk from our complex network of self-affirmation through the valley of self-examination to the sprawling blank slate called self-doubt.  Our identity is not meant to hover in stasis.  It’s not a self-replenishing well like some Star Trek energy source that bends the laws of physics.  Our identity is SPOKEN.  Our identity is GIVEN.  Our identity is only SECURE in Jesus Christ when our worth is PROCLAIMED by the only infinitely trustworthy source of information in the universe.

Do you think you aren’t worth loving?

Examine your relationship with your Mom and Dad.  Are you wounded because they didn’t speak enough positivity into you to fill that need?  Let them off the hook.  It isn’t their job to fulfill you.

Do you hope that guy you want to marry will be enough?  Let him off the hook.  He won’t.  Not because he doesn’t care enough, but because he isn’t created to fulfill you.

Are you frantically producing…  trying to prove you are worthy of respect?  Trying to prove it to your family, your coworkers, your church.

Trying to prove it to yourself?

That is an exhausting path.  Like Sisyphus, you’ll realize one day when your strength is finally gone, you were never able to get that rock to the top of the hill.  Let yourself off the hook.  You can’t earn worth.  You are given worth by your maker.

You ARE NOT worthless.

But the ache to be at peace is hardwired in you.  It was knit into you by your Creator.  That ache is not your enemy.  It is a natural, God-given need.  It is a thirst that can only be slaked by Living Water.  If you want to get off the treadmill of people pleasing or the corrosive downward slide of trying to prove to the world you don’t care what they think, it’s time to hear Jesus’ voice again.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” 

(Matthew 11:28-29)

If this hits you where you live, connect with me.  We want you to know what peace – real peace – feels like.  It would be an honor to introduce you to the One who loves you so much.

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“worthless” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

superchristian

August 11, 2011

June 5, 2011.  Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.

If anyone can be considered a Superchristian, it’s the apostle Peter, right?  He was a man of action.  He was a hero.  And we need heroes, don’t we?  But we are risking a lot when we expect our heroes to be more than men.  We are risking a lot more when we set ourselves up as a Superchristian to be looked up to by… the regular Christians out there.

Even Peter was an embarrassment.

A man of action.  A hero.  An embarrassment.  And then… REDEEMED.   The world needs a hero.  Are you that hero?  I hope you know better…

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…


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“superchristian” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

So you’ve been way up there on the mountaintop with God, right?  So close. Your life has changed and it’s going to be different from this point on. From this mountaintop experience forward. You promise.

Can you relate?

This week over 1,800 people have been gathered in Estes Park, CO, for the 2011 Association Free Lutheran FLY (Free Lutheran Youth) Conference to worship, hear the Word of God preached and taught, and to grow in their faith.  Friday night FLY wraps up, and 1,800 souls will descend from a literal mountaintop experience with God.

Buckle up. You’re about to re-enter life with the low altitude dwellers again.  Life among the normal people.  With all the same stresses and disappointments and temptations that seemed to be at a safe distance when you were up there – so close to Him.  And you may be worried that the glory is going to fade.

Moses had a mountain top experience with God, too.  Exodus 34.  He would go up on the mountaintop (Mt. Sinai… not Eagle Cliff) and talk to God face to face, like talking to a friend, and when he came back down from his time being so close to God, his face would literally GLOW. Totally freaked people out. But everyone knew He had been with God, and it changed him.  Moses was LITERALLY letting his light shine. Hide it under a bushel no. He was gonna let it shine.

How about you? Up there on the mountain with God.  Are you gonna let it shine?  Is your newly bolstered faith going to freak people out?  I hope so. God’s love for us is so undeserved and so mind-blowing when we understand God’s wrath and our position as an enemy of the Holy One… and in that hostile state, Jesus suffered the humiliation and pain of the cross until he was dead.  God died.  As a substitution and atonement for OUR sin.  Why do we walk around among the low-altitude dwellers as if that truth is just another facet of our complex personality?  Shouldn’t it be THE DEFINING TRUTH that animates everything else about us?

But you… sure, your face is all shiny now with the nearness of God, but you know that normal is just around the corner.  Listen, even Moses could relate.  Look at 2 Corinthians 3:13…

“Moses… would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end.”

In other words, his shiny face would eventually begin to dim at  lower altitude.  The evidence of the nearness of God would fade, and Moses didn’t want people to see it.  He didn’t want them to see His return to “normal.”  He wanted the glory.  He wanted the nearness.  He wanted to shine.

And you’re up there with God, hearing Him talk to your heart, singing to Him with newfound abandon.  And you don’t want the return to normal.  You fear the descent. You want to shine.

LISTEN UP, YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN WITH GOD! You don’t have to fear the descent.  Jesus came and established a new normal.  You can shine with a peculiar supernatural confidence that doesn’t come from you at all, but from the King of heaven Himself.  There is a new covenant in Christ.  We are image-bearers, and now LIGHT-bearers for Jesus.  Powered by the indwelling Spirit.

And this isn’t just for the FLY attenders.  I remember years ago sitting across the table from a friend at Applebee’s, trying to talk him out of filing divorce papers.  “I used to be so close to God,” he said.  He talked with his hands. “Now I’m way back down here, and I used to be way up here.  I just feel like it would take me so long to get back up there again.”

Can you relate?

Here’s the truth that we have such a hard time believing…  There is no mountain to climb. Jesus died.  It is finished.  The verse in 2 Corinthians 3 that I shared about Moses is preceded by this one, verse 12…

“Since we have such a hope we are very bold, NOT LIKE MOSES, who would put a veil over his face…”

With Jesus, everything changed forever.  Now we have confidence to enter the presence of God and to stand before Him SPOTLESS, because Jesus is our Redeemer, and now He is our Advocate.  He paid our price.  We don’t need to offer sacrifice like Moses did.  He WAS the Sacrifice.  He IS the Sacrifice.

Check out verses 16-18…

“But when one turns to the Lord the veil is removed.  Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom.  And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same likeness from one degree of glory to another…”

WHOA!  No veil! No shame!  From one degree of glory to another… you just keep getting shinier.  Don’t fear the descent.  You have access to God RIGHT NOW in Jesus Christ.  The veil is torn.  He is the Door.  He is the Way.  Life is in Him, and it accessible to you right now.  No mountaintop required.

God bless you when you sense the very real nearness of God.  And God bless you when you can’t.  Because the truth is, the old normal has been blown away in Jesus.  The new normal is shining like the sun.

Why do we worry that God might only fuel people on the mountain top?  God isn’t only with you on the high places.  Jesus promised us, after all, “And LO, I will be with you always…” (Sorry. Couldn’t help myself there.)

You’re good to go.  Since you have such a hope, you are very bold. There is no mountain to climb.  Don’t fear the descent.  Let it shine.

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“moutain top descent :: no bushels allowed” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You cannot control other people.  Repeat after me… “I cannot control other people.” Good.  At the going rate for professional therapy, you all owe me $175.

This may or may not seem elementary, but I’ll tell you why I’m writing about it today… We don’t really believe this.

I want to help you with something that I wrestle with myself.  When we are confronted with a conflict of some kind, the kind of conflict that requires a face-to-face let’s-talk-this-out meeting, our job is to do everything possible to steer the ship toward peace with everyone.  It’s not about proving your case, or demanding justice, or sticking it to the other guy because you are just so right this time… It’s supposed to be about relational repair.  Peace.

That’s what the Bible says, right?  Romans 12:18 says straight up:  “Live at peace with everyone.”

At least, some of us think that’s what the Biblical standard is.  Peace with everyone.  At all times.  No matter what.  Turn the other cheek.  Seventy times seven.  Logs and specks.  You, know… be a doormat for the Lord. This is the path of least resistance.  For us to be at peace with everyone, we can’t take a firm position or stand up for ourselves or confront someone if they’ve wronged us, then, right?  Because for us to be at peace with everyone, we need everyone to be at peace with us… right?

Repeat after me, “I cannot control other people.” Perfect.  That’ll be $350.

Of course Romans 12:18 has more to say than “Live at peace with everyone.”  And while I’m certainly not discounting Jesus’ commands to radical forgiveness, cheek-turning, and humility, let’s be clear on what we are and what we are NOT called to do in cases of relational tension.

Roman’s 12:18 in it’s ENTIRETY reads like this:  “IF it is possible, and AS FAR AS IT DEPENDS ON YOU, live at peace with everyone.

In other words, it might not always be possible.  Paul understands.  God understands.  Why is this the case?  “You cannot control other people.” Plain and simple.  God doesn’t hold you accountable for the other person’s behavior OR for their REACTION to your attempts at relational reconcilliation.  That’s why this verse is more of a comfort to me than a command.  The phrase that liberates me from religious striving for the impossible standard is this: “…as far as it depends on you…”

Some of you need to take that good news to heart.  Some of you are locked right now in a relational conflict that you cannot control.  Some of you are experiencing deep pain, or are feeling that your inner sense of justice has been violated again and again, because there is someone in your life who refuses to treat you with respect.  Some of you are shouldering  a heavy weight of guilt because you feel like you can’t fix it. And you’re not at peace.  And you’re supposed to be at peace with people.

Once again, and I won’t even bill you for it… “I cannot control other people.”

Jesus wants you to lay that guilt down.  And I don’t mean to put words in His mouth… that’s dangerous ground.  But I can be confident in this case, because we are not called to shoulder the responsibility for other people’s sinful behavior.  If you are weighed down by a broken relationship, I have good news.

First Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)  You are not called to take responsibility for other people’s relational baggage.  Lay it down.

Second, Paul says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you…”  You re not called to take responsibility for other people’s relational baggage.  Lay it down.

Our part is hard enough.  In fact, our part is impossible.  Seventy times seven is an idiom meaning “forever, without end.” How often should we go on forgiving people according to Matthew 18:22?  Forever. And if you’re in a broken relationship with another person who is continuing to wound you or treat you with disrespect or disregard, neverending forgiveness might sound impossible all on it’s own, to say nothing of restoring that relationship to peace.  But that is where Jesus strength is made perfect in you – when you are weak.  And that is where, abiding in Christ, we are being transformed into His likeness with ever increasing glory.  Neverending forgiveness may seem impossible.  But it’s not intended to be something that you give and give and give to the OTHER person…  It is something that you RELEASE from yourself again and again.

Release the need to control the situation.  Release the need to see justice come down on the offending other party.  Release the feeling that your reputation – or more significant, your identity –  is dictated by this other person.  Forgiveness is a command of God because He wants to protect your heart. From bitterness and self-centeredness and self-pity and from sin.

So, with God’s help, let go of the need to hold the other guy accountable.  Your mom may never change.  That coworker or classmate may continue to treat you badly.  Your spouse may not be the person you dreamed they would become if only you loved them enough.  Forgive them – and let God be their judge.  Over and over.  Forever.  As far as it depends on you.

But that is as far as you can go.  As far as it depends on you.  Because you cannot control other people.

This does NOT mean you forget.  This does NOT mean you continue to put yourself in a position to be wounded.  This does NOT mean you don’t stand up for yourself when necessary.  This does NOT mean you have to be a doormat for the Lord.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

If peace is not possible, it is NOT your fault.  If you have forgiven and extended kindness and it is rejected or met with contempt, it is NOT your fault.  As far as it depends on you.

Lay it down.

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“i know you’re right, but you still can’t pray that he gets trampled by a herd of rabid wildebeast” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

It was like a punch in the gut.

I couldn’t breathe.  I just sat in the pew next to her with my jaw clenched.  There were eternal consequences here, I thought.  I couldn’t belive this was happening.  I could feel her retreating from the church – retreating from Jesus.

He was a potential candidate for the now vacant Senior Pastor position in the church where I served as the Worship and Arts director.  He was being seriously considered for a call, and this was his day to preach.

She was a relative of a relative.  Visiting our church.  She NEVER went to church.  But this was her day. Prayers, the Spirit, and circumstance brought her here.  Could have been the most important day in her life, and she didn’t even know it.  She was wounded, hurting, lost.  She needed Jesus.  She needed “Come to me, all who are weary…”

He was a jerk.

It is one thing to preach the Law in all of it’s sterness to awaken the souls of the complacent and pierce the hearts of the defiant IN ORDER THAT they might receive the life-giving Gospel truth: Jesus has already paid our penalty, we have hope, it is finished.  It is another thing to revel in the preaching of the Law.  To wield it like a clumsy weapon, clubbing the saints and the searching alike.  As if guilt were a better indicator of healthy spiritual life than love.

I realized early in the message she would never come here again.  Truth be told, I had decided early in the message that if he took the call, I would not come here again, either.  But now I felt hope slipping away and angry walls being built, brick by brick.  He was railing. Railing against those who would defile their body with tattoos. Spit in the face of God by piercing their bodies, His temple.  Those who would wear their sin proudly like a badge of honor in their dark clothing and Doc Martin boots and heavy eye make-up.  How shameful they were. How disgusting their vanity and rebellion must look to God.

She shifted uncomfortably, uncrossing her legs to lower her Doc Martins under the pew.  Her plaid flannel sleeves weren’t long enough to cover the ink spilling down her forearm and onto her wrist.  She was ashamed.  Then she was angry. Then she was gone.

I have never – NEVER – forgotten the lesson of that day, but I’ve never written about it.  Here I am in a Lutheran Seminary, learning how to divide all of scripture into two distinct categories:  LAW and GOSPEL.  God has given us the Law to kill our self-reliance and to point us to the cross.  And as a fifth (sixth… more than that?) generation Lutheran, I’ve been taught that the Gospel without the Law is cheap grace.  People need to be confronted with their sin before they are ready to receive the Gospel.  True conversion involves repentance. We die to self before we are reborn.

But…

That “but” has big implications.  I have feared pushing against centuries of Lutheran orthodoxy and thousands of Spirit-led theologians who would warn me that in this regard, there are no “buts.”  Law, then Gospel.  LAW, then Gospel.

But…

Sometimes, people already know they are broken. Sometimes, people are aware that they don’t measure up. Sometimes people come to church expecting God to view them the way this clumsy, angry, mean-spirited preacher viewed them.  And to them Jesus says, “Come…”

Why is this? It is because He created us to be in a relationship with Himself, for His glory and our enjoyment.  It is not unholy or selfish to seek to enjoy God.  He crafted us with a longing to be satisfied.  And NOTHING satisfies like the enjoyment of God Himself.  As we express that enjoyment in worship, thanksgiving, service, obedience, and praise, God gets glory.  And the two great longings in the universe are simultaneously met.  Man hungers to be satisfied, God desires to be glorified.  And God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

So I look at the great God-story of the Bible.  And I see how it all points to Jesus.  And I believe it is the GREATEST truth in all of time – and that people everywhere need to hear it.  And I look at the beginning of the story.  And I see God there, “In the beginning…”  And I see the beginning of man.  And I notice something important…

Adam was created in God’s image, bearing His likeness in a personality and a desire for relationship… and God said it was very good. They walked together in the garden and had face-to-face relationship.  It was very good.  And this is the relationship mankind was created to have with God.  This was God’s intent from the start, and it is His desire now.

And all of this is solidified before Genesis chapter 3.

Why is it we start out as preachers and street evangelists, wielding our bullhorns and pointing our fingers from the pulpits, and we start at Genesis chapter 3?

“She took of its fruit and ate, and she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”

Tragedy.  Horror.  Shame.  Separation.  Judgment.  Brokenness.  Pain.  Death.

It is true.  Because of that day, and because of all of the days between then and now that man has spent serving himself instead of our gracious creator God, everybody takes their first breath on earth as a sinner.  Disconnected from that “walk in the Garden… and it was very good” relationship.  We are hopelessly broken and unable to make our way back to God.  And that is why Jesus’ death on the cross is the centerpoint of history.  And that is why people need Jesus – to be rescued from themselves.  And that is why well-meaning evangelicals swing their clubs of condemnation.  They want people who don’t even realize they need saving to be saved. So the Law must do its heart-breaking work.  To break up the hard-packed earth of the hearts of men, so that the Gospel seed might take root and grow and bear much fruit.

But…

Sometimes people are broken and they know it already.  Must we always skip over the first two chapters of Genesis?  Must it always be LAW, then Gospel?

The message I have heard for so many years often sounds like this… (1)  You are a sinner. Your sin is ugly, and it separates you from God.  There is nothing you can do to avoid eternal judgment.  You are condemned by your sin. (2)  Jesus came to pay the price for that sin. On the cross, your sin was crucified with Him.  When he rose from the dead, He announced once and for all that forgiveness has triumphed.  Because of Jesus, we are forgiven, and we can be with Him in heaven forever.

You know what?  This isn’t the whole story. I submit that when we LEAD with the LAW, we beat up already wounded souls.  Not every time.  But often. Way too often.  I propose proclaiming a message, over a lifetime of biblical preaching, that looks more like this:

(1)  God loves you.  He created you for a purpose. God is zealously pursuing a relationship with you, and He will rejoice over you when you turn to Him.  This is what we are here for.  To enjoy the love of God.  God is a pursuing God, and you are made in His image.  He wants to restore you to your created purpose.

(2)  Sin mucked it all up. God is Holy and can’t be around sin.  He is righteousness, and He cannot tolerate sin.  Therefore, your sin separates you from Him, and nothing you can do can change that.  You will never be “good enough” for God.

(3) In light of Genesis 1 & 2 – in light of your created purpose – God made a way to redeem your soul.  Jesus death on the cross was payment for your sin.  Repent of your selfishness and self-reliance.  God has been pursuing you because He longs to be in relationship with you.  Jesus is the answer.  There is hope for even you.

Evangelicals will face judgment for the souls they have driven away from God with their clumsy handling of the Law.

Yes, the proud need to be broken.  But not by us.  By the truth of the Word and the work of the Holy Spirit.  And not all who hear us preach believe they don’t need God in their life.  Some come to hear because they simply have no idea how to find Him.  Some come to hear because they already consider themselves a screw-up.  Those people need to hear Jesus call, “Come, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest…”  And they need to know God is pursuing them.

Some of you are clenching your jaw right now.  You feel this is dangerous ground, and that I stand at the precipice of a slippery slope.  We cannot soften the full weight of the Law.  We cannot compromise. We cannot settle for “gospel-light” just because it’s what people want to hear.

I submit that your uncomfortability may come from the evangelical culture you have been steeped in.  What I am saying is rooted in scripture. God created us as deeply valued sons, born with a purpose first.  THEN sin broke the ideal.  First God created and it was very good.  THEN sin separated us from Him.  Some people will reject God because the church FIRST reflects His judgment rather than His love.  I believe more souls will be willing to hear the truth of their sin and their need for Jesus if they FIRST hear the truth that God loves them, considers them deeply valuable, and that he is pursuing a restored relationship with them out of his zealous love for us.

It’s not all about us.  It’s about Him. And when more souls are saved, and more hearts are set free and restored to their created purpose, God receives more glory.  He loved first.  It has been this way since Genesis 1 and 2.  Not just since the 3rd chapter, when we stood condemned by our sin.

So back to that day in the church pew, with my jaw clenched, and the tat-covered, lip-pierced girl sitting next to me…

I wonder what would have happened that day if the message surprised her, instead of confirming her suspicions.  “Yep, I am rotten.  Yep, the church is all about making sure I know that.  Yep, I thought this would be uncomfortable.  No way am I coming back to hear this stuff again.”

What would have happened if she would have heard how valuable she is to God?  That there is hope for her, and that she has been created by a God who knows her personally with all of her failings and rebellion, and still pursues her.

Tomorrow (Friday, May 13), a number of Christians on Twitter will be using the hashtag #4Giveness to connect with those outside of the church who have been pushed away from God by His people.  If this post resonnates with you, read this from my friend Chris Goforth, and join us tomorrow.

Too often the people of God have beaten people up with the Law as if WE don’t need it anymore, and it is meant to be applied as judgment to the sinners “out there.”  Too often we have stiff-armed people, making the gospel difficult to reach by way of a long trail of guilt and shame.  Jesus says “Come…” It is simple.  It is very good.

It is time to tell people that God is loving God who is pursuing them.

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‘we don’t need to beat up the broken and stiff arm sinners :: can i still be a lutheran?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

There are three ways the church can respond to culture. And by “culture,” I mean normal walking-around life, surrounded by the contemporary marketplace of ideas, ideologies, philosophies, marketing, goods and services, media and entertainment. It’s “the world” in big huge air quotes (picture me talking more slowly and wiggling two fingers on either side of my face when I say that…) that we’re supposed to be “IN” but not “OF.” Culture.

Is it evil? Is it just our present reality – kind of a blank slate we’ve been handed to paint our redemption story on? Is it a war zone? Is it a playground? The church has to decide, because millions of souls are walking around in it. Many are curious and hungry – wanting there to be some peace of mind and freedom and meaning in our churches. Some are hostile. Enemy combatants. Many, many more are disinterested. I believe those souls all need Jesus, and if you believe that, too, you have to think through the options when it comes to culture. We’re surrounded. How are we going to engage or stave off or reach out to the souls we encounter in this space we call CULTURE?

Again, I believe the Church has three options:

(1) RECEIVE ::  Blue jeans, iPhones, microwave ovens, Facebook, John Mayer (A true artist), “Finding Nemo,” LifeTime Fitness, Cold Stone ice cream, email… there are many blessings of modernity that can be enjoyed without compromising Biblical values or threatening to undermine our moral standards. These are things the church can RECEIVE, grateful to God for the enjoyment and blessing they bring to our lives.

(2) REJECT ::  Illicit drugs, pornography, vulgar language, John Mayer (not ALL of his songs are innocuous), alcohol abuse, racism, rampant consumerism, Burger King breakfast food… there are many parts of modern culture that have no place in the life of a believer. Either they ascribe and proclaim anti-Biblical messages, or promote sin as acceptable or normative, or they taste like bacos and Velveeta rolled in salt with a side of salt and extra salt. All of these parts of culture must be rejected.

(3) REDEEM ::  And now, the rubber meets the road. We reflect God’s nature when we take what has been stolen or broken by sin and the devil and redeem it to glorify the Lord. Much of the technology, communication tools, trends, artistic efforts, etc., of modernity can be creatively and effectively REDEEMED by the church if we are willing to pray, use our imaginations, and have the courage to be IN but not OF. Social media, contemporary music, marketing tools, John Mayer (in the right setting… absolutely), film and multi-media, theater and dance, Braveheart… The church can harness much of the culture around us and “re-brand it” for Kingdom purposes as a reflection of the Redeemer God who is pursing us – to remake us again in His image.

The church must decide.

To throw out all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole, but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “OUT OF and NOT OF.” Easy. Safe, maybe. But not impacting the culture. Or saving souls.

To embrace all of culture (sure, that’s hyperbole… but you know the churches I’m talking about) is to be “IN AND OF.” Also easy. Not safe though. And in like manner as its opposite extreme… not impacting culture. Or, many times, truly saving souls.

To parse all of culture on an ongoing basis is NOT easy. Nor is it always safe. But prayerful, carefully discerned cultural REDEMPTION actually DOES have the potential to change culture. And souls who would otherwise write off church as irrelevant might be willing to come in and take a look. And if they come in the door, they have the potential of hearing the life-changing Word of God which convicts of sin and rescues to hopeless and broken-hearted.

Where local churches fall on these issues becomes a matter of conviction, often dividing believers from one another along cultural boundaries instead of theological ones. To borrow a metaphor from my brother Mark Driscoll, we need to be clear on the theological difference between our “State” and “National” boundaries.

Mark says that “state” boundaries are those stylistic and secondary theological issues that often divide evangelical denominations one from another.  Baptists might not like social dancing, but that’s not such a big deal to Lutherans… as long as Toby Mac and Casting Crowns are in the DJ’s play list.  Some sprinkle their new babies, and some only dunk the professing believers.  Some think we’ll be snatched up “Jerry Jenkins style” at the Rapture when Jesus comes back, and others think we all have to endure the fury of the end times first.  Some like Southern Gospel.  I know.  Hard to believe.  But it’s true.

These are the “State” boundaries, theologically speaking. We’re not pulling out the heavy artillery to launch a full scale assault on North Dakota.  Don’t get me wrong… we’re glad to be Minnesotans.  But we embrace our wind-swept  brothers as perhaps lesser fortunate, yet fully embraced Midwesterners.  Like us.

But if you press us on the core stuff – Christ’s divinity, the Bible’s inerrancy and authority on all matters of faith, the universality of sin, the exclusivity of the cross as the only path to God – these are “National” boundary lines, and they are worth contending for.  If Canada ever sends a sortie of heavily armed mounties across the line at Biwabik or International Falls, those hosers are going down, eh?

Contending for the faith, after all, is a Biblical idea (Jude 1:3).  But it stands in balance with passages like John 17, where Jesus prays to His Father, asking God that we (all believers) would be ONE, just as He and the Father are ONE.  And contending for the faith also stands in tension with Romans 12:8, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”  We can’t abide assaults on the primary biblical tenets that make the Gospel unique among all the religions of the world.  But we can agree to disagree on those state-to-state issues that don’t threaten the clear teaching of the one way to reunion with God – faith in the grace of Jesus alone for the forgiveness of our sins.

So here we are.  In Minnesota.  We keep an open border with our North Dakotan brothers.  They do produce some tasty spuds in the Red River Valley, after all.  And we keep a wary eye on those Canadian insurgents who would press across our border, threatening our very American-ness with their alternative rock bands, rugged natural beauty, and generally friendly disposition.  Oh yeah… and with their summertime combination of plaid shorts and long black socks.  We can’t stand for it!

The point is, local church, you must decide. When it comes to culture, what must we reject, what can we receive, and what can we REDEEM for God’s glory?  I hope to be crystal clear on those first two, and to relish the third whenever possible.  And in the process, forgive me if I ever fire on a North Dakotan brother.

It’s the Canucks we need to contend with.

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“north dakota gets a pass, but canada is going down :: culture, church, and contending for the faith” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

I recently stumbled across a list of the Top 20 Dwight Schrute (from “The Office”) quotes of all time. Or least the last seven seasons. Here’s number one…

“When my mother was pregnant with me, they did an ultrasound and found she was having twins. When they did another ultrasound a few weeks later, they discovered that I had adsorbed the other fetus. Do I regret this? No, I believe his tissue has made me stronger. I now have the strength of a grown man and a little baby.”

So good. And a ripe metaphor for the picking. Win win.

I am really uncomfortable right now. It has nothing to do with the hastily consumed lunch I ploughed through on the way to work. This is a soul-deep intellectual wrestling match… with myself. I have run headlong into a theological discovery/problem/question that doesn’t seem to square up nicely with what I’ve been taught… my whole life. And now I’m a Seminary student in a conservative Lutheran Seminary. And there’s this thing. This problem.

It’s like a little baby. In my brain. Growing, forming, stretching my mind. Kicking. Elbowing me in the brain. Taking shape. But not yet ready to be born.

I’m really uncomfortable. And that’s so good.

I know… you want me to let the cat out of the bag… or the baby out of my brain… or the idea out of my face. But this post isn’t about the idea/problem/question itself. It’s about having an idea/problem/question at all.

Frankly, I’m a little scared that I might believe something here that most of the people I’m in class with don’t believe. I’m a little afraid I might need to change my theological presuppositions. I’m afraid of the birthing process. It might be messy.

And yet, I LOVE THIS. I am energized and fueled by the reality that I’m growing, and thinking, and interacting with a living God… and all the while this idea is nudging me and kicking inside my head, wanting to be let loose. Do you know this feeling? The seasons in life when a really big piece of your philosophical or even theological grid is in the process of being formed, and you just know that at the end of the struggle, something new will be birthed in you?

So someday (before too long, I hope, because man… I am REALLY uncomfortable here) this idea/problem/question will make its way out of my face, out of my brain, and onto this blog, I’m sure. But it’s not fully cooked yet. It’s not fully formed. Still premature.

Whatever it is… this question I have for Him… He’s big enough for it. He knows me already, and he knows that kicking baby of a thought in my brain. I think maybe He planted it there, after all.

And this kind of uncomfortable lets me know that I’m ALIVE. I thank God I’m disturbed.  My faith is strong, not the weaker for my questions. I hope I never stop thinking, pressing in, birthing new ideas and deeper understanding. I don’t mean inventing new ways of understanding the Bible… I mean plumbing the depths of what He’s already given us all the more. Because a mature faith isn’t one in which we stop asking questions. On the contrary.

Ask your questions. Dig in. Press hard. Sweat. Lose sleep. God loves you. He allows His children to ask. He’s letting me be uncomfortable right now for my own good. He’s reminding me of His sovereignty and goodness, and birthing new ideas in me… painfully, slowly, both carefully and recklessly. But these uncomfortable times are so, so good. They mean growth. They mean my faith life has the strength of a grown man… (wait for it…)

…and a little baby.

What ideas/problems/questions are keeping you up at night? Kicking you in the brain?

 

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“the strength of a grown man… and a little baby :: uncomfortable is good” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.