Archives For redemption

 

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.

 

Now we’re getting at the heart of it.  The heart of ALL of it.  This is what I believe to be true of God in the deepest corners of my heart.  Scripture screams it out.  My life rings with it.  This is what I believe.

God wants us to passionately pursue JOY.

What?  Wait… the church has always told me I need to take up my cross, count the cost, follow the rules, I surrender all… right?  Loving God requires letting go of what I want so that I can do what God wants… right?

Right.  God wants your life to ring with joy.

A relationship with Jesus is not about what we sacrifice for Him, or a new set of rules that rob us of freedom.  JOY!  Christian faith and life is about being set free to pursue the deepest joy imaginable.  THAT IS GOSPEL.  That is why I want to be a Pastor.  It is my heartbeat.

I’m in a seminary class right now on Christian Ethics, which has been pointing us again and again to the sovereign authority of the God’s Word as our moral construct.  Depending on your life story, that statement might either make you do a little internal cheer and fist-pump for Jesus, or it may totally make you squirm… like I’m going to get my rulebook all up in your business.  Fist-pumpers and skeptics alike can take a breath, because I’m not going into “why my morals are better than yours” mode.

We have been discussing alternatives to Biblical morality… hedonism, for example.  The pursuit of pleasure as the determiner of what is right and wrong.  I think hedonism devoid of Christ is just empty staggering toward regret and isolation and death.  Pleasure is a gift of God, sure… but it’s fleeting.  The moral construct of the Bible is rooted in something far deeper.  But again, this isn’t a post about right and wrong, per se.  It’s about why we ARE in the first place.  Why we exist, and the reason for Jesus’ coming to earth.  This is the deep down stuff of life… not just the rulebook.

To my heathen friends (insert winky face here), you non-churchy ones out there, my guess is this post most likely won’t ruffle your feathers too badly.  As long as I’m not too pushy on whole right and wrong thing, you’ll probably be able to ignore this one.  You’d be missing out… but the choice is yours.

On the other hand, it’s my solidly entrenched churchy friends who may take me to task today.  I think I’m going to say some things here in the next few days that buck against the way Christians think.  So give me a minute here while I pull my bulls-eye t-shirt out of storage.  You can load up.  Putting it on now.  And here we go…

(1)  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.

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

(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 the praise of His glory, at all times, right now and thoughout eternity.

(4)  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.

(5) Far from making Christianity all about US, this truth reveals that the polar opposite is true… God receives greater glory as we find greater JOY in Him.  The intrinsic purpose of God and the created purpose of man find their mutual fulfillment in our making much of God.  Our joy is found in His glory!

My heart is beating fast for this.  Do you see that this changes EVERYTHING?  Maybe if you are skeptical about religion this just sound like a bunch of church-speak hoo-haw.  I get that.  Let me break it down for you…

It’s true… God wants to wreck your life.  He’s up front about that.  This is no bait and switch.  If you’re not pursuing ever-deepening joy in Him alone, you’re missing out.  God wants to wreck your life to give you a better one.  He literally wants you to experience life-changing joy forever.

These are truths that are repeated again and again and again throughout the Bible, and the five points above work together to create a latticework of interdependant truths that help me understand the foundation of my faith and ministry passion.  They are simply too profoundly significant for me to adequately cover in one blog post.  Or in a hundred blog posts.  Or in a hundred books.

But over the next several days, I’ll take a look at these truths point by point.  This Christian life is a joyful adventure, not begrudging service in order to secure an eternity outside of hell.

God wants you to pursue JOY.  I believe that as deeply as I believe anything in my life.  Maybe you needed to hear that today.  Maybe your whole life is about to change…

Click here to go on to part two…

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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.

sin

August 11, 2011

August 7, 2011. Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.  Genesis 3  ::  James 1:13-15  ::  Romans 5:8-11

What is the consequence of minimizing the gravity of sin?  That’s the question we sought to answer with this week’s message at Living Hope.  The truth is, “sin” is sidelined by the culture outside the church, because it presumes a normative moral standard.  Our culture is instead more comfortable with Postmodernity’s individualism and moral relativity.  Even inside the church, we want to make our own rules.  Even in churches where SIN is preached without pulling punches, it sometimes seems to hardly make a difference in the lives of those in the pews.  God forgives, right?  Is grace so commonplace, so cheap, that it has dulled us to the effects of sin?

SHAME.  FEAR.  BLAME.  PAIN.  DEATH.

If we minimize the gravity of sin, we won’t be reliant upon God for the grace of sanctification and transformation, and we will not be holy.

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…

 


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“sin” 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.

the hour has come

August 11, 2011

May 29, 2011.  Living Hope Church in St. Michael-Albertville, MN.

Dinner is over.  The most memorable dinner of their lives.  Jesus has washed their feet.  Sent Judas out into the night.  Instituted the first Communion.  And something BIG is happening.  The disciples know it.  Jesus’ prayer proves it.  The hour has come.

Click on the tab below to stream the audio…


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“the hour has come” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

“We’re not going down! Hold the line!”

Tears are running down my face now.  My sides hurt. Make it stop!

“Brace yourself! It’s coooommmminnggg!”

I’m sucking air. I haven’t laughed like this forever.  It feels good.  It’s therapy.

“I couldn’t help it man. I went down. The dude in front of me weighed, like, 250.  I didn’t wanna do it.  I’m so ashamed…”

My cousin is in storytelling mode.  He’s recounting the time he and his brother-in-law went to a Benny Hinn event.  Live. For them it was more like a trip to the circus than a trip to church.  Benny was in rare form.  Waving his arms and knocking down the crowd in waves of the, um, Spirit.  They were determined to remain standing as the crowds of devotees around them were “slain in the Spirit” or “blown away by the wind of the Spirit” or “succumbed to the onslaught of hot air coming in waves from the platform” or whathaveyou.  It was all going so well, too, until the six foot four linebacker directly in front of them surrendered to the bologna and went down. On top of them. Alas, try as they might to literally stand their ground on behalf of rational believers the world over, it was to no avail.  They were slain in the Spirit.  Forcibly.

See, that there is funny.

My question du jour is this… When it comes to all things religious, does having a sense of humor diminish our reverence in some way?  In other words, if we laugh at the charlatans and jesters, instead of responding with somber judgement, are we making light of the faith we claim – or worse… are we treating the reputation of Jesus and His church with irreverence?  It’s a serious question.

When charlatans and jesters dabble in the arena of religion, and if said charlatans and jesters are truly funny…is it OK to laugh? Or is it playing with fire?

Today is one of those days when I don’t necessarily have a hard answer.  I’m curious to see what you think about all of this.  I’m trying to find that nebulous middle ground… in the place where freedom and license mingle.  I’m open to correction, or at least to refining, because you guys might have a perspective I haven’t thought of yet.

Two people have prompted this post. First of all, Benny Hinn, the TV “evangelist” from the dark side.  Second, Niko Alm, the Austrian “Pastafarian” who recently won the right to take his driver’s license photo wearing a pasta strainer on his head as a religious head covering.  We’ll get back to Niko and his dual-purpose head gear in short order.  But first…

Benny Hinn. It is appropriate to write this post today immediately after writing about my distaste for snark in the Church, because it allows me an important clarification.  I stand by my conviction that sharp, pointed, sarcastic characterization of other people is almost always ugly and unnecessary.  Nine times out of ten, I think Christians should err on the side of kindness.  And yet, I don’t feel any contradiction in calling out wolves among the sheep… if they really are wolves.  I’m not talking about character assassination – and often that happens between brothers who disagree on some point of doctrine or methodology.  But this is something else, I believe.  There is a time to call out the phonies who use the name of Jesus for personal gain.  There is a time to call a fool a fool.

Benny Hinn is no brother in the Lord.  Benny Hinn is a dangerous charlatan who has HARMED the cause of the Gospel of Jesus, using His name to bilk people of their money, providing staged “healings” and ridiculous false “Holy Spirit power” to literally knock people over… for what reason I don’t know.  So I have no problem calling him out.  I do think he may actually wield some spiritual power… just not God’s power.

With that in mind, please enjoy the following.  This makes me laugh every time…

Good times. Now, a great friend of mind posted this video clip on Facebook earlier this year and the response was… surprising.  Really surprising, to be honest.  He was raked over the coals for “mockery” and an unkind spirit toward Benny Hinn.  The comment thread was LONG and pointed.  My response… “That is funny.  It’s OK to laugh at funny.  Benny Hinn is a baffoon, and he does not speak for Jesus or His Bride.  I have no problem laughing at that.”

I’m curious.  Does that put a bad taste in your mouth? I’m not judging the laughers or the non-laughers among us.  But I’m curious.  Are there some of you who feel the same as those who criticized my friend? Is this kind of humor below the holy standard of the children of the King?

And that brings me to our Austrian atheist friend, Niko. The Pastafarian.

For those of you who are unaware of the growing Pastafarian movement, here’s the 411… Although the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a.k.a. “Pastafarianism”) claims to have existed underground for hundreds of years, it really came to the forefront with the publication of this letter to the Kansas School Board by one Bobby Henderson in 1995.  In response to their inclusion of Intelligent Design theory into the public schools as an alternative to Darwinian theory, Bobby proposed inclusion of the Pastafarian theory of creation, involving the Noodley Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and of course, propagation of the inverse relationship between the number of Pirates and global warming.

Brilliant.

Of course, it’s full blown mockery of the one true God.  So when Niko Alm, a devoted follower of FSM (that’s code for “Flying Spaghetti Monster”) was victorious in the Austrian court system and won the right to sport kitchenware on his cranium for his driver’s license photo, I felt a twinge of inner conflict.

But, truth be told, I laughed.  Out loud.  I lol’ed. ‘Cause that right there is funny.

So here I am, a voice to the Church for freedom and joy.  I really believe that in the eyes of the world, it doesn’t do the message of the Gospel any good when His followers refuse to acknowledge the funny amidst the irreverent.  Funny is funny.

Or am I off base here?  Part of me wonders, literally, what would Jesus do?  Forgive the cliche… but I honestly wonder.  Would Jesus laugh at Benny Hinn using the force?  Would He see the humor in the straight face of Niko the strainer-adorned Pastafarian?

There was a time Jesus wept for the lost souls of Jerusalem.  I’ve honestly wondered how, knowing with perfect clarity the eternal fate of those around Him who chose not to believe – not to follow… How could Jesus have walked among them without weeping all the time?

And yet, he didn’t.  He mourned the consequences of sin at the grave of his friend Lazarus.  He got frustrated with the stubborn hearts of the people he taught.  He grieved.  But he also sang hymns and shared jokes with his disciples and he laughed.

God is the author of humor.  He wired us to recognize it – to respond to it.  He created us to laugh. In fact, I’m walking proof of His sense of humor.  My foibles are epic-making, and He’s still trying to use my life.  So I look to Him as a Father I can trust to be good and who will respond to me in love.

And I fear Him as a Father who is not to be taken lightly.  He is a Father to be revered.  To be loved and adored, yes.  But respected and revered as the Holy One.

I walk in balance here.  Joy and freedom, yes.  And reverence.  They are not mutually exclusive. But they do live in tension sometimes.

The truth is, seeing anyone choose to align themselves with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, hoping to be “touched by his Noodley Apendage” is two things at the same time… tragic… and funny.  They are clever in their irreverence.  They do not hurl venomous insults at the Church.  Instead they subvert Christianity (and all organized religion, I suppose) with parody.  But it’s funny. I’m torn.

Benny Hinn – especially Benny Hinn with a light saber – is two things… tragic… and funny.  He is a wolf, not a brother, as far as I can tell.  And the staggering cost of his perverse “ministry” is hard to calculate.  But watching him flail around like a clown and shoot people with lightning bolts… I find it hard not to laugh.

God will be the judge of Benny.  God will be the judge of Niko.  One day every knee will bow and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Both the sinners and the forgiven sinners.  Benny and Niko and yours truly all need Jesus.  I’ve prayed for the three of us.  Unless my life situation somehow puts me direct contact with either of these two men, I don’t see how my laughing at their antics has one iota of impact on their eternity.

But for the sake of the name of Jesus, should I be laughing at all?

Today, for the sake of transparency, I’ll own it.  I rever the Lord of Heaven, and I am passionate about His reputation.  But I’ve been redeemed for freedom, and He knows my heart.  And doggoneit… I feel free to laugh.

Tell me what you think.


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“pastafarians, benny hinn, charlatans and jesters :: it’s ok to laugh, right?” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

snark·y

adjective / ˈsnärkē /  sharply critical, cutting, or snide

 

Fresh tomatoes have their place.  And that place is not in my mouth.

Mexican restaurants are the worst perpetrators, probably because they are simply awash in fresh tomatoes.  They put fresh tomatoes on and in everything.  Therefore, even when I order my burrito with “NO TOMATOES,” I still routinely find rogue stow-away chunks of tomato pulp hidden among the tender folds of my flour tortilla.  I can’t escape them. So I’m forced to eat my Chipotle burritos with great caution, carefully scanning each bite for refugee tomato chunks that have slipped in among the pinto beans unannounced.  Sure as shootin’ if I eat my burrito with abandon and blind trust… BAM. I’m going to bite into a chunk of unwelcomed tomato pulp and get a case of the jigglies*insert shudder here*

Here it is: my distaste for fresh tomatoes parallels my feelings about snark in the Church.  I have been known to enjoy hurling a sarcastic tweet into the wild now and again.  I admit it.  And I admit it with some degree of regret, because I recognize it as a part of my fallen nature.  More often than not sarcasm cuts deeper than can be justified.  I’m trying to change my ways in this regard.

Now when I’m listening to a brother or sister in leadership, or reading from a fellow Christian blogger or columnist, when I run headlong into a face-full of snark, it puts a bad taste in my mouth.  Like a chunk of fresh tomato. Uninvited.  Unappreciated.  Unwanted.  Ineffective.

Mark Driscoll just got a talking to from his elder board. Mark is a guy with whom I agree on a broad spectrum of theological issues.  I’m in his camp most of the time.  And I love his passion to minister to and engage the 20 and 30 something MEN of the Church.  No doubt, we need strong voices calling men to be leaders and fulfill their biblical calling to be the head of the home they are made to be – and to lead the Church with a mix of Spirit-led confidence and humble grace.

However, Mark does have a cocky side.

The dark side of strong leadership gifts is a propensity toward pride and rash decision-making.  As much as I have loved brother Mark over the years, this was a foolish thing to do.

Earlier this month, Driscoll posted the following question on Facebook:

Yep, he did. Yuck-o.

Now blogger/speaker Rachel Held Evans has publically taken him to the woodshed.  His elders have taken corrective action.  And Mark responded with a non-apology, but an acknowledgement that he lacked judgement and is glad to be under the authority of elders who will reign him in when necessary.

All of this is like a big, gnarly chunk of tomato in the proverbial burrito of my Mark Driscoll relationship.

I have written about this kind of “since I’m right you’re not worthy of respect” attitude in the Church before – check out the related links below this post. It matters to me because it matters to the church.  I don’t bring up the Mark Driscoll junk in order to join any bandwagons, or to make this debate about Mark and his ministry.  Rather, this is an example.  A real time example.  Mark has lost some credibility in my eyes.  His snark has a cost. He may have important things to say to the men of the church.  But this snarky tone is unwise.  Uninvited.  Unappreciated.  Unwanted.  Ineffective.

Because of an overload of pride and snark, Driscoll has lost the opportunity to effectively share the Gospel with thousands of people who will now write him off as an unkind, homophobic chauvanist.  I mean, there are plenty of people who already had come to that conclusion.  Now even more will tune him out, and that’s a net loss for the Kingdom.  When he speaks of the saving power of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf, he is clear, he is potent, he is offering the only hope we have of eternal life.  But now, how many will ignore (or worse, discount with prejudice) whatever he has to say about Jesus Christ… all for a moment of snark?

When you are a Christ-follower, and a leader in the Church, no less, the consequences are eternal.

Snarky = sinfully caloused to the spiritual reality that we are ALL sinners who need the grace of Jesus.  No exceptions.  There is a place for watchdogs in the Church, calling out “Danger! Danger!” when false teachers are threatening to steal from God’s flock.  Wolves among the sheep.  However, I am wary of those who make “watchdog” their identity – if they wear the title with pride – and wield their opinions with more snark than love.  We are to be motivated by awe and love, yes, rather than sarcasm and guilt?  Snark is unkind, and it raises defenses. A kind word turns away wrath, and even those we disagree with are more likely to listen if we engage them with respect.

My world will be that much closer to heaven when I see less snarky barbs being hurled between brothers.  If you intend to hurl tomatoes at other brothers and sisters in the Church, I’ll ask you to consider a less caustic approach to dialogue. And I’ll ask you not to get any of that pulpy mess in my Tex-Mex, thank you very much.

Talk to me…

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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.