Peace. Authority. Hope.

These are words that I am speaking today with our family. These are not direct quotations, but rather Scripture turned into confessions.

Peace. What you meditate on you magnify. What you magnify will move you.

  • I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)
  • You are the One who formed us; We will not fear, for You have redeemed us; You have called us by name, we are Yours. (Isaiah 43:1)
  • You command Your angels concerning us to keep us in all our ways. (Psalm 91:11)
  • But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head. (Psalm 3:3)

Authority. Use your words.

  • We are of God and we overcome, for greater is He that is in me than than he that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
  • I take the shield of faith and with faith in Jesus I quench all the fiery darts of the evil one against me. (Ephesians 6:16)
  • In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all of creation – not even a hurricane – will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Hope. Eyes on Jesus, who took the Cross, then beat the grave.

  • Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us today … and He WILL deliver us … But if not, we still refuse to bow to fear and anxiety because our hope is in the name of Jesus. (Daniel 3:17-18)
  • I have been raised with Christ, so I seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. I set my mind on things above, not on things of earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)
  • I love you O Lord my strength. You are my Rock and my Fortress and my Deliverer, my God, my Rock, in whom I take refuge, my Shield, and the Horn of my salvation, my Stronghold. I call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. (Psalm 18:1-3)

What’s The Big Deal About Resurrection?

It really happened.

The message of Jesus is a resurrection story. It’s not just another religious tale. This is not a myth. The way of Jesus is not a compilation of pleasant, moral teachings; it is historical. The Christian faith is not the exaggerated account and reconstructed ethics of an imaginary rabbi named Jesus; it is the result of a real human who lived a real life and then died a real death.

But he isn’t just a human.

And he didn’t stay dead.

The very fact that it is so improbable makes it all the more vital to consider.

Think about it. The original Christian leader, Peter, was a Jesus-denier. The first witnesses to the resurrection were women, in a first-century world that scorned their testimony. The movement started in Jerusalem, the epicenter of Judaism, where they began to worship a man who said you had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. To top it all off, the earliest believers were being tortured and killed for their claims of having seen the resurrected real-life body of Jesus. Not the greatest motivator to sign up for this new faith.

And yet it exploded.

How do you explain the birth and expansion of this faith if he did not rise from the dead? What do you do with the testimony of hundreds of people who had nothing to gain, and literally everything lose by making such resurrection claims? What if it’s true?

It means light beats darkness.

Life beats death.

Justice beats oppression.

Cancer is going to bow. Poverty is going to bow. Racism is going to bow.

All things become new.

It means it’s not too late for you.

It means there is more hope for you that you ever thought possible, because the very worst thing this world can throw at you is death. And Jesus beat it. Which means death may be able to snatch you from this world; but Jesus is going to snatch you from death.

Which means you don’t need to be afraid of anything.

Ever. Again.

Which means the word impossible has been fundamentally altered for those who believe Jesus. His earthly ministry is bookended by two impossibilities: a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb. I don’t know how bad your situation is, but, he’s got this. There is nothing he can’t do. There is no mountain he can’t move. There is no life he can’t redeem.

Oh redemption. What a delicious word.

Great news! Jesus lived the life I should have lived. And then he died the death I deserved to die. But early Sunday morning, just as he promised, he rose. And so will you, if you’ll just believe.

Let’s go change the world.

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

I like honest conversations.

And I love the fact that God’s shoulders are big enough to handle our intellectual, emotional, and theological struggles. It’s why I am so drawn to the death of Lazarus (John 11).

On a holiday where billions will celebrate Jesus’ ultimate victory over death, I am reminded of the painful reality of living in the gap between the promises of God and realization of those promises.

Here’s the summary. The gospel writer goes out of his way to emphasize that Jesus loves Lazarus and his family. They were very well-acquainted with the healing reputation of the Messiah. By John 11 Lazarus is sick. Playing their friendship card, his sisters send word to Jesus, informing Him of Lazarus’ condition. You know, do your thing, Lord. Much to everybody’s surprise, Jesus does NOT come. Jesus does NOT heal. And Lazarus dies.

There’s the tension.

You could have stopped this. You could have fixed this. You could have prevented this. You could have intervened before bad became worse. And yet You did not. You stopped death for others; You prevented disaster for others; You saved the day for others. And yet You left us hanging. (And you love us?)

What do you do when God leaves you hanging?

It’s the question that has haunted me in recent years. Why? My God, my God, why? I’ve even invented my own angst-filled question-like emoji for my prayer journal in my moments of particular frustration. Why not me? Why not us? Why not help my child? Why not heal my sickness? Why aren’t you showing up? My God, my God, why?

If You would have been here, my brother would still be alive.

As the grieving sister Martha laid out her complaint to the Lord, Jesus made a promise: Your brother will rise again. To which she responded with a declaration of orthodox, albeit abstract piety:  I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day. But somehow we’ve all felt the impotent effects of intangible theology divorced from real life.

I was recently in a conversation  with a precious Muslim refugee. As the dialogue turned to the hope of life after death and my faith in Jesus, her response to my predictable evangelical pie in the sky was convicting: “To be honest with you, my deepest longing is for peace on earth. Is there any hope for salaam? My family is stuck in a war zone.” Great question.

Jesus, my brother is dead, and our hearts are broken. Is there any hope for peace on earth? I suppose I affirm the doctrine of a distant resurrection, but is there hope for broken hearts on earth? Lord, you’re too late.

And then Jesus drops the bomb. I am the resurrection.

I am.

I’m not sure why it means so much to me, but it has become one of the defining realities of my journey with God. Every time it feels like God is disappointing us with delay or disappointment (or silence!), you can be sure of this: He is about to reveal something new about Himself. I am the resurrection. I am the healer of broken hearts. I am the author of peace on earth (yes on earth) and goodwill toward humans. I’m actually starting to realize the gifts of God are great, but God himself is better.

Why does He allow death? Why the unresolved tension? Why are so many of us waiting in the valley of delay? I’m not sure. But I know this: He is creating a people stronger than death. Stronger than disappointment. Stronger than circumstance. He has a love stronger than the grave. He rules a kingdom that can NOT be shaken. Everything down here on earth is shakeable, which is why the plan has always been to bring up there down here. On earth as it is in heaven. Envy is shakeable. Comparison is shakeable. Worry is shakeable. Health is shakeable. But not Him. Not His kingdom. And not His people.

But my brother is dead, Lord. Not for long.

This weekend reminds me that it’s never too late. It’s never too hard. It’s never beyond his scope. It’s never beyond his reach. It’s never out of his control.

I thought it was game over. But it’s only Friday; Sunday’s coming.

See you at the Odome.

April Fools & Faith

We don’t know what to believe.

From the promises of a slippery salesman to the smooth words of a coercing boyfriend, life has taught us to be suspicious. It’s certainly not just April 1st, we live in a world where we have no idea when and where to let our guard down and trust.

It clearly didn’t start this way. All you have to do is watch a young child and it’s clear that our default setting is belief. Wide-eyed and vulnerable, a child enters life fully prepared to give the benefit of the doubt and take you at your word.

But life has way of beating the belief right out of us. Broken promises, hidden agendas, and the ubiquity of deception train up a child in the way she should not go as we learn to put up our guards and protect our souls from the dreaded shame – or pain – assigned to the gullible.

Doubting has become a virtue. Cynicism is a badge of respect. And yet cynicism is really just soul-laziness. It’s the easy way out. It’s the acquiescence to the peer pressure of the age to never get your hopes up. But the kingdom of God is released by faith, not doubt. And faith is substance of things hoped for.

Hope requires courage. If you will not dare to hope, you have no fuel for faith.

Make no mistake about it, we already believe. As Seth Godin comments on April Fool’s, we just believe the wrong things. Like the player who never settles down and marries the woman he knows is Mrs. Right, we roam and flirt from object to object, never fully committing. Never really believing.

Believing is really about listening to a word. In the absence of the right words from the right Source, we wander into the wrong words from the wrong sources. This was the essence of the original question toward Adam in the Garden of Eden. Who told you you were naked? We might ask similar questions. Who told you you were ugly? Who told you  you’ll never make it? Who told you you are unwanted? That’s why if you have attached your soul to those words and believe you are unlovable, unworthy, hopeless, and cursed, no one can talk you out of it. No one can make you believe.

Faith is always about a word. It is a fixing of our attention on that word. I spent most of my life thinking faith was feeling, and because I could not conjure up that feeling, I must not have the gift. But faith is not a feeling, it’s a focus on a word and the person who spoke it.

It’s why one of the primary assignments against your life is to keep your eyes off of the words of Jesus. Because if you saw what He says about you, you just might get your hopes up. And faith is the substance of things hoped for.

So on this April 1st I dare you to get your hopes up. I dare you to treat the words of God like a child treats a birthday promise. I dare you to major on the promises, listen to the promises, memorize the promises, speak the promises, pray the promises, and attach your life to the promises. Because if the Cross tells you anything, it tells you that God keeps His promises.

I’m a believer.

april-fools
April Fool’s Day

Promises

God has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Jesus who called us to His glory and virtue by which He has granted us His precious and very great promises, so that through them we are able to possess all that He has provided. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

We ask of God, and He will give us nations for our inheritance. I believe the glory of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. (Psalm 2:8)

We are redeemed from the curse of the first Adam because of the finished and perfect work of the second Adam, Jesus. (Galatians 3:13)

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

When I am afraid, I put my trust in You. (Psalm 56:3)

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. (1 John 4:18)

I will live, move, & make decisions by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7)

We fear the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. In every area we lack wisdom, we request it, & believe we receive it. In all our ways we acknowledge Him, & He will direct our paths. (Proverbs 9:10, James 1:5-6, Proverbs 3:6)

The blessing of Abraham comes to us in Christ Jesus. He shows us where to go to, He blesses us so that we may be a blessing to all the peoples of the world. (Galatians 3:14, Genesis 12:1-3)

Great is the peace of our children for they are taught of the Lord. (Isaiah 54:13)

The Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need. (Psalm 23:1)

I am like a tree planted by the rivers of water. I will bring forth fruit in season. My leaves will not wither. Whatever I do will prosper. (Psalm 1:3)

We delight ourselves in the Lord and He will give us the desires of our hearts. (Psalm 37:4)

As we give, it will be given unto us: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. (Luke 6:38)

There is no lack, because our God supplies all our needs according to His riches in glory. (Philippians 4:19)

Jesus bore our sins in His body on the tree, therefore we are dead to sin and alive to righteousness and by His stripes we were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

We can expect both forgiveness and healing because Jesus Himself took our infirmities and bore or sicknesses. (Matthew 8:17)

We present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit inside of us quickens our mortal bodies in times of need. We stand on this promise. (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:11)

I will not limit God because He will do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20)

We will bear one another’s burdens, remember the poor, and meet urgent needs. (Galatians 2:10, 6:2, Acts 4:32, Titus 3:14)

We will do nothing through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind consider others better than ourselves. We will look out not only for our own interests, but also the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

We overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb, the word of our testimony, and by not loving our lives even unto death. (1 John 2:13, Revelation 12:11)

*These are not all direct quotes from Scripture, but written how I often pray them or speak them out. These are not exhaustive, but a few examples of how I attempt to bring God’s truth to mind, heart, and mouth. 

 

Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, & Racialized Sin

Blog - Alton SterlingTroubling thoughts keeping me up late and waking me up early:

1. It’s devastating to see non-Christians more torn up over black people dying than white Christians. I’m sad and angry and embarrassed and grieving.

2. Implicit bias is more dangerous than overt hatred because it operates underground. It has been stunning to witness all the racism that has risen to the surface over the course of Obama’s presidency. My head was in the sand.

3. Refusal to address racialized sin has undermined our capacity to fulfill our Romans 12:15 calling to “mourn with those who mourn.” (Mika Edmondson) As a son still grieving the loss of my father, I can tell you how incredibly healing it is when you encounter people who choose to grieve with you. And how painful it is when people do not. I grieve and feel for the family of Alton Sterling. My heart breaks for the family of Philando Castile. Their lives matter.

4. Refusal to call out racialized sin has blocked our capacity to heed the warning of the prophets of old: Repent. It is embarrassing that it has taken the ubiquity of cell phone cameras to open the eyes of culture to injustice that has been there all along. If the church won’t say it, it seems that God will allow Youtube or BET to bring it to light. Injustice must be confessed. Hatred must be addressed. Indifference must be forsaken. The blood of the innocent cries out to heaven. God forbid that we block our ears. I have been a part of the problem, and I repent. My silence has been part of the problem, and I repent. I have benefitted from a system where the playing field is not level.

5. If you question the need to repent of corporate or systemic sin, then I challenge you to consider Nehemiah (1:6) or Daniel (9:20). These giants of the faith found the need and humility to repent of both personal and corporate sin. Tell me what I can do, people ask me. Please read The New Jim Crow. I don’t want to hear another white person tell me they never owned a slave. I never want to hear another white person bring up black on black crime. Enough. Lord we confess our sin of racism, which we have sinned against You. Have mercy.

6. Sunday morning is still the most segregated time of the week. Why are all the black kids on one side of the spiritual cafeteria while all the white kids are on the other side? Because the church forgot who we are. The church forgot our prayer, on earth as it is in heaven. And in heaven it’s every tongue and every tribe gathered in reconciled unity under the blood bought banner of Jesus.

7. I don’t want to hear another person invalidate the pain. Or fear. Or suspicion. Or anger. Or hurt. Or outrage. The tears are rolling and the hearts are broken. Friends are asking me, how can people be so passionate about abortion and human trafficking and clean water halfway across the world, and then be so cold to death in their own backyard. These same people that prayed with you, worshipped with you … How can they be so blind? And it’s hard to not feel like they’re blind on purpose. Maybe they wouldn’t pull a trigger, but how can they be so silent when it happens? If my white brothers and sisters in Christ don’t get it, what white person will? I thought they’d be different. I’m angry. We’re struggling – in a different way. A lot of us in a speechless way.

8. Someone has to be different. If you’re a majority, we need you to model the way in humility and understanding and contrition and repentance. Grieve. If you’re a minority, your challenge is something like what you’re needing from white believers. Be different. It is rare to hear a God-centered response in times like these. When the heat is on, Christians are so tempted to play the predictably tune of the rest of the world. Taking their cues and becoming echoes of whatever talking head they just heard. Stop being an echo when you were made to have a voice. I just hung up the phone with Civil Rights activist John Perkins. This is the man whose brother was killed by white policemen. This is the man who was imprisoned and beaten to the point of death because of the color of his skin. This is a man who bears in his body the marks of racial injustice. Yet he constantly warns me: Feel the pain. Be angry. But bring it to Jesus, and let Him make it redemptive. If your eyes move away from Jesus, you won’t see straight. You never beat hate with hate, you beat it looking at the One who took it with whips and thorns and beatings.

9. If you are reading this as part of our faith family, I charge us afresh to embrace our call to offer this world the Gospel alternative. It’s a day to pray and fast and weep. To have hard feet and soft hearts. To open our mouths and spend our lives. To be a community with too much brown to be called a white church, and too much hispanic to be called a black church – a body that models the diversity and reconciliation and redemption and healing and power and grace and justice and mercy of God’s kingdom. I was supposed to be on preaching sabbatical for one more week, but I’ll be coming back early to address these painful realities from the heart of the kingdom of God. Please pray for us.

10. The people with the most hope lead. So let’s go lead, because we have hope. Not because of where we are, but because of where He is: sitting on a throne of justice

So great a salvation

Do not neglect so great a salvation. (Hebrews 2:3)

There is so much debate regarding the possibility – or impossibility – of losing salvation. But the far more practical danger is neglecting salvation. Oh to live in the reality and the fullness of this great salvation.

Indeed there is a salvation-like promise to drugs and porn and fame and fortune and a thousand other little god-substitutes. But they always break their promises.

So great a salvation is altogether unique.

Pardom from all guilt. Forgiveness of all sin. Full atonement. Fresh start. New nature. New name. New covenant. New spirit. New heart. New eyes. New ears. New creation. New birth. One day he will make all things new.

So great a salvation.

Healing from sickness. Comfort in brokenness. Power to overcome. Strength for the journey. Joy inexpressible. Peace inexplicable. Access to the Father. Innocence that we long for. Love that we were made for. An inheritance without compare. A seat in heavenly places. Angels to protect us. A kingdom that cannot be shaken. Freedom, authority, purpose, destiny, hope, and a future.

Do not neglect so great a salvation.

Stir up your gifts, develop your talents, discover your place, and do your deal. Set your mind on things above, number your days, refuse to waste your life, and go. Having been loved, love. Having been served, serve. Having been forgiven, forgive. Having been reached, reach. Having been rescued, rescue. Having been changed, change.

Maybe we should do less talk about joining a movement, and just go move something. In the name of the author of so great a salvation. Jesus.