What Is Keeping You?

What is keeping you from the love of God?

I pray that you will allow the Spirit to search your heart, seek God’s grace, forgiveness, and compassion, and be overcome by the love of Jesus Christ.

“Ah whither should I go, burdened, and sick, and faint?
To whom should I my troubles show, and pour out my complaint?
My Saviour bids me come, Ah! Why do I delay?
He calls the weary sinner home, and yet from him I stay!

“What is it keeps me back, from which I cannot part,
Which will not let my Saviour take, possession of my heart?
Some cursed thing unknown, must surely lurk within,
Some idol, which I will not own, Some secret bosom-sin.

“Jesu, the hindrance show, which I have feared to see:
Yet let me now consent to know, what keeps me out of thee:
Searcher of hearts, in mine thy trying power display;
Into its darkest corners shine, And take the veil away.

“I now believe in thee, compassion reigns alone;
According to my faith to me, O let it, Lord, be done!
In me is all the bar, which thou wouldst fain remove;
Remove it, and I shall declare, that God is only love.”

(Words by Charles Wesley)

God: Love, Justice, and Judgment

Who is God?

God of love,
God of peace,
God of justice,
God of judgment,
God of patience,
God of impatience,
God of strength,
God of power,
God of meekness,
God of humility.

No, this is not an exhaustive account of who God is.

God, whose character is consistent, sometimes seems to have contrary characteristics. Nonetheless, all of these characteristics are wrapped up in what can be called his holy love. It’s important to clarify that holy love isn’t our often subjective and changing definition of love, but God’s definition of love and his very nature.

As creator, God sets the standard, and we most clearly see that standard in Jesus Christ. In his opening words, John reminds us in his gospel that Jesus was there from the very beginning – not in the physical form of Jesus Christ, but certainly as one of the trinity. And as his created beings, we partner with God in his kingdom, but we do not set the standard for him; Jesus is the King and we have been invited to participate and contribute as his servants, and even as partners.

But still, with all of God’s characteristics being understood and entwined together as holy love, it can often be too easy for us, as people, to subjectively impose our standards upon him. Our western American culture is constantly telling us to let people be who they are; the same is true for God. We must understand God as who God is – not as we tell God who he is!

We don’t control God’s narrative; God controls God’s narrative. By his grace and love alone, he allows to participate and contribute in the narrative.

Then how can we understand this God? The answer begins with scripture. More than any other place, it is where God’s story with us is shared, and where we can learn the most about him: the Old Testament, the gospel accounts in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John of Jesus Christ – God in human form and the flame by which we see the fire of God – and the letters of the New Testament.

As we learn about who God is, let’s look at some seemingly opposing views of God: love, justice, and judgment.

Here’s one of the most quoted verses from the Bible when it comes to peace and understanding God’s love:

“He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”

This is a passage from Isaiah 2; it can also be found in Micah 4 with a slight variation. This verse that is often used to describe the peace of God and God’s kingdom; looking at the context of Isaiah as well as chapter 2, it also discusses God’s judgment and the day of the Lord – a reference to a “judgment day.” This verse certainly describes peace, and when we look at the life of Jesus Christ, we must seek after this kind of peace as his disciples. Micah also speaks of judgment, a restored Israel, and a day of the Lord. Reading the gospels and the New Testament, this revelation is not out of line with Jesus’ character.

While the focus is peace, it is a peace that God brings. In the life of Jesus Christ, we see that it is a peace that only he brings as Immanuel – God with us! As agents of his kingdom and filled with the power and authority of his Spirit, we participate in and find opportunities to bring that peace to the lives and cultures around us. Ultimately though, it refers to God and what only God will bring. In our lives, it is only Jesus Christ that can bring victory and peace to whatever it is that we are going through.

However, it is not a type of peace where anything goes, we all just mellow out, and everything is subjective, which I’m afraid our American culture tries to read when taking these passages out of context. Clearly, when reading these chapters, God has gained victory and cast judgment over evil people, nations, and entities, and those who come against him and his people. There is peace, but it is after God’s victory and his judgment.

Here’s the counterpart that’s also in scripture, found in Joel 3, and is rarely spoken about. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever heard these verses expounded upon. They’re not particularly well-known verses because, on the surface, they contradict Isaiah and the popular way people have used Isaiah 3 and Micah 4.

“Proclaim this among the nations:
Prepare war,
stir up the warriors.
Let all the soldiers draw near,
let them come up.
Beat your plowshares into swords,
and your pruning hooks into spears;
let the weakling say, “I am a warrior.”
Come quickly,
all you nations all around,
gather yourselves there.
Bring down your warriors, O Lord.
Let the nations rouse themselves,
and come up to the valley of Jehoshaphat;
for there I will sit to judge
all the neighboring nations.”

Isaiah 2, Micah 4, and Joel 3 are all prophecies given to prophets, inspired by God, and found in scripture that all of orthodox Christianity believes is inspired by God.

Yet the words are directly reversed in these passages: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” and, “Beat your plowshares into swords, and your pruning hooks into spears.” Joel is prophesying to the nations and Isaiah and Micah are prophesying about the nations, both about the same event, yet there are two different directions they go.

Once again, when we read the chapter and look at the context, we see the same theme: God’s judgment and victory over those who come against him. Two prophets see it one way; another prophet sees it another way, though their pictures are remarkably similar. They both point to God’s judgment. On one side of the coin is world-changing peace that profoundly changes hearts; on the other side of the coin is defeat and destruction for those that come against him. There is peace, and though not always popular, there is also judgment.

It’s two sides of the same coin; so these two pictures aren’t really contradictory when we dig a little deeper. With God, there is life – incredible life that changes hearts and brings peace with his kingdom – life that is good by God’s standards and not the world’s standards; apart from God and against God; there is no life, in fact, there is defeat, destruction, and ultimately judgment. It’s not necessarily a destruction prescribed by God either; it is oftentimes more of a description of natural consequences. Paul speaks of this in his letter to the Romans and John speaks of it in his God-given revelation as well, where again, we meet Jesus. In fact, Jesus is given authority to judge in John’s revelation.

The defeat isn’t ours to give; that belongs to God. In fact, Jesus is the only one capable of bringing that ultimate victory. We must remember that, as disciples of Jesus Christ, God is the only one with power and capability to see into our hearts fully and bring appropriate judgment.

Meanwhile, before that ultimate day of the Lord comes, bringing this fallen era to a decisive close and when God’s patience finally wears out, Jesus Christ has invited as many as who are willing to be a part of his eternal kingdom, his ongoing narrative, and his everlasting story, experiencing God’s life and peace. It happens in ways that the world does not expect, such as picking up a cross and following Jesus through meekness and humility while relying on his strength, power, and sovereignty to subvert the power and wisdom of the world.

God is God of love, but also justice. And with justice and love, there will one day be judgment when one day God ushers in a new age with a new heaven and new earth and makes his home among us. God will make the wrongs of this age right for a new age to come. God alone knows the exact details of how and when he will do that.

Who is God, then? God is God of love as well God of justice and judgment, wrapped up in his other, holy love. Digging deeper in scripture, where we can truly start to know God, these characteristics are not so contradictory after all. It is who God is. And remember, God says who God is, not us!

Come, Sinners

Charles Wesley wrote these words in 18th-century England. The same simple gospel message applies to each and every one of us today:

“COME, sinners, to the gospel feast, Let every soul be Jesu’s guest; Ye need not one be left behind, For God hath bidden all mankind.

“Sent by my Lord, on you I call, The invitation is to ALL: Come, all the world; come, sinner, thou! All things in Christ are ready now.

“Come, all ye souls by sin opprest, Ye restless wanderers after rest, Ye poor, and maimed, and halt, and blind, In Christ a hearty welcome find.

“Come, and partake the gospel feast; Be saved from sin; in Jesus rest; O taste the goodness of your God, And eat his flesh, and drink his blood!

“Ye vagrant souls, on you I call; (O that my voice could reach you all!) Ye all may now be justified, Ye all may live, for Christ hath died.

“My message as from God receive, Ye all may come to Christ, and live; O let his love your hearts constrain, Nor suffer him to die in vain!

“His love is mighty to compel; His conquering love consent to feel, Yield to his love’s resistless power, And fight against your God no more.

“See him set forth before your eyes, That precious, bleeding sacrifice! His offered benefits embrace, And freely now be saved by grace.

“This is the time; no more delay! This is the acceptable day, Come in, this moment, at his call, And live for him who died for all.”

This invitation from God is for all. How will you respond? Will you come and seek after Jesus today?

 

Tasting Death?

“And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1, NRSV)

“Then he drove it home by saying, “This isn’t pie in the sky by and by. Some of you who are standing here are going to see it happen, see the kingdom of God arrive in full force.” (The Message)

Here’s what Kent Brower says in his commentary on Mark (“Parousia” refers to Jesus’ return or second coming):

“In isolation, this statement seems to suggest that Jesus’ mission leads to the glorious appearance of the vindicated Son of Man. Through his coming, God’s rule will come in power within the lifetime of some of Jesus’ original audience.

“But if this refers to the Parousia, the prophecy fails: the Son of Man did not come before the death of some of Jesus’ listeners.

“Many scholarly proposals have been offered, including seeing it as predicting the resurrection, the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, the recognition that the kingdom has arrived in Jesus’ life and ministry, the miraculous growth of the church, the transfiguration, or the crucifixion. Each of these proposed alternatives has strengths and weaknesses. The preferred solution should be the one that makes the best sense of the saying in its narrative context.” (Mark: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, p. 237-8.)

These are all valid ideas and legitimate conclusions, certainly, but let’s set the stage for what is going on before reaching conclusions about Jesus’ prophecy.

After a long, 25-mile journey to Caesarea Philippi from Bethsaida, and even impatience and an acted-out parable on Jesus’ part because the disciples are just not getting the big picture, Jesus steers the conversation toward the Messiah.

It was evident from the conversation, though, that there was some confusion about Jesus’ identity, so Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Peter responded, “You are the Messiah.” Here, with the backdrop of Rome and Greece at Caesarea Philippi and their glorious pantheon of gods, a simple wandering rabbi and tradesman is revealed to be Israel’s Messiah. And when Peter names him as Messiah, Peter believes he’s the one who will unseat Rome and all of the other pagan influences that have corrupted Israel for so long.

But Jesus, in fact, turns things upside down, and talks about how he must suffer instead. Many believed, based on Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:13), that the “Son of Man” would make things right. Now, Jesus doesn’t deny his coming kingdom; the kingdom is coming, and Jesus will make things right, and fulfill Daniel’s vision, but it’s just not in any kind of way that disciples or Israel expect!

Here’s what Jesus does say about the Messiah, from the end of Mark 8:

“…the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

And this – if you want to actually follow this Messiah who just ends up getting himself killed:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”

He makes the same point three different ways: We must die to ourselves in order to have true life in God.

In the eyes of those with power, those who have indeed gained the whole world, and those who have first saved their lives, it is shameful – like carrying a Roman cross and being crucified for all to see. Not only is there physical pain and anguish, but there’s pain and anguish in the embarrassment of it! There’s shame, pain, and anguish on multiple levels. You have to deny everything that the world puts in front of you that distracts you from God and focus on Jesus first and foremost, pushing everything else away.

Pause and ask yourself: What are those things in your life, and are you willing to risk putting those things aside, even to the point of carrying humiliation like God carrying a cross to death, to follow Jesus? Jesus casts aside the temptation of Satan in the desert and the temptation of Peter, his new accuser in this chapter, to have a worldly, militaristic, and powerful kingdom, in favor of his true Godly kingdom: an upside-down power that comes in the form of humility, meekness, and selfless love.

And what about tasting death?

At first glance, it does look like a potential failed prophecy of Jesus if we think it refers to his second coming, as Brower discusses. But looking at the context of the verse, we can see that there’s more going on.

Consider that the Pharisees earlier in this chapter asked for a sign, and Jesus responded, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” He unloads on the disciples in the boat when they are not getting it. And he talks about death on a cross to the crowds, and says to them, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Perhaps, on a different level than all the other ideas – Parousia, resurrection, Pentecost, fall of Jerusalem, Jesus’ life and ministry, the church, transfiguration, and crucifixion – Jesus is implying that it will take an incredible miracle or sign, maybe one of the above events, before some people get the point about the kingdom of God, Jesus’ identity, and dying to one’s self. After all, one of the themes of Mark up to this point, and highlighted in this chapter, is people not seeing and understanding clearly the first time around. On the other side of the coin, however, is judgment: if it takes a sign like the Pharisees are asking for and depending on the motives, the consequences may be more dire than we expect.

As I close this post and as you consider these ideas, I encourage you to watch the following clip about Jesus and Barabbas. We watched it this past Sunday in the church community I am a part of. Jesus carried his cross and tasted death for each one of us because of his unconditional love and grace, even if we don’t deserve it or don’t even want to pick up our crosses in response to Jesus.

But if we are going to truly call ourselves his disciples, understanding the point of God’s kingdom and Jesus as Messiah, then we must be willing to do the same. When we taste the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ and follow in it, we find life and we find God’s kingdom in all of its power and full force.

The Wild Horse

An analogy on the nature of the Spirit:

The Holy Spirit is like a wild horse.

So often the Church has attempted to tame this wild horse. Unfortunately, many times we actually believe we have.

And still, many more times, and to our detriment, we affirm this horse’s wildness with our words but still treat the horse as if it were a tame animal by our actions, doing an incredibly foolish disservice by this doublespeak.

Many times we’ve attempted to put reins on this horse as we try to control its wildness and make the animal subservient to our desires, wishes, and direction.

And sometimes we’ve even convinced – deluded – ourselves that we as the Church have finally successfully corralled this horse that is the Spirit of God to our bidding, rather than the vice-versa it should be.

It’s time to take the reins off.

Or, at least, confess that we’ve never actually had any reins on this wild, majestic, and beautiful horse in the first place.

We must stop our attempts to manage the Spirit – God will not be managed by his Church. God – Father, Son, and Spirit – will lead; wherever that horse will run, his Church has no choice but to follow.

Momentum Conference: October 22, 2016

This October 22, I’ll be teaching two workshops at the Philadelphia District Church of the Nazarene Momentum Conference at Fairview Village Church of the Nazarene in Eagleville, PA. Both of my workshops will focus on simple church life. I hope you can come! Here is the link with more information about the conference and how to sign up: http://www.philanaz.org/Momentum_Conference

And some more information about my workshops:

Session One: Empowering Disciples through Simple Church (9:30-10:40 a.m.)

What if Church doesn’t have to look the way we’ve always thought it had to look? Your paradigm will start to shift after this session as we focus on weekly Church gatherings, what it means to be led by the Spirit, incorporating complete participation through scripture discussion, testimonies, and prayer throughout worship, and how leadership facilitates Church life. While it will be a different experience of Church for many, every aspect of Church life can be an opportunity to disciple and learn to be led by the Spirit. All of this will make effective, capable disciples who are empowered and live by Christ’s Spirit. Sometimes we just make things more complicated when they really need to be simpler.

Session Two: Practicing Simple Church (1:10-2:20 p.m.)

In “Empowering Disciples through Simple Church,” we discussed a paradigm shift for Church life and weekly Church gatherings. Join us as we actually go through a weekly worship gathering and submit ourselves to be completely led by the Spirit in every aspect. But be warned⎯this time together won’t look like a typical Sunday morning at a traditional community church. *You do not need to have come to the first session in order to come to this session.*

The Spirit’s Wind and Fire

On Sunday, September 18, 2016, I had the opportunity to preach at Riverview Christian Fellowship in Reading, PA.

Are you willing to follow the direction of the Spirit’s wind?

The text is John 3:1-10. I pray that God’s Spirit challenges you as you listen. May Christ be with you.