Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 5:8-10

“But since we are of the day, let us be controlled, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope of salvation. For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8-10)

Without assured truth and love rooted in Christ that guard the heart, we are vulnerable to a number of feelings that run contrary to the high call of Christ.

Without the breastplate of faith we are prone to following sensations and feelings rather than truth.

Without the confidence of eternal life through Christ that guards our minds, our motivation to run with endurance becomes dulled by thoughts of guilt and worthlessness that lead to death.

Without the helmet of salvation, we are likely to reach a point where we reason our way out of acting in faith for Christ.

We don the breastplate to protect the heart and the helmet to protect the mind for we are actively engaged in a cosmic war. A war not of flesh – even though all flesh are entangled in it – but of truth and ideas. We know the outcome; the war is won – our salvation guaranteed.

So why fight?

Why engage in a war in which the outcome is already made known?

We fight because although the war is ours, many battles must still be won. The high call of Christ is to skirmish for the souls of those to whom His blood has not yet covered; to bring the guarantee of salvation to all flesh.

Don the breastplate of faith and love, and the helmet of salvation to victory!

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Reflections on Restoration

It truly is overwhelming to be so unconditionally loved, so cared about, by someone that you know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that everything they say and do is in your best interest. They may call out weak spots in your character, but you receive it in humility because you know they love you. They may ask you to do something difficult and scary, but you step out in faith because you know that they care about you.

The truth is that there is only One who fits the bill. And the restorative power of His love is truly awesome.

Hosea 6:1-3 touched my heart in a unique way as I was slowly reading through each verse this afternoon. Hosea pleads, Come, let us return to the LordFor He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn; And He will come to us like the rain, Like the spring rain watering the earth.”

The call to the world throughout the Bible is always, “Return to Me! Please return to Me! Let me heal you! Drink from the well that will never run dry!”

And for many of us, returning to the One who created us is more of a painful journey than a peaceful one, Israel being a prime example.

The reason for the Law of Moses, the reason for the Kings of Israel, the reason for the prophets, priests, wars, and captivities (notice that this is the entirety of the Old Testament) was because Israel continually tried to remedy their problems with foreign gods who had “eyes, but could not see, ears but could not hear, mouths but could not speak.” (Psalm 115:5-6)

Instead of returning to the Lord in their mistakes, they turned their eyes from Him. Instead of repenting – redirecting their minds to follow the God who was faithfully leading them- they rebelled. Instead of flourishing in His ways, they floundered in their own ways.

And time after time did the Lord bring His restorative hand of discipline down on the Israelite people. He destroyed their lifeless gods. He broke every expectation that they had of being able to live completely self-reliant. And He made sure that they knew that without Him, real peace, love, and joy are unattainable.

He knew they needed Him, because He knows what is best for those whom He created.

Remarkably, three things are consistently mentioned by individuals in the Old Testament who turn back to the Lord after undergoing bouts of discipline:

1) If we return to Him, He will hear us

2) If we return to Him, He will heal us

3) If we return to Him, He will lead us

There was never any doubt in the eyes of those who underwent the discipline of the Lord that He loved them and cared for them. Nor was there ever any fear of rejection if repentance was made.

The discipline of the Lord is not for the pleasure of a sadistic deity, it is rather for the restoration of broken people to the only One who can heal their brokenness, the all-loving, Almighty, Yahweh. 

The people of Israel never doubted His intentions.

Nor should we.

It will be painful, that can be guaranteed.

But what can also be guaranteed is that He knows what He is doing, and His discipline is for our benefit, for our restoration.

And so the promises of God to us if we offer ourselves to Him in repentance is that he will hear, heal, and lead. Hear, so that we might commune with Him. Heal, so that we might be free from the guilt and shame of our mistakes. And lead, so that we might walk in His ways producing God-honoring fruit wherever we go.

For the true purpose of discipline is to restore the creature to the Creator, and the purpose of restoring the creature to the Creator is God-honoring action.

Reflections on Rituals, Rites, and Festivals

Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.” (2 Chronicles 30:18)

Set in the context of spiritual revival in Judah under King Hezekiah, thousands from the surrounding tribes of Israel gather for the Passover feast.

Curiously enough, the enacting of this particular Passover feast ran contrary to the instructions for the Passover set up by Moses in Exodus 12.

“This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household… it is the Lord’s Passover.” (Exodus 12:2-3, 11d)

However, King Hezekiah knew this:

“The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month. They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem. The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 30:2-5)

So not only did those that King Hezekiah invited improperly partake in the Passover celebration (by not being ritually cleansed according to the Law of Moses), the entire celebration itself ran contrary to the prescribed plan for Passover God had given to Moses, the writer of Judaic Law.

But here is something intriguing, God finds that their decision to partake of the Passover contrary to everything prescribed by Himself and written by Moses to be acceptable.

“But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:19-20)

How can this be? Does God contradict the very things He has already previously instructed?

May I suggest that the main point of the Passover sacrifice – and every other ritual, rite, and festival found in the Bible – was never the form and ritual itself, but rather to bring the one offering the sacrifice into the presence of God to receive forgiveness, enter into the joy of His love, and to then go out into all the world  making known that the God of love wants to bring life and justice to any who seek it.

Let me explain.

Stephen Hawthorne, in his article titled The Story of His Glory, says it like this,

When people worship anything or anyone besides [God], they become like it. God has better intentions for people. What is true worship anyway? Worship takes place when people recognize who God is and offer public acknowledgment and freely approach God, personally offering face-to-face gratitude and day-to-day allegiance. Worship is genuine relational interaction with God. That’s why God always welcomes us to worship with a gift. He never needs the worship of gifts. But the gift brings the giver… By their sacrifices and gifts, they offer themselves. (pp. 36)

Over and over again, throughout both the Old and New Testaments, God speaks out against the offerings and sacrifices that His so-called people bring Him. Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 58 are but two examples where God says that He would rather the people of Israel do justice to the poor and needy than perform rote rituals that have no heart level significance.

Furthermore, Hosea 6:6 sheds even more light on God’s desire for His people, “For I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offering.”

Without a heart that is inclined towards worship of the Father, rituals, rites, and festivals are mere forms that lack any real value or significance.

God wants the giver, not the gift. God wants the heart, not the meaningless repetition of behavior.

God wants you, not what you want to bring Him.

2 Chronicles 30:18-20 is a clear example of God saying, “Finally! You finally understand! This system is not about cleaning yourself up! It’s not about you bringing me things. Because these things are meaningless to me. It’s about directing your heart towards me! Participating in these rites, these rituals, these festivals, brings you to me. And I want you, not what you have to bring me.”

 Although most of the many people who came from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar and Zebulun had not purified themselves, yet they ate the Passover, contrary to what was written.But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary. And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” (2 Chronicles 30:18-20)

Why does God pardon them for going against clear instruction?

Because the instructions were for the purpose of inclining hearts towards Himself, regardless of the form.

It is common for individuals who participate in modern day rituals, rites, and festivals (church, small groups, worship services) to do so because they feel as if they must in order to appease the Almighty, whip-bearing, God.

Friend, God is not a slave driver.

Your attendance at the Sunday morning worship service does not appease the God who has every right to banish your body and Spirit to the place reserved for those who hurt themselves and one another.

That is Jesus’ job. And he already gave His life so that you could live pardoned from ever needing to do anything to appease the Almighty God.

He is pleased with you.

He loves you.

Incline your heart towards Him.

Because without that, outward forms of worship are vain actions that effectively crucify the Christ a second time.

He died once for sin. And He rose from the grave to declare that sin forgiven.

You do not need to ‘act accordingly’ in order to please Him.

All outward forms of worship are for the purpose of drawing you near to Him and drawing others near to Him. And it is when we are near to Him that our lives begin to change, that justice is done, and that moral living is adhered to.

Worship the Lord in love with your heart, with your soul, and with your mind, because only then will outward forms of worship take on any life-changing meaning.

(Quoted article: http://oneworldmissions.com/media/pdf/articles/hawthorne_thestoryof.pdf)

Reflections on “Abba, Father”

“I once was dead, until you brought me to life. Now I am born again by your Spirit. You gave us the right to be called your sons and daughters. We cry out “Abba, Father!” We are yours and yours alone…”

What an incredibly apt reflection on the character and nature of the God that we worship. This song, written by Jonathan and Christine Kimball, has been a powerful source of motivation for me to meet God as He is; Father to His redeemed children.

The first instance of the term “Abba” arises just moments before the chief priests and the pharisees send Jesus to the cross; as He is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane and pleading with His Father – Yahweh – to, if at all possible, remove the cup of suffering He is going to endure. (Mark 14:36)

This cup of suffering was not the cross.

It was the weight of the sin of the world that He took on His shoulders at the moment He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, llama sabacthani.”

“My God… My God… Why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus was completely separated from the Father, and Jesus completely took on the sin of the world.

Romans 3:23 says that “the wages of sin is death.”

But Jesus never sinned.

And therefore “death could not keep its hold on Him.”

Jesus rose from the grave on the third day as a testimony declaring that His offering for the sin of the world was accepted by the Father. For since He never sinned, He conquered sin and death and so, too, can all who come to Him conquer sin and death.

The wage of the sinner is death, but the wage of the sinless is eternal life.

All who confess “with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe that He rose from the dead… receive Him… [and become] children of God.” (Romans 10:9-10; John 1:12)

It isn’t that Jesus wanted to refrain from taking on the sin of the world that He cried out for God to spare Him. It is that He did not want to be separated from His Father.

But He followed through, becoming separate from the Father because He cared more about our freedom from the oppressing nature of sin than His own life.

Twice more does the term “Abba” show up in the New Testament. Both in relation to the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

 “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)

“Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Galatians 4:6)

When we meet Jesus for the first time, not only do we come into a personal relationship with Him, but He indwells us in the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit is the “deposit that guarantees our inheritance” in the kingdom of God, where Jesus “went to prepare a place for us.” (Ephesians 1:13-14; John 14:2-3)

Because He conquered death, so we conquer death; because He paid the wage of our sin, so we reap the benefits of His sinless righteousness; because He is God’s firstborn of creation, so we become brothers and fellow heirs to the promises of the Kingdom of God; because He is the Son, so we, too, become sons. 

He gave us the right to call Him Father.

And He delights to call us His sons and daughters.

It is because of Jesus’ life giving work on the cross that we “enter the throne room of the Almighty God with confidence” to address Him as our “Abba,” as our “Father.”

Reflections on Depression

Disclaimer: This offers no theological framework for depression. I am fully aware of theological arguments, etc. in relation to depression. This is a reflection, that’s it.

Depression is a subtle evil. A subtle evil that slowly erodes away every human faculty – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual – until there is seemingly nothing left but despair.

A common misconception about depression is that it is a choice. One chooses to be depressed and, therefore, chooses to remain depressed.

But I can assure you that depression is not a choice.

I have struggled on and off for the majority of my life with depression. Most of my childhood was littered with coming and going thoughts of suicide and the vanity of life. I made several attempts to take my own life when I was in eighth grade and following through freshman year of high school. None of this was stimulated by school or friends. All of it revolved around a broken home and a broken family. School was actually my escape from the snares of a blackened reality.

But what was going on at home never seemed to be far from my mind regardless of where I happened to be.

Never once did I see it better to be depressed than to be joyful and satisfied. On multiple occasions I remember crying out, “Why? Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I just be happy? What is wrong with me?” 

It was not a choice. It was a position that I found myself in that I could not escape, no matter what I tried.

And in those moments, the only solution to escaping despair and finally entering into joy filled rest is to completely remove the negative stimuli; to be free from the pain of being among the living.

Thoughts of suicide are more often thoughts of a solution than thoughts of an escape. Just as one would remove a thorn from the flesh – or a damaged limb from the body – because of the pain associated with its presence, so depression leads individuals to desire a removal of the conscious from the minute-by-minute pain associated with being alive.

The only difference between the two is that the former offers an immediate solution to the pain while still remaining consciously active in the physical world.

But no physical pain can compare to the pain caused by depression…

… the despair caused by depression…

… the fear, guilt, shame, and loneliness caused by depression…

And its onset is never able to be determined in advance. There are no assured preventative measures. There are no assured solutions and remedies.

There is no way to be assured that depression will not hold you captive to its self-destroying nature for the rest of your life.

And that is the most terrifying thing about depression. It is a cancer with no cure. A grotesque image of a fallen and broken world that lays burdens on individuals that are much too heavy to bear.

And this cancer crept its way back into my life in May of this year. It has come in intermittent bursts perpetuated by the interactions of my sinful nature with the sinful nature of other individuals.

And typically that is how it works.

Depression is relational in nature, feeding off of the actions and words of others that align with negative, self-deprecating, images of oneself or one’s current situation that they happen to be in, especially when these words and actions come from those who are relationally closest to the individual.

Nothing is more difficult and painful than being kicked while you are already down.

And, as paradoxical as it is, nothing hurts more than the attackers being those whom you love the most.

Depression is not a choice, but I really wish that it was.

It is more important than anything else to know where your friends, family, and even colleagues stand emotionally, physically, and spiritually. The wisdom of your interactions with those individuals greatly influences the nature and onset of depression. It is when person becomes tantamount to object that the operations of a system become more important that the mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of another.

The influence that we have on each other is far more prevalent than we realize.

Without more care for the person than the result of the person, you never know when your actions will result in serious trauma for an individual.

Maybe that is why Jesus’ taught love and wisdom above all else.

And maybe that is why Jesus remains to be the only individual that most feel truly loved and accepted by.

Reflections on the Refiner’s Fire

It has been roughly two-years since God began gnawing away at everything I knew and believed about mission, ministry, and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it has been roughly six-months since the culmination of my sin, the will of God, and the nature of a fallen world altered the direction my life was heading. Not surprisingly, these dramatic life events are typically what God uses to shape and grow those who commit to following Him regardless of circumstance.

For it is through the refiners fire that the dross falls and the precious material is exalted.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:3-9)

In Peter’s case, the precious material that is tested by the furnace of trials is the intangible nature of hope, love, and joy wrapped up in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

The promised result of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? “Eternal life.” (1 John 2:25)

And the refiner’s fire – the trials that we face due to our sin and the sin of others – is primarily for the purpose of increasing our hope of, love for, and joy in 1) the “guarantee” of our future salvation, 2) Jesus’ promise to “continue the good work He began in us” so that we might “have the same mind” values, and vision He had, and 3) perpetual grace, mercy, and love that has made us inseparable from the Father in spite of our continual failure to achieve perfection. (Ephesians 1:13-14;Philippians 1:6; Philippians 2:5ff; Romans 8:38-39)

Tim Keller, in a soul-shattering article titled All of Life is Repentance, says,

“In the gospel the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit that we are flawed, because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness. Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own, so it is not as traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses… This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more we see our own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to us. On the other hand, the more aware we are of God’s grace and our acceptance in Christ, the more able we are to drop our denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of our sin. The sin underlying all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” (emphases mine)

The refiner’s fire can never do to us what the gospel of Jesus Christ, through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit, wants to do in us.

And it is this power, this surreal – and yes, it is often times very surreal – love, that compels every fiber of our being to submit to Him when we make any attempt to follow Him. Our submission to Him requires that we fall to our knees and confess our unworthiness to even be in His presence. The truth of that confession is paradoxically contrasted by the certainty that He will lift us up, and bear the weight of our guilt and unworthiness for us.

They took Jesus and He went out, bearing the cross… and they crucified Him… He was pierced through for our sin, crushed for our rebellion” (John 19:17-18; Isaiah 53:5a, 5b)

The bearing of the cross is illustrative of Jesus bearing the weight of our unworthiness. Because He bore that weight, we no longer have to avoid coming before Him in complete honesty, ready to be molded back into the “masterpiece” He created us to be. (Ephesians 2:10)

I have spent more time trying to avoid the refiner’s fire than trying to avoid anything else in my life. The real irony is that avoiding the refiner’s fire simply allows for more impurities to cling to the surface of something that is otherwise valuable.

And when it comes to following Jesus, revealing the true worth and value of His children is far more important to Him than our comfort and satisfaction dwelling in grime and excrement.

While many attempt to avoid it, there really is no following Jesus without going through the refiner’s fire. Avoiding the fire is equivalent to avoiding the all-loving, all-powerful, all-about-you-being-perfected, God of the Bible. There is no one without the other.

But you must know it will be painful.

You will fail.

You will run.

You will hurt other people.

You will be hurt by other people.

The method that Jesus has chosen to employ to ensure that we become more and more like Him is the direct result of our failures, of our running away, of our hurting other people.

When you hurt others and experience the consequences of those actions, it is painful. When you fail, even though countless hours of time and effort have been put into succeeding and avoiding that failure, it is painful. When you are hurt by others – due to their sin or the consequences of your own – it is painful.

DO NOT let any believer in Christ tell you anything contrary to this: the refiner’s fire is painful.

And let no one contradict this: the Refiner loves you more than you know, and no matter how much pain the fire brings, He bore the most painful parts on His shoulders so that you would not have to.

Without that, the refiner’s fire simply becomes a nuisance without a purpose that is cast off by numbing the pain by any means necessary. The Refiner is the most important part of the process.

He understands the pain. So tell Him about it. He knows what is best for you. So trust Him to bring you through it. And He loves you. He loves you.

Here’s the irony in my story. I recently found a prayer journal dated February, 2014.

What did it say?

“God, I feel like my life has been smooth sailing for far too long. I’m scared to say this, but I’m ready.

Lord, break me.”