Jesus is Lord over death.

I’m inspired by this. I’m energized by this. Our hope is built on this: After the blood flowed and the body of Jesus was laid in that tomb…

…after the verdict was pronounced over his body — “Death!”…

…after the stone was rolled over the entrance and the guards were posted…

…Jesus — in his body — tore down the door of hell, walked through it to the other side. Jesus kicked down the ultimate barrier that stood between humanity and eternity. Death no longer has any sting.

Because of Jesus.

For us, this is an unfathomable gift. This changes everything. Because he was raised to life after death, I can have life after death. Jesus now holds that power. Because he has conquered the one thing all humans most fear, we can live fearlessly even in the face of death itself. What a profoundly relevant truth! If I have no fear of death, then what can I accomplish in this life? If I’m not afraid of death, then what has power over me?

Jesus has all the power!

This is the big message of the Bible. There is power in the name of Jesus and in no other name. When Peter, the disciple of Jesus, finally and fully internalizes this truth and preaches his first sermon, this is his bottom-line point: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36). Peter makes it plain that the one his enemies crucified not only lives but lives in power. Carries power. Jesus, having conquered his own crucifixion, now lives as both Messiah and Lord, both savior and sanctifier.

Jesus, who we believe to be the Son of God, gave up His place as God to become human and lived a sinless human life. He was and is all God, all human, fulfilling hundreds of prophecies written hundreds of years before he came. Because he’d lived this sinless life, he became what they called in the Old Testament system of sacrifices a spotless lamb. Jesus gave himself to this. He allowed a group of men who were against everything he stood for to arrest him. They accused him of blasphemy because he claimed to be God.

This Jesus, whom you crucified …

This Jesus has become both savior and sanctifier. This Jesus now has power to conquer everything in us that breeds death. Sanctification is about allowing the Holy Spirit to lead as he flows through us, sending us toward life — toward perfect love, perfect joy, perfect peace. We believe Christian perfection (or entire sanctification) is the trajectory of authentic discipleship. John Wesley claimed full sanctification as the unique contribution of Methodism to the Body of Christ, that we were given to this call, to raise up a people dedicated to taking faith to the radical edge. Kevin Watson goes so far as to say that if we are not teaching and preaching the doctrine of entire sanctification, we are taking up a needless division in the Body of Christ.

Entire sanctification is our answer to a God who has entirely conquered death. If Jesus has power over death, then I by taking Jesus as Lord now have power over all my unholy desires, all my broken parts, all of my fallen nature. I have power to place all of it in submission to the Lordship of Jesus, expecting his perfection to reign in me. Perfection is a radical expectation and yet we are called to this by the very cravings of God. Be perfect, Jesus says, like your Father is (Mt. 5:48). And how is our Father perfect? In the ways he loves. In the ways he gives. In the ways he keeps his heart open.

This is where holiness begins. It begins in the heart. Whether you are in the midst of vocational ministry or just trying to follow Jesus in your work as a banker, I cannot stress enough the importance of setting the trajectory of your life and work toward Christian perfection. Whether you reach that high and lofty goal or not is not the point. I’m not even concerned with whether you think it is possible. What matters is where you are headed.

I can promise you this: Jesus is Lord over death. In your response to life, in the practice of your faith, in the framing of your hopes and plans, are you headed toward death, or toward life?

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Jesus is Lord of love.

Dr. Jacques Pye is a follower of Jesus who serves Christ as an emergency room physician, husband, father of six, and a writer of Christian worldview science fiction. I invited him to share this week because I knew he’d bring a deep theological perspective to this topic. And indeed, he has. Read on: 

In the liturgical church, today is Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. “Maundy” long had connotations of gloom, sadness, even despair for me until I learned that “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning “command.” At the last supper, Jesus told His disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Today is Maundy Thursday because on it, Jesus gave us the command, not the option, to love.

But why should we obey? For that matter, why should we obey any of the actions He tells us to do, such as bless those who persecute you, pray for those who mistreat you, or go and tell others about Him? We should obey because Jesus is Lord.

What is the impact of these three words: “Jesus is Lord”?

The Greek word for Lord, kurios, means master, one who has authority over someone or something. Jesus is Lord over creation and over us. Colossians 1:15-17 tells us,

“He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (NASB)

Jesus is the Lord of, the authority over, creation because He existed before creation and all things were created through and for Him. In our daily lives, we accept the proposition that the person who creates a business has the right to run the business. In a sense, the business owner is lord over the business. In the same way, though more fully, this relationship of Jesus as creator to us, His creation, gives Him the right to rule over us.

Because Jesus is Lord over us as created beings, he has a right to expect us to obey His commands and obedience ought to change how we approach all of life.

Jesus is Lord over us because He has paid the price for our redemption from sin. When Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sinned in their disobedience, they, and all of us, became separated from God. But God in His love for us did not want us to stay that way. Jesus, in perfect love and union with God, came to pay the price for our sin.

In the Old Testament, a relative could redeem a Hebrew who had sold himself into slavery or who had become destitute. This person was called a kinsman-redeemer. In our natural state we need a kinsman-redeemer, because we have no way to pay the price for our sinful, rebellious nature, other than to die ourselves. Philippians 2:8-11 tells us that Jesus,

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (NASB)

As redeemed people, as those who have passed from darkness into light, as those who have come into the loving presence of our Savior, we acknowledge Jesus as Lord over the power of sin. Our sin. When we accept Jesus as the payment for our sin-debt to God, we accept Him as Lord and acknowledge His authority over us, his people.

Jesus is Lord. He always has authority over us as creator and as redeemer, and He always loves us. The things He asks of us, though they may be difficult at times, are for our benefit and come through His heart of love. Through His lordship over us, Jesus seeks to mold us daily into His image, an image of love vertically for God and horizontally for other people.

As you celebrate Maundy Thursday, rejoice that Jesus, who is Lord, on that night, fully cognizant of the coming horrors of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, gave us the command to love. Go out, knowing that the One who is Lord always walks with you and enables you to love just as He loves.

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Jesus is Lord of the valleys.

Today’s post comes from Elizabeth Glass-Turner, Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent, writer and speaker. She reflects on the power of the Lordship of Jesus in hard times. Read on …

Sanctification is fun when it’s under our control.

Out of the corner of our eye, we have peripheral awareness of how close to being faith consumers we really are. We choose to go to a conference so we can grow spiritually. We choose to show up to Bible study so we can grow spiritually. We choose to read a book so we can cry or become more efficient or grow spiritually.

We choose.

We choose the parameters of our growth. Where we next discern/feel/think that God is leading us. What we will “give up” for Lent. The solution is perceived as whatever antidote to lukewarm faith fits the bill. I’m not sure the problem is lukewarm Christians, though. I think the problem is more the insidious mindset that is entangled in our approach to faith: that we set the table, invite the guests, and choose the menu of our own spiritual growth. That we’re in charge. That we can choose what outcomes we want to see in our spiritual life. That we control how we want to be made Christlike.

If you can choose what to give up for Lent, you’re living in a place of blissful abundance. Don’t take it for granted. Years back during Lent several areas of life imploded at once. In the wake of the economic collapse in 2008, there was a lot of scarcity, especially in certain areas of the country. My household was affected directly, and I remember writing a short reflection including the comment, “What do you give up for Lent when you’re already in a season of scarcity? What does fasting look like when the cupboards are pretty bare?” Lent had changed from practices I chose and controlled to something outside my control, and I didn’t like it.

God had allowed my chosen self-denial to be replaced with real desperation.

It was awful, and there’s no good way to spin or market it.

It hadn’t really occurred to me before what fasting sounded like to people who struggled to afford groceries, or who waited for their food stamps to be refilled. One day during that time — when the news was full of stories of foreclosures, whole subdivisions emptied, when the rust belt was contracting and people moved across the country away from their lifelong hometowns in order to find work — I came across a story of a humiliated woman who drove a luxury car driving to the food bank she used to donate to. In desperate tones she explained a paid-off, reliable vehicle was one of the only decent assets she had left and it didn’t make sense to trade it in for a cheaper but possibly less reliable car. But that meant that she was driving to the food bank in shiny German engineering.

Before the housing market crisis and Wall Street meltdown, if this woman had chosen to live on a strict budget, she would have been living in self-denial; it’s the removal of options that leads to desperation, no matter how well-resourced or well-connected you’re accustomed to being. Sometimes we instinctively recoil from people going through hard times, as if back in our minds is a hidden, primitive instinct to label tragedy or suffering “unclean.”

How did God let me learn about what Lent looks like when circumstances careen out of control? Several times over the years something would happen – why around Lent? – completely out of my control.

I’m trying to be pious and become Christlike, God. Why won’t you let me?!

In 2017, I had a completely unforeseeable health crisis and after misdiagnosis and falling asleep night after night praying I would wake up the next morning, eventually had emergency surgery and a painful recovery.

That’s a bit more “from dust you come, to dust you shall return” than I meant, God.

In 2018, my husband was stricken with a serious set of grave symptoms that left him on bedrest all winter. I joked that I was fasting from certainty. It wasn’t that much of a joke. Finally, he found relief in the spring.

Well someday I’ll get back to a normal Lent.

In 2019, his symptoms returned. The relief that had helped before hasn’t yet this time. Again, a Lent full of doctor appointments, insurance arguments, hours spent on hold, notes documenting symptoms scribbled down.

Will I ever get back to a normal Shrove Tuesday pancake supper?!

To proclaim that Jesus is Lord means this: I won’t always get to decide how or by what means I grow spiritually. What does the fruit of the Spirit look like when a doctor’s office receptionist is callous, flippant, or rude? What does it look like to be Christlike when you’re grieving lost opportunity due to difficult-to-diagnose chronic illness? What does joy look like when you realize your kids will be spending part of their spring break accompanying a parent to another physician appointment?

None of this fits on the brochure for “Christianity: Come Join Us! Really, It’s Not that Bad!”

I can’t guarantee you stability in this life. I can’t guarantee you won’t face tragedy. I can’t guarantee you won’t experience mind-numbing grief.

I can witness to the goodness of God, though.

I can, and will, bear witness to the power of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

I can worship God from inside the blasting, scorching furnace, while evil asks, “Didn’t I put three people in there? I see a fourth man, and he looks like the Son of God.”

If I let go of the outcomes I hope for, I can grab onto the person of Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and nothing in heaven or hell, nothing on earth or out past Pluto, no entity or circumstance can erase the goodness of God. Jesus is Lord and victory belongs to him even when I don’t get to choose the battle.

Please God, I’d like to go fight in that battle over there.

“This is what I have for you.”

I’m so much better over there, you gave me gifts for it! I’m sure that’s where you need me.

“I need you here.”

That doesn’t make sense.

“No, it just doesn’t make sense to you.”

It turns out getting up and responding to altar calls is pretty good practice for the much harder business of following Jesus in the dark.

There will be times you get to choose and pursue ways to grow spiritually.

There will be times you are thrown into a whirlwind, into a vortex, and forced to respond.

In all things, Jesus is Lord, and nothing can force us to stop testifying to the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, whether we like our circumstances or not.

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Jesus is Lord of the whole world.

My dear friend in Christ, Ruth Burgner serves on the staff of TMS Global. Her missional voice and global perspective offer a beautiful insight into the Lordship of Jesus:

Jesus, Our Home

At Appletree House in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, neighborhood children – many of them, children of alcoholics – get fed one meal a day, five days a week. Some of them trudge through the snow in subzero degree temperatures, with holes in their shoes and with coats only the weight of a windbreaker. They hazard the bitter cold to come to this little house to be given something to eat and to listen to our missionaries tell Bible stories. When it’s time for them to leave, the children go off to homes where, in many cases, they are the primary caretakers of their siblings. One of our missionaries described these children, whose tender hearts are so battered by “rotten” home lives. “I’m afraid they think Jesus only lives in that one room where we feed them,” she told me.

This is the sorrow of ministry, isn’t it? Where there are children enjoying bread and hot soup five days a week, there is often the ever-present knowing that they will spend most hours hungry for food and affection. Where there is a village receiving medical care from an incoming team of doctors there is the reckoning that there is a neighboring village where people’s suffering could be so easily relieved, if only the doctors would visit them, too.

The Kingdom of God on earth has been inaugurated through Jesus, but there are lots of rooms, homes, and communities where He, we might secretly think, doesn’t seem to have ever come. We know that Jesus is Lord, that He is supreme, that good outweighs evil.

But then there are these stories.

The presence of suffering in a world in which Jesus is King is puzzling indeed, but those who do not acknowledge God’s reign have an even bigger puzzle. Where, for example, has all the goodness in the world come from? And why is it that all people everywhere seem to carry around the same longing in our hearts? It is as if we are all homesick – and for the same home.

The children of Appletree House, for example, trudge through the snow for an experience of love. The atheist in France is drawn, as if by another world, by his enjoyment of beauty. The Buddhist in Shanghai (or, for that matter, nearly anyone you can think of) wants to be virtuous. Our cravings for love, beauty, virtue – like a trail of breadcrumbs through the woods – begin leading us Home. “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven,” writes C.S. Lewis, “but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

This longing for Home shows up in other worldviews and religions. And, says Sri Lankan evangelist Ajith Fernando, “human aspirations reflected in the other religions find their fulfillment in Christ.” Neal and Mari Hicks, missionaries in Japan, told me, “When Japanese receive Christ, the light that comes into their life is so strong that they, whether they are Buddhists or Shintoists, realize their other hard efforts to reach God were in vain. But in Christ they find great joy.”

Islamics professor, Dr. Mathias Zahniser told me, “Muslims who come to Christ have this exhilarated sense of intimate connection with the God that they have admired and worshipped for a long time.” Another of our missionaries in a Muslim nation told me of a little Muslim girl who discovered a Bible in the basement of her apartment building. She had never seen a Bible before, and began reading the gospels. So taken by the person of Jesus, she put her trust in Him without the input of a missionary—or anyone.

All around the world, Jesus is revealing Himself. Jesus, says Fernando, is “God’s final revelation to the whole human race.” He is the completion of all other truths. “He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13, NIV).

He is our Home.

Adapted from Unfinished, a publication of TMS Global, issue 35. Published in 2006.

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Who gets to be Lord?

I was called by God to preach when I was thirteen. Forty-three years ago in Georgia, that was a strange thing to claim. I struggled to hold on to this call. In fact, by the time I reached college, I’d watered it down. I would go into Christian education since that would be more socially acceptable for someone like me. The only two problems with that were: 1) I’m terrible in a roomful of children; and 2) it wasn’t God’s call.

I tried anyway. And failed miserably.  Then walked away from my call completely.

I didn’t realize then that the call is intricately connected to faith. To abandon my calling was to play fast and loose with my relationship with God. I became an easy target for the enemy of my soul who tied my hands, kicked me down the street and threw me into the prison of alcoholism. Somewhere in there, I finished college, got married and began a career outside the church.

In fact, I quit church altogether for about ten years but let me be clear on this: I didn’t stop going to church because the church wasn’t relevant or didn’t meet my needs. I quit going because the enemy came and snatched me up and threw me into a prison that I was then unable to get out of on my own.

It would take twelve years for me to finally, fully come home to Jesus. It happened by mistake. A friend roped me into attending a Bible study and over time I got interested and involved. One day, the leader of this study invited me onto the leadership team, but told me in no uncertain terms that to accept the invitation I’d have to quit drinking.

I said, “I’ll get back to you.” Which was code for, “When hell freezes over.”

I had no intention of giving up drinking, but that invitation was the hook. Someone leading a Bible study had the guts to invite me to consider a different life and I took the bait. One day soon after, I realized the depth of the choice I’d been given: quit drinking and lead a Bible study, or keep the status quo and allow my life to continue floating without purpose.

That choice wasn’t ultimately a choice about leadership. It was a choice about lordship. The real question in front of me in that season was this: Who gets to be Lord of my life?

I had my last drink 27 years ago and that choice to quit was one of the best choices of my life.

This is the question every great story of transformation answers: Who gets to be Lord? Until you answer that question, nothing else matters. When you answer that question, everything gets redeemed.

Everything.

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The More Excellent Way

Following is an excerpt from John Wesley’s sermon, “The More Excellent Way.” This excerpt is included in a series of selections from sermons of twelve spiritual fathers, that can be found (free of charge) on Seedbed’s website. I post this today as a word of encouragement for those considering the role of money in life as Tax Day approaches. No one understood Matthew 6:20 (“Store up your treasures in heaven”) better than Wesley. What if Wesley (and Jesus) were actually right about money?

Giving money

There is one point that still needs to be considered, that is, the use of money. Specifically, we must ask ourselves, what is the way that Christians generally tend to use money? And is there not a more excellent way?

Generally, Christians tend to set apart something yearly for charitable uses perhaps a tenth or even one-eighth of a part of their yearly income or salary. I have known very few people who, like Zaccheus, have said, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. O, how pleased God would be to see an increase in such friends of humankind, such benefactors!

In addition to those who have set a standard amount of giving, there are thousands who give large sums of money to the poor, especially when a compelling and heart-moving story or situation arises before them.

I praise God for all of you who do this. May you never grow tired of doing such good! May God restore in your heart seven times more than all that you have given! However, let me still show you a more excellent way.

Blessed to be a blessing

God is the owner and giver of all things in heaven and earth. You may consider yourself as someone to whom God has given some of his goods, that you might give those goods away according to his direction. His direction is this — that you should see yourself as one of a certain number of needy persons who are to be provided for, and you should do it out of only a portion of the goods he has given you. You have two advantages over everyone else: one, that it is more blessed to give than to receive; two, that you are able to serve yourself first and then others. This is the light with which you are to see yourself and others. To be more precise, if you have no family, after you have provided for yourself, give away everything else that remains so that each Christmas your accounts may clear, and wind your bottom round the year.

A living example

This was the practice of all those at Oxford who were called Methodists. For example, one of them had thirty pounds a year. He lived on twenty-eight and gave away the other two. The next year, when he received sixty pounds, he still lived on twenty-eight and gave away the other thirty-two. The third year he received ninety pounds and gave away sixty-two. The fourth year he received a hundred and twenty pounds. Still, he lived on only twenty-eight pounds and gave away ninety-two pounds to the poor. Was this not a more excellent way?

Treasures on earth, treasures in heaven

If you do have a family, seriously consider before God how much each member needs for life and godliness. In general, do not allow them less and do not allow them more than you allow yourself. This being done, make it your purpose to gain no more. I charge you in the name of God, do not increase your standard of living! As it comes daily or yearly, allow the extra to go. Otherwise you lay up treasures upon earth. Our Lord forbids this as flatly as he forbids murder and adultery. By storing up such treasures, you would be storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

But what if it was not forbidden? How can you, on the basis of reason, spend your money in a way that God may possibly forgive, instead of spending it in a way that he will certainly reward? You will have no reward in heaven for what you lay up. You will have a reward for what you lay out. Every pound you put into the earthly bank is sunk. It brings no heavenly interest. But every pound you give to the poor is put into the bank of heaven, and it will bring glorious interest. Indeed, it will accumulate for all eternity.

Who then is the wise person, and who among you is endowed with wisdom? With the Lord’s assistance, let that person resolve on this day, in this hour, in this moment to choose from what is stated above the more excellent way. Let that person steadily keep to the way with regard to sleep, prayer, work, food, conversation, and amusement. And may it especially be true in regard to the employment of that important item, money. Let your heart answer to the call of God: From this moment, with God as my help, I will lay up no more treasures on earth. This one thing I will do, I will lay up treasure in heaven. I will give to God the things that are God’s. I will give him all my goods and all my heart.

— John Wesley

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To Be a Christian in Africa (or, “God is not broke”)

Some of my best lessons have been learned from Africans, who experience this daily call to follow Jesus so very differently than I. I met a Nigerian a few years ago while I was in India who leads a vital ministry and teaches in a seminary there. He lives right at the center of Nigeria, in a town called Jos. Christians in Jos consider it their call and responsibility to hold the spiritual line between northern Nigeria, where Muslims have already taken over, and southern Nigeria where they have set their sights. Living in Jos puts followers of Jesus on the front lines of a spiritual battle being waged over the souls of his country.

My friend told us that in his part of the world, “We wake up every day prepared to die.” Our brother could talk with great seriousness about their situation and yet still display such joy when we worshipped together. There in a little chapel, he led us in an African chant that I believe ought to become the anthem of the next Methodism:

I must go with Jesus anywhere anywhere, no matter the roughness of the road. I must go … I must go …

My friend led us around, dancing in a circle, singing that song so joyfully, so hopefully, all of us clapping our hands as if rough roads were a great thing to be on. And in fact, they are, because those are precisely the roads that lead us toward the Kingdom of God.

Another colleague is a professor at a seminary in Liberia. Recently, he told me his story of how he came to be a pastor. He said he’d had the call for years but ran from it. He didn’t want to be a pastor because he had a college degree and was marketable. “Money can weigh heavily on an African’s decision to follow Jesus,” he said. “There is no money in becoming a pastor. You will be poor your whole life and have no way to take care of yourself in your old age.” Then, smiling, he went on, “But God kept after me.”

During the civil war in the 1990s, this friend tells me, he was escaping from one town to another, with all he had to his name in a bag he was carrying. When he was stopped at a security point, mistaken for a rebel by a guard, he was sure he’d be killed. They forced him at gunpoint to remove all his clothes. There he was, with his bag in his hand, standing before these guards in his underwear with a gun to his head.

He assumed this was his last moment alive, then they told him to run. He did. “While I was running,” he said, “I realized the only reason I was still alive was because God had a purpose for me. Right then, while I was running, I committed my life to him and have served him ever since. I have no retirement fund, and no way of taking care of myself in my old age. And you know? That used to scare me but then one day, I realized, ‘God is not broke!'”

Listening to my Liberian brother tell this story, I thought again about my friend in Nigeria, dancing in a circle with strangers in India. “I must go with Jesus anywhere, anywhere, no matter the roughness of the road. I must go! I must go!”

These men stand in the spiritual lineage of those disciples in Luke 9, who were told by Jesus himself to go out into towns and villages armed with nothing but the gospel. “Take nothing with you,” Jesus told them. Why? Because God is not broke. Because Jesus all by himself is worth everything. Because when Jesus commands us to go, he gives us power and authority enough to cover the need.

And Jesus is enough, even when the road is rough.

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Five ways to win the next generation to Christ

David Platt says the family has responsibility for children in the home, but church is responsible for the Great Commission. And the Great Commission teaches us to make disciples. Here are five ways you can increase your opportunity to make disciples of the next generation:

Pray. Pray for your child, with your child and over your child. Pray for Christian friends. Pray for God to remove bad influences. Pray blessings over your child. Contend for the children in your life in prayer. Cry out for them. And make sure your child hears you pray. It doesn’t have to just be your child you pray for. Pray for other kids, too, all the kids in your life who desperately need the prayers of the righteous poured over them.

Side note: Any theology that doesn’t acknowledge the spiritual battle is dangerous, because the enemy doesn’t do his best work when we fear him or even when we entertain him. He does his best work when we ignore him. He’d like nothing more than for us to believe he is not there, or that he is no threat. We know better. The evidence is all around us. Paul said to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:12). He said our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And how do you fight battles with spiritual forces? With spiritual weapons like prayer.

Don’t argue. Witness. Tell your story to a young person. Actually, it is the only thing of real worth you have to give. This is a treasure we have … this encounter with faith in God. So tell someone what your life was like before Jesus, what happened to change that and what your life is like now. Talk about Jesus at home like he’s real. I’ve discovered that people get turned off by evangelistic formulas but they really love to talk to other people who have had genuine encounters with Jesus. And kids are looking for answers to the same questions we wrestle with — things like why bad things happen to good people and why Jesus is the only way to God. I’m reading a non-Christian book right now with a young person just so we can talk about what happens when the world ends. Be courageous with your faith, be creative with your approach, and be prepared with an answer.

Show respect. Demonstrate love. No one likes a lecture. Respect someone enough to sit down and have a real conversation with them, one that honors their questions, rewards their curiosity, and loves them well enough to speak destiny into them. Remember: the only person who can save another person from hell is Jesus. You can’t save your child or any other kid, but you can point them toward truth and redemption and you can make them hungry for Heaven. You can also respect their journey, recognizing that most people are on one. There are many more processes  in the work of sanctification than there are events.

Know your Bible. The real power is in the Story. It is in the glorious news that Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again. Get a habit of reading your Bible every day. You don’t have to drag out a lot of commentaries or learn Greek. Just read your Bible. Read it every day, even if you never talk to a kid. Read it, and let the Holy Spirit make it live in you. Few things are more attractive to a young person than an adult who actually knows and lives the Bible.

Here’s what is probably the best wisdom I know to give: Don’t hold them back. This is what I hear Paul saying to Timothy and this is such great wisdom. Encourage kids to go after it. Flat-out say to a young person, “Go hard after Jesus. Don’t let up. Don’t slack off. Go hard after Him because Jesus wants your heart, and Jesus is where the real adventure is.” Say that to your kid and to other kids. Say that often. Don’t hold them back by neglecting to call them out to the radical edge.

And don’t hold back the gospel. That stuff we’ve tried, when we said we didn’t want to be “pushy” with our faith? That didn’t work. Statistics teach me that each successive generation in the U.S. is becoming less spiritually aware. I place at least some blame on the Church that has dumbed down the gospel for the sake of being more culturally comfortable. Go hard after your own faith, then share it. The next generation deserves a fair account of the gospel.

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Cast out demons and cure disease (or, what it means to be the Church)

We are the tabernacle of God.

The Bible tells me that when I take Christ into my life, I have the same resources available to me that the Israelites had and the Acts community had. Like them, I have the power of God. I don’t do this on my own steam. When I am filled with the Holy Spirit I receive power (Acts 1:8) —  the same power the Israelites had who fought with enemies twice their size and won, who found food enough to feed hundreds of thousands of people, who received miracle after miracle of God’s provision.

I have those same resources.

We who follow Jesus have the same resources as the followers of Jesus in Luke and Acts, who healed sick people and cured diseases and cast out demons and preached good news to the poor.

So why don’t we act like it? Why don’t I?

When the disciples came back from their first mission trip — having been sent out by Jesus to cure disease, cast out demons and proclaim the Kingdom — they complained to Jesus about a guy they’d seen who was also casting out demons. They wanted Jesus to tell this guy to stop; after all, he wasn’t one of them. You can feel the sense of competition in their comments. They also complained about some religious leaders and had the audacity to suggest that Jesus rain fire down on a few heads.

That’s when Jesus decided maybe it was time to recast the vision.

We find it in a line that isn’t actually there. Or at least it isn’t part of the earliest manuscripts. Somewhere along the way, some scribe felt the need to add a line between Luke 9:55 and Luke 9:56. Scholars give it about an average chance of being an actual word from Jesus and since it doesn’t show up in the earliest manuscripts, you won’t find it in most Bibles, but if your Bible has study notes, they probably mention this line.

As I said, it comes at a point in the story when the disciples are being sort of arrogant about the people who are not in their circle. Most Bibles say, “Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then he and his disciples went to another village.”

That’s the official version.

But some manuscripts insert another sentence so that the passage reads, “But Jesus turned and rebuked them and he said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.’ Then he and his disciples went to another village.”

What a powerful commentary! Even if Jesus didn’t say it here, he said it often, that we don’t follow Jesus not because we don’t know who to follow but because we don’t know who we are. As believers, we do not know what we’re made of. We’ve bought some lie that the spirit of Jesus is a spirit of rules and condemnation and guilt, so maybe that’s why we don’t embrace the Spirit. But it turns out — and this is good news! — the Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s lives but to save them.

This is great news! The spirit of Jesus is a spirit of redemption!

This means that if you have received that glorious release from shame and guilt, then it becomes yours to give to the next person. You have that spirit. If you’ve been healed, then you are healed to become a healer. If you’ve been set free by knowing the truth, then you are free to share it. If that place inside of you that’s been dead for years is being brought to life again or if that relationship that was left for dead is being restored then you have received this as a gift. And the Word says, what we have freely received, we freely give.

We don’t even have a clue what kind of spirit we have, what kind of power we have to go out and change the culture, change the community, change people, change the world — to give what we’ve been given so that by the authority of Christ and under the power of the Holy Spirit the very spirit of Christ overflows from us.

We have forgotten that this good news is not ours.

This is ours to share.

 

(The image used at the head of this blog is the artwork of He Qi)

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In the wake of General Conference: An examination of conscience in the midst of hard things

For United Methodists whose attentions have been turned this week to our called General Conference, I’d like to suggest an ancient practice. An examination of conscience is a powerful exercise in clarifying one’s place before God. Especially in the wake of this week’s proceedings, an examination of conscience might help some of us get honest about those places where we haven’t fully honored Kingdom values. An examination that sinks even to the level of how we think and love, not just externally but internally, can help us to recenter on the heart of God.

Wholeheartedness is a huge theme in the story of God. I notice lately that for myself, this practice of examining my heart for signs of division is especially helpful before I walk into a roomful of people whose hearts I may not yet know. When I have taken time to examine my own heart and recommit to the kind of transparent wholeheartedness prescribed in the Bible, I discover that I can move and relate with more integrity. Conversely, when I enter a room or conversation with distrust, anger or a need to be right (concerned more about what others are thinking/ feeling/ experiencing than what is in me) or with an unspoken agenda, I fall short of God’s best and rob the room or those conversations of progress.

Taking a cue from my friends in recovery who remind me that the only person I can change is myself, I woke up this morning with an overwhelming draw to examine my conscience. Many in my “tribe” will be making decisions in coming days as they process what happened this week. I want to make choices for myself and our church that reflect a wholehearted love for Christ and his good news. I want to make choices that reflect my deepest values — both theologically and relationally. I want to do for others what I would have them do for me. I want to hold people with an open hand and strike a note of grace even in the deepest parts of my being — not just when I’m talking, but when I’m not. And I want to walk in grace toward all that is unsolved in my heart (to borrow the spirit of Rilke’s poem), and in repentance toward all in me that is broken — even the parts I don’t know about. Maybe especially those.

I know that somewhere inside lurks a knee-jerk desire to run. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. Nobody likes conflict. I appreciate Paul’s advice to “stand” but deep down, I’d rather just unhitch from the hard things. I need God to purify my motives so that whether I stand or move on, I am doing so under the cover of his care and not from a rebellious, wounded or fearful place. That pull to run can be rooted in shallow soil.

As I examine my own conscience, I’ve discovered a few wrong reasons to avoid pressing in to the hard things:

  • Losing relationships or ties with friends, colleagues or institutions — Any lifelong, itinerating Methodist knows the real friendships journey with us. And anyone who has ditched an addiction will tell you that when you get sober, you find out who your real friends are. I expect my good friends to remain good friends, whether we are on the same side of an issue or on opposing sides. Those friendships depend on us seeing each other as people, not opinions. And those friendships deepen as we discover that our love for one another spans the gap. As I examine myself, I am praying that I will prove true to those who want to call me friend.
  • Fear of criticism or judgment — Criticism and judgment happen … no matter what. Unless of course, you choose to be lukewarm about everything (spoiler alert: Jesus is not fond of lukewarm people). That, too, needs an honest examination. Denial, my recovery friends tell me, leads to spiritual dis-ease. Unless we are honest about all the parts of us and allow others to be honest with us, too, we will remain spiritually and relationally stunted. I must let myself become open to the honest evaluations of others so my heart doesn’t grow hard.
  • Fear of influencing (or losing trust with) those in my spiritual care — Whether it is my family, my church, or the larger community to which I’m tethered, I realize that I am an influence. We all are. Our lack of conviction influences just as surely as our strong convictions do. In fact, a lack of conviction may well be a stronger influence than we realize, and not in a way we’d prefer. An examination of conscience helps us clarify what matters most so we can voice those convictions not defensively (or even offensively) but courageously.

Maybe the hardest prayer to pray, when I am in the midst of a hard thing, is this one: “Lord, I surrender myself to you. If my heart is not as your heart, please change me.” To pray that prayer with all the conviction and energy with which I hold my current theologies, ideas and opinions is risky business. And yet, I suspect it is the most faithful and trusting prayer I can pray. In fact, the only reason I can think of to remain committed to my current, stated position is the conviction that by doing so, I’m being obedient to the call and Word of God. And even then, I must do so with a spirit of humility, recognizing that folks with whom I disagree are also clinging to their convictions out of what they believe to be obedience.

At the end of my own examination of conscience, I hope I can say that I have witnessed these days of deliberation from an honest and transparent place, free of anger, fear, condemnation or worst of all, lethargy. I also hope that in the days ahead, Christ himself will minister into my spirit and into those of my friends, healing what is wounded. We want whole hearts as we confess the faith.

I know in whom I believe, and I believe he has given me a charge to keep. My prayer now is that I will keep that charge in love, with a whole heart.

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