I was at one of our house churches the other day talking to an eleven year old who asked some great questions. We were talking about the places in Scripture where Jesus tells us to “go and buy gold refined by fire,” and his story where he tells us to “go and buy oil.” All of these are places that tell us go and develop a close relationship with Christ.
He was having a hard time understanding those concepts, so I told him this story:
“Imagine that your dad made you a deal. Every time you brought your dad a dime, your dad responded by giving you $20.00. Would you take your dad up on that deal?”
He shook his head yes.
“I bet you’d do it a lot, wouldn’t you?
He shook his head again.
“I bet you would. You’d do it until you became rich. Well that’s what its like with Jesus. We go and bring our small hearts to Jesus and ask him to reveal himself to us. We call this prayer. He responds by showing up and showing himself to us in ways that grow our hearts and make us wealthy in God, because that is real wealth — knowing God.”
Dallas Willard famously said, “Grace is not opposed to effort, it is opposed to earning.” We have to make the effort to show up and pray. We have to show up to encounter him. We bring our dime. When we do, God takes our ten cent prayers and brings $20 encounters and $20 answers to the things we ask for. This is grace.
This morning I was thinking of the conversation again. I realized that I hadn’t told my young friend the whole story. See, I had told the story to him as if the first dime he brings to his dad is his. The reality is one we forget often — the first dime he gave his dad is a dime his dad gave him first. We are able to bring our hearts in prayer to meet with God because he gave us the initial desire to do so. It was him, putting in us a desire to be close to him to begin with, that allows us to begin to want to pray. You may even be feeling the tug right now to spend time with Jesus. This is also grace.
So let’s bring our dimes and trade them in. The little we bring will be transformed into so much more. Let’s also not forget who gave us the dime in the first place.
I just returned from a short trip to Kansas City. We went for a wedding of some dear friends, but it was a good excuse to make my way there to see some people I haven’t seen in far too long. The funny thing about our trip is I usually am looking for something “substantial” to happen: An important connection, a time of pouring into a friend, a time of being poured into by a friend, or a chance to do a little ministry. This time, none of those things happened. Instead, I got to love and be loved.
And what’s amazing to me about that is how often I forget that being loved and giving love is the point. I’m the first to point out that the pursuit of knowledge makes us proud but doesn’t profit us, but that’s only half the equation. The profitable part of understanding knowledge doesn’t build us up is knowing what does: love. Love is what causes the church to grow and be built up.
This weekend I saw that: through the family that hosted us and treated us like family, through the many, many hugs I got throughout the wedding, through friends who made time in their schedule and bought us pizza, through the friends who made time for us even though we just dropped in with no notice. There was no knowledge transfer, no official “ministry” activity, but I feel built up on the inside.
One of the friends we saw this weekend has always modeled this so well. I remember a time about 12 years ago where we spent time with a couple and I walked away from it feeling so empty. My wife pressed me on why I felt that way, and the only thing I could do was bring up my friend from Kansas City: “Whenever we’re with him, I just feel so loved. I don’t feel like a project or like I have to be entertained or entertaining. He just loves people.” It wasn’t that the couple we were with was bad. Instead, it was I realized the absence of the kind of love my friend from Kansas City shows when we’re together. Seeing my friend again this weekend reminded me of how essential love is toward building up the church.
Friends, knowledge inflates us beyond what we are, but love builds us into what we can be. As the church, we can be puffed up beyond what we are, which is not good. We could forsake the pursuit of knowledge, which would at least keep us from pride, but won’t take us very far. Or we can begin to grow in receiving love, finding our identity in being loved, and share the love we have received. If we can do this, in a hundred ways that are intentional and a million more that are spontaneous, we will build the church.
Join me, will you? Join me in pursuing an understanding of God’s love for us at a deeper level. Join me in accepting the ridiculous, undeserved, unmerited, never-stopping, never-giving-up, always-and-forever love of God. And when you have received it and have no more doubts about your status of being loved, will you share that love with someone else, just because?
Because that that kind of love builds the church.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ around the country,
Recently a brother in Christ who is dear to many of us hear in Iowa suffered a massive heart attack. Rick Lumbard is the Director of Wind and Fire Ministries, a man of prayer, and a servant of the Lord that has been used in a number of peoples’ lives throughout our city and the state. He currently is unconscious and in a hospital in Des Moines. Would you join us in prayer for Rick as we believe for healing for him? He has a wife and several children that would be thankful for the prayer support.
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.
Peter and John were uneducated and untrained men. In this way they are almost the exact opposite of the kind of people we would prefer to serve our churches or share the Gospel. We like people to be educated and trained–we believe they are better to lead and to guide others. Instead, Peter and John were the construction worker, the pizza delivery guy, or the car salesman of their day.
The difference was that these two men had been with Jesus. They had both trained underneath of Him as followers while He was here on Earth and by the presence of the Holy Spirit, they had been with Jesus in an ongoing way since Pentecost. It was the fact that they had been with Jesus that made these guys different from the other unlearned and untrained men that the rulers and Elders were used to.
Often in Christianity, we do this backwards. We select workers who are trained and educated but haven’t been with Jesus. We’re content with well-trained men who know theology and how to teach, but don’t bear the marks of having been with Christ.
On the other hand, we cannot just look to people who are untrained and uneducated to serve and proclaim the good news apart from Jesus. We have to teach people, trained or untrained, to be with Christ. They have to understand the vitality of a life lived close to the resurrected Jesus.
The sweet spot…the place where Christianity becomes alive and infectious and reproducible…is where we can equip normal, everyday people who many would look at and call untrained and uneducated to be with Jesus. If we can put the Gospel and the truth of Christianity in the hands of a common man who knows how to be with Christ, we are that much closer to turning the world upside down.
God desires to be known.
Yet, often in modern Christianity, we settle for less. We settle for meetings, teachings, books, conferences, and running through the motions. A worship service may be exhilarating, God may feel near, but the real work of drawing near to God can remain undone.
God desires to be known.
Yet, often in even house churches and organic churches, we focus much on how we meet together, what we do when we gather, who should or shouldn’t be leading, or what gifts are manifesting as we gather. We work to make Christ the center of our meetings, but sometimes in all the work we miss drawing near to God.
God desires to be known.
So we tell other about Him. We go on missionary trips, we spread the message, and we hone our Gospel presentation. Yet, often in our attempts to make Him known and tell others about Him, we become a weary worker…more like a publicity agent for Christ than a friend who introduces Him to another friend.
Still, God wants to be known.
Some of the things listed above aren’t wrong. In fact, some of them are good things, but they are designed to be fueled out of a relationship with God. God desires friendship with His people. He desires not just to be obeyed but to be loved and enjoyed. He wants friends who know His heart and base their actions out of this friendship, not out of duty.
Don’t just give yourself to duty, Christian. Give yourself to Christ. Let your obedience flow from knowing Him. Talk to Him. Draw close to Him. It’s why He came in the first place.
God still wants to be known.
For a while now I’ve been fascinated with how the Bible describes who God is and what He feels. For some, the idea that God has feelings or emotions and reveals them to us may be a strange thought, but we feel deeply because God is a being full of emotion.
Lately this fascination with who God is has taken a more important turn. It seems at every turn there is someone new presenting a different view of who God is that is contrary to the Bible. This would be understandable if it was an enemy of the faith, but more and more often it’s someone claiming the name of Jesus.
So for the last few weeks, as I’ve been reading through the book of Romans I have been paying close attention to what the apostle Paul says about the emotional makeup of God. Who did Paul say He was? What did Paul say God felt? What is God like according to Paul? The following are some thoughts from my study:
- God’s Wrath: Surprisingly, God has strong, stern, fierce anger, which the Bible calls wrath. This wrath is revealed against those who seek to suppress or lessen the truth of holy living through their actions (1:18), God has vessels designed for wrath (9:22), He is severe towards those who fell (11:22), and this wrath is a basis for Paul warning against believers taking revenge on others (12:19). Obviously this severity is held in tension with God’s kindness (11:22) but it should not be ignored. God feels anger against those who do evil. This is significant because often we want to believe that the Old Testament God who showed wrath was a mischaracterization of God. In fact, Paul, the apostle of grace believed that God still felt wrath.
- God is kind: I love this about God. He deals with us with kindness though He could deal with us a thousand different ways. It’s His kindness that leads us to repentance (2:4) and it’s this kindness that He continues to display to us who continue to believe (11:22). This kindness must be held in tension with God’s severity (11:22), since He has both and one doesn’t cancel out the other.
- God is just: God’s justice means He does what is right. He has a just sentence against those who do evil (1:32) and the idea that God would ever be unjust is unthinkable to Paul (9:14). We would do well to remember that God doesn’t bend His thoughts or actions around our thoughts about what is right or not.
- God is merciful: God gives mercy to those who don’t deserve it out of the goodness of His character. The idea that God would invite humans regardless of ethnicity or sin into His very life is mercy that should motivate us to submit to God (12:1) and His mercy is especially revealed in welcoming Gentiles who weren’t looking for God (15:19).
- God feels love: God actually feels affection for human beings. He is not an unfeeling stoic or an unloving Father. In fact, when we follow Christ, we receive from God a love that we cannot be separated from despite our circumstances (8:39) and this love motivates us to pray (15:30). If you understand the meaning of love but don’t feel loved by God, I would encourage you to spend time meditating on these verses. God actually wants to pour out love into our hearts experientially.
- God can be pleased: God can actually be happy based on the actions of His people. Paul says that God is pleased through a life lived by the Spirit and by believers living without judging other believers (14:8). God is ultimately pleased by the death and resurrection of His Son, but he finds pleasure when those who have experienced the reality of the cross live lives trying to please Him.
- God is generous: There is no stingy-ness in God, despite what you sometimes see in His people. Paul says that God “abounds” or overflows with generosity (10:12) to those who call on Him. This is a God who isn’t half-hearted in His commitment to us, He overflows with generosity.
- God is faithful: This means God doesn’t change. Paul says His faithfulness remains in spite of our faithlessness (3:3). If God has spoken, we can trust Him to do it regardless of the situations going on around us.
- God is wise: You can’t read the book of Romans without believing that God is smart and knows what He’s doing. Paul calls Him the only wise God (16:27). He stands out in His wisdom, even though the world often believes that the things God says are foolish. They don’t see the end like He does.
Paul believed that God had a deep well of emotions. God was full of wrath, kindness, justice, mercy, love, pleasure, generosity, faithfulness, and wisdom. He was all of these without denying any of them. This is the God of the New Testament–the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. We must not deviate from this representation of God, even if it makes us uncomfortable.
What surprised you? Did I miss anything? How does what is revealed here mean for our lives?
It seems like every where I go, people are distraught about God and how He’s perceived in the world. Christians–people who are supposed to declare the goodness of God–are spending an inordinate amount of time either apologizing for God being the way He is or trying to say He’s different than what the Bible says He is. All of this is in some kind of misguided fear that God will look bad and unappealing to our unbelieving or once-but-not-now-believing friends.
This looks different depending on where you go and who you talk to, but the basic premise is this: The God the Bible describes is old-fashioned. He worked as God of the first century, was definitely better than those B.C. gods, but the times have changed. Penal sacrifice, lists of sins, submission to His lordship…all of these are things that were applicable then, but need to be updated. So they take the best parts of the God of the Bible, exclude the parts they don’t like, and present a sort of God 2.0. This God is not only like the God of the Bible, but He is so unbelievably good that He’s not awkward to bring up at parties.
For those of you who struggle with this, I have good news: We don’t need to exaggerate the goodness of God! We have a God who created everything out of nothing! Nothing! And then, after He created everything, He created mankind and set him over every amazing thing He made. When mankind had the audacity to spit in His face and turn our backs against Him, God started a rescue plan that culminated in being born into this Earth, living as an innocent man in a despicable world, and dying the death of a criminal, all so He could restore humanity to its rightful place of having a relationship with God!
This relationship could be restored as easily as repenting and believing that He did what He said. There were no mountains to climb or any money to give. No secret wisdom for the wise that only a select few could have. As many as wanted to could come to God. Also, if you’re sick, there’s healing! If you have demons bugging you, there’s freedom from that! He will restore everything that’s been lost in your life, you just need to ask.
This is why the Psalmist says:
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit,
Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion;
Who satisfies your years with good things,
So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Now there are all sorts of accusations that can and will be leveled against God. But those are accusations against a God who is nice but never does anything. Beloved, we have a real God who pardons us for all the crap we have put Him and others through. We have a God who heals all of our diseases. We have a God who redeems our lives from destruction that we caused ourselves AND He sets His loyal love on us. We, who turned are backs on Him, became the objects of His affection.
Beloved, you might be able to make up a Genie who serves you, but that Genie isn’t real. Nor is he God. But God, friends, God will restore you and your life if you surrender it to Him. You can’t exaggerate this. It’s literally too good to be true. If anyone in real life ever treated you like this, your story would not be believed.
So the next time you are tempted to believe that God needs to be updated to fit the modern era and conform to modern sensibilities, remember how ridiculously good He is. Don’t try to exaggerate His goodness–you’ll end up in error–but declare in truth how good He really is.
You won’t regret it.
Lately I’ve been reading the Song of Solomon*.
This time around, I’ve been reading it as the story of a church that God dearly loves and the journey that she goes on in order to become the mature Bride of Christ we see described in Chapter 8. What’s struck me as I read this time was how much power the love of God has to transform a person.
Let me explain: The book starts with a woman (called the Shulamite) who is insecure about herself. She’s deeply loved by Solomon and loves being loved by him, but when he comes to her and asks her to join him in the harvest, she refuses. She loves safety and security more than she loves Solomon. So in chapters 3-5 there is an elaborate courtship, where Solomon leaves and the Shulamite, realizing her mistake, goes on a journey to find him. She is drawn out of her selfishness and leaves comfort to find Solomon.
Then in Chapter 5 something amazing happens. The Shulamite begins to look for Solomon a second time. He came and reached out to her. She responded. But by the time she responded He was gone. She goes looking for him and asks others where she can find him. When she does, these others ask her, “What’s the big deal about this guy? Why do you love him?” She launches into what amounts to a hymn of praise for Solomon that provokes these others to want to find him as well. And when she finds Solomon, they remark: “Who is this who shines like the dawn—as beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awe-inspiring as an army with banners?” (Song of Songs 6:10). This woman, who identified herself in chapter 1 as “dark, but lovely” is now “awe-inspiring as an army with banners.”
This is our story as well. We start out loved by God but insecure, afraid, and divided in our hearts. But as we expose ourselves to God’s love, we are transformed by it. God’s love poured out in our hearts, convincing us that we are the desire of His heart transforms us. Suddenly in our quest for Him, people start to look at us and say “Why do you love Jesus as much as you do?” We get to tell them. And just as the Shulamite was transformed by her love for Solomon, we are changed by our love for Jesus. We become a different person because of the transforming power of God’s love.
I write all of this because so often we feel like taking time to seek God, to receive His love, to hear His voice is a passive, even selfish thing. Often we feel like there are better, more noble, less self-centered things to do, but the transformation that happens when we know, receive, and grow in is worth our time. It transforms us. It draws others to Jesus. It’s only in receiving this love on an ongoing basis that we get beyond ourselves and join Jesus where He is.
So take time today, tomorrow, and the days after, to know and receive God’s love. Don’t despise the day of small beginnings in it. Often early it will feel pointless. It’s worth the time. If you continue to know and receive the love of God, you will be transformed.
*The Song of Solomon has a long history of the church not knowing what to do with it, but there are essentially two groups of thought on the subject: One group sees the book as the biblical celebration of human love in the context of marriage. (Warning: this view requires you to see more explicit sexual images in the Bible than you ever thought was in there.) Another group all throughout history has seen this book as the journey of the believer into intimacy with God. (I wrote a brief introduction to the Song of Solomon that can help catch you up on this interpretation.) While will argue until Jesus returns about this subject, I’m over hear like “Why can’t it be both?”