Category: Spiritual Formation

Jan
21
2014

When I was in middle school, I loved basketball. I was always next door at the Egan’s shooting hoops with kids in the neighborhood or by myself. I was so dedicated and I have many memories of playing in the dead of the winter wearing out gloves my mom bought me.

My freshman year I went out for the team and made it. However, I was the proverbial bench player. When I did play, I was awful – my hands just didn’t work like they did when I was playing next door. After that season, I realized I just wasn’t very good at basketball, not at least playing at the high school level. That was a very deflating experience because  I thought what now? What do I do with my life now—I really thought I might be the next Dr. J…

That spring, I decided I would ditch basketball and take up tennis. Now this was different from playing basketball; right from the start I was fairly decent. While I wasn’t the worlds greatest tennis player, I did play on the team throughout my high school years and was probably good enough to play at the college where I went. There was difference in playing tennis versus basketball—it was natural for me.

This taught me an important lesson which I keep relearning in my life. When it applies to what you do whether it is your work or what you do for fun, you should:

  • Spend your time focusing on things that you are innately gifted at
  • Spend your time focusing on things in your life that are life-giving

Sometimes I meet people who do the opposite of this. They spend a lot of time doing things that they are not gifted at and most importantly, pursue things that are not life-giving.  Now granted when it comes to what we do for a living we sometimes don’t have a choice in these matters. However, what we do outside of that part of our life, it is vital that we focus on pursuits that are life-giving.

As one example in my life today, painting is very life-giving for me. While I don’t have the talent of a Van Gogh, I am also not too shabby. By putting this into practice, I’ve gotten better and most importantly, when I paint I get energized and it flows into other areas of my life. This is just one of those life-giving aspects—it is when you know that you are becoming good at doing something.

The other thing is this—doing these types of things also help me to connect in my relationship with God at a deep level. Essentially, painting for me is worship. It is a  time in which I can release the stress of the day. It is a time in which I can try to tune into his voice. Like many who might be into woodworking, knitting, running, you name any hobby—I am not only learning on how to do something well, this thing that I do also strengthens my relationship with God.

So what do you do on a regular basis with your free time that is life-giving?


In: Spiritual Formation
Dec
24
2013

One of my favorite assignments while in seminary was in a Systematic Theology class  where we had to write creeds and confessions. A creed or confession is simply a statement about some aspect of faith for an individual or community. Creeds are not intended to be comprehensive, but to be a summary of core beliefs and in writing them, it can help us fine tune what we believe. It is a wonderful and thought-provoking exercise to put down on paper in terms of what you believe about a certain issue. I highly recommend you try it. Below are some of my beliefs about God.

From the beginning, He shows us that he is the Creator; He created the heavens, the earth and all that lives. He made the seen and the unseen: ocean and wind; animals and angels.[1]  Most importantly, he created us, his masterpiece and child.[2] An important part of his nature is creativity as seen by all that he has uniquely made. God is an uncreated Spirit, and he is substantially more than any person we could imagine.[3]

God is holy and is vastly different from us and anything he created; he is dependent on nothing and no person, and indestructible from any power or person.[4]Everything separated from him has no life.[5] There is no place where he can not be found and likewise, there is nothing that can contain him.[6] God is always right in everything he does; not once has he made a mistake or been wrong in a decision. He is fair and full of mercy; nothing evil is found in him.

There is a security found in God. He does not change in his character; he is consistent and constant. He is perfect and good in every way. However, he must always reject anything opposed to the way he designed the world, namely sin. He is honest; he always speaks the truth and can not lie. At the same time, he can be deeply moved; just as with him, it is he who gave us our emotions.[7]

God moves the world in the direction of his purpose. He knows the beginning, the end, and most everything in between. But because He has chosen to make children rather than dolls, he doesn’t know every detail.[8] He is strong and able for anything; nothing can stand in his way.[9] Because of this relationship, God can be flexible in our relationship with him. By living in relationship with us, he sometimes changes his mind on account of us.[10] Though he is in control, he is not controlling. He can take charge, but he can also leave us room to move and grow. However, he does give us the choice to follow him or walk away;  if we do choose to walk away, we will experience our greatest loss.[11]

God is highly personal; His greatest passion is relationships and his greatest desire is to be in friendship with us, his most remarkable creation. He is close and involved because he wants to be known. Though he has no beginning or end, he enters time to rescue us, his lost children; he is not removed from the world and its brokenness.[12] He is not selfish or has his life centered on himself.[13] At one point in history, he literally entered our world to die for us and ransom our lives. He experiences the greatest loss so that we may live. He is friend to the unlovely and the lost; anyone who comes to him, he does not reject.[14] He is the most authentic love we will ever find.[15]

In the end, He will bring justice and perfection.[16] His creativity, which began with a purpose, ends with a purpose that is everlasting and focused on a relationship with those who come to him.[17]


[1] Genesis 1-2

[2] Genesis 1:26-27, 2:1-25, Psalm 139:14

[3] Luke 3:21-22

[4] Job 22:2, Acts 17:25, John 5:26

[5] Job 38:41, Romans 11:36

[6] I Kings 8:27

[7] Isaiah 63:7-9

[8] Jeremiah 18, Jonah 4:2

[9] Deuteronomy 10:17, Joshua 3:9-17, Proverbs 21:30

[10] 2 Kings 20:1-6, Jeremiah 26:19

[11] Matthew 9:9, RICH YOUNG RULER

[12] Deuteronomy 4:7, Jeremiah 23:23-24, Psalm 90:1-2

[13] John 18-19

[14] Psalm 68:4-6, Romans 4:17

[15] I John 3:1, Genesis 1:27, Ephesians 5:2

[16] Revelation 20

[17] Revelation 21-22


In: Spiritual Formation
Jul
16
2013

dadTeach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

I have learned during this year that watching someone die is a very sacred thing. In a way, it is a holy experience no different than prayer. You learn in stark terms what it means to be human—good and bad.

My dad last January had surgery and during it they found that his cancer had spread to other areas of his body. In the spring months, he fought the disease hoping chemotherapy and radiation would heal his body, but just yesterday we found out that he only has days to live.

I read some years ago in a psychology class about what it means to have a good death (or also a bad one). A “good” death is when someone has come to peace about their situation and have the love and support of others around them. While I hate what is happening, my dad to some degree is dying well. My mom is continually at his side and she has been a model for me of what it looks like to be dedicated to someone for a long time. A good marriage is lots of sacrifice—don’t let anyone tell you differently.

Yesterday was when I found out my dad only had a few days to live. He was able to get on the phone with me and even though he was mostly incoherent, I was able to speak some important words to him that I have always wanted to say.

Dad, I want you to know that I love you.

Dad, I want you to know that I am glad you came into my life.

Dad, I want you to know I am grateful for all that you have done for me.

I fought through tears to get these words out and I think he did hear me. My dad was not the type of person who would say I love you and therefore, I was also reluctant to speak those words to  him. Over these last few months, I knew that had to end so I began to tell him that I loved him whenever I saw or spoke to him. Initially, he would just say thank you or something else, but even he had to break down and tell me and others that he loved them as well.

Through all of this, I have learned this as well, don’t let the events of a loved one on their dying bed finally get you to say things that you always wanted to—do it now.

The day I met my dad, I was just five years old. I met him because he was involved in a car accident with my mom. This moment is my earliest memory. I was standing next to him as my mom was in the back seat of the squad car getting her ticket. I remember kicking stones at him in anger and this in some way foretold our next thirteen years together. We were always fighting with one another. Over the last twenty five years we have slowly let go of our anger toward one another and now he is one of the people I love the most.

I don’t want him to go. In so many ways I am so grateful for him and to some degree I have regrets that I didn’t spend more important times with him. I know that I can’t change that, but I also hope I have learned an important lesson that I can apply to my life in the years ahead.

I have been fortunate in that I have not had to face the loss of many friends or family, but now I am standing in its terrible wake. I am about to lose my dad. Death is awful, but it does offer us something helpful—it helps us to remember what is really important. It helps us to remember what really matters in life. It helps us to do things that we were always scared to do before.

Love you dad.


In: Spiritual Formation
May
03
2013

Bought this on vinyl two weeks ago by Explosions in the Sky.  The song title is Be Comfortable, Creature.

It’s worth your time.

 


In: Spiritual Formation, What I've Been Listening To
Apr
18
2013

[To have faith in Christ] means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.

C.S. Lewis


In: Spiritual Formation
Apr
14
2013

0

Moved reading the tributes to Brennan Manning. One quoted a portion of this poem by Leonard Cohen which captured his life perfectly.

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.


In: Spiritual Formation
Apr
14
2013

0

With sadness learned that on Friday Brennan Manning passed away.

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make a brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.”

Brennan Manning


In: Spiritual Formation
Jun
14
2012

In the space between yes and no, there’s a lifetime. It’s the difference between the path you walk and the one you leave behind; it’s the gap between who you thought you could be and who you really are; its the legroom for the lies you’ll tell yourself in the future. Jodi Picoult

In any journey, you have to start somewhere. Believing in God also has a beginning. Whatever you want to call it—giving your life to God, being born-again, finding Jesus—the Christian journey starts off by believing. A believer is someone…well…who believes. How does a dictionary describe belief? It defines the word as simply the mental act, condition or habit of placing trust or confidence in a person or thing. Sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? I like to think of it as a change of mind. I once thought this; now I see it this way. This is what believing is—it’s a little more than changing your mind.

As an example, a case in point of this occurred in our home many years ago when we introduced our two sons to Thai food. It is by far the food that Julie and I enjoy the most. When we lived in Chicago, we would have it delivered every Friday night—an order of Pad Thai and Pad See Ew. Up to that point, the most risqué thing our boys had eaten was something called the Ultradog—a unique and messy hot dog from a place here in Grand Rapids called Yesterdog. It’s coated with onions, chili, cucumber shavings, and ketchup and mustard (yeah, I know it sounds gross, but you’ve got to try one). So one Saturday evening, we decided to introduce some Thai dishes to our sons. Micah, at the time was probably five, and immediately and emphatically expressed his disapproval. “Yuck, no way! Gross!” After finally getting him to the restaurant (yanking and pulling and bribing) and then finally making him take a bite, he bellowed, “Hmmm…This Thai food doesn’t taste half bad!” His mind and taste buds had been transformed. He changed his mind about how good Thai food actually was. Put simply, he began to believe in the goodness of Thai food.

Believing in God on one level is similar and is a pretty simple process if you think about it. Whether you are a thirteen year old at a Bible camp or the chief of some long-lost tribe in Kenya who’s never even seen a book, let alone a Bible, the process is no different:

  • You understand that God exists.
  • Your life is confronted about who you are through the story of the cross.
  • You acknowledge who you are as a sinner and who God is as a Redeemer.
  • You begin to believe in God and begin to believe that He can take away your sins.

God made it easy and straight forward in starting a relationship with him. For some of us, it happened when mom came in our room when we were six and prayed for us at our bedtime and then asked us if we wanted “Jesus to come into our heart.” For some others, it happened in high school or college, an arduous intellectual process in which we needed all the facts lined up, and all the apologetics made straight in our mind, and we then made a mental transformation in our belief system. And then, for some of us, we were deep in our own broken world, had made a total mess of our lives, maybe we were going from bed to bed or from drink to drink, and saw only one way out and that was the way of Jesus. Believers come in all different shapes and sizes; perhaps they have been Christians for forty days or as long as forty years.

There are many ways in which God reaches out to each of us. He is often imaginative in his approach. Jesus is so in love with us that he will do whatever it takes to be near us, close to us, in relationship with us. There are many ways in which he captivates us and I have heard countless stories and the many different ways in which people come to faith.

  1. A camp counselor tells you about this captivating Person and you want to know him.
  2. A guy hands you a tract on the subway.
  3. It’s late at night, you can’t sleep because of a head cold, and you’re flipping through the channels and you come upon some television preacher.
  4. You are all alone in another town on a business trip for three days and on the second day you open up the bed stand table and begin flipping through the book that lies there.
  5. A friend opens up their life to you about Someone who has made a dramatic difference in their life.

As I once heard Joseph Stowell comment, “God is like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police…He always get his man (or woman).” And in doing so, God comes up with some of the most normal and some of the most odd ways in bridging that gap—from not believing at all in him, to at least believing just a little bit.

Stay tuned: next week I will share a unique story in how God reached out to someone…


In: Friend to Jesus, Spiritual Formation
Tags: , , , ,
Apr
11
2012

It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end. Ursula LeGuin

Never look back unless you are planning to go that way. Henry David Thoreau

And so with all of this, this is why it is important to follow Jesus. Naturally, we are continually being renewed, growing and emerging and becoming more. We need to remember this—our journey of faith has marking points. Being a Christian is a progression. We have many examples of this in Christian literature, The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan as the classic and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis in the last century. And yet, the walk of faith is never one in which the person “arrives.” We’ll let the eastern religions keep that monopoly. The walk of faith can be likened to one going on a long road trip, crossing state lines and going from one town to the next. Every now and then you may need to stop alongside the road, perhaps to change the tire that has blown or by getting off at the next exit to have some good coffee and a piece of pie at a diner just off the beaten path. Discovery, in the in end, is at the heart of the Christian faith.

Throughout the Bible, God is attempting to pound this idea into us that it’s all about a relationship with him that matters the most. The Israelites of the Old Testament had such a hard time with this one, because they wanted so much to make it about following a religion—following a set of rules was so much easier than being in a relationship with their Creator. Very few characters we read about in the Old Testament got this one right. Most, which we read about insisted on obeying all the rules versus moving into a friendship with God. If we were to think about that list of those who moved into an authentic relationship with him, it is a relatively short one. A few would be: Abraham, David, Isaiah, Josiah, and Elijah. When we read their stories, we learn about the beautiful possibilities of having a friendship with God.

In the New Testament, Jesus makes the same challenge. He says that the basis of everything is relationship, a relationship with him. Let’s listen to Jesus’ all-important words: “I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) The Message restates it even more emphatically as it ends: “Separated, you can’t produce a thing.” Now that’s saying it like it is! Meditate on that one for a minute. Are we really going to believe such a statement? No one—not your Aunt Bev, not the nice guy down the street who shovels your sidewalk every winter, not even your own mom, the nicest lady in the world—can do anything good without Jesus. What he means in that statement, is simply this—everything has to be about him, otherwise it means nothing. Everything will come up short without Jesus. Every part of our lives must be subject to him: the inner strength of our marriage; the skills and talents we use on the job; our ability in the high school classroom or on the volleyball court; how well we can think or feel; our financial security; our gifts of hospitality or giving; our ability to be a father or mother, son or daughter. Jesus is the center and how centered our lives are to his will determine how well we do in everything that we do. Everything about our lives starts with him. It’s not that we don’t have importance as well in this on-going relationship; but the whole of our lives and how we live them starts with the One who made us. Let me say that one more time: the whole of our lives and how we live them starts with the One who made us.

This is the starting point and the ending point. Our life, all of it, is in relationship to the One who created us (Colossians 1:16). The closer we are to him, the better we are. I see this continually with my own life and in the lives of others. The better a relationship with God a person has, the more “effectiveness” they have in their own lives. Depression is easier to conquer; marriages re-connect sooner; a father and a teenage son begin to have fun again; sometimes, you can even hit the golf ball straight. Things begin to happen that you never expected to happen. Life begins to fall in place. Inevitably, if we want to have the life we want, if we want to be the person we are supposed to be, it will tie back to our connection with Jesus. In essence, only the person who has God at the center of his life can have the good life. Again, the closer you are to him, the better you will be.

Alongside this, the person who commits his life to God and his ways will go through many changes. Relationships will change. Interests will change. Thinking will change. Life, itself, will change and for the better. If we allow it, the whole of life will just be an on-going metamorphosis into something more, something different, and something good. In the process of the journey, we are inevitably changed. Literally, one year-five years-twenty years later, you’ll become an entirely different person, a better person, more sound and connected to something extraordinary. As Muhammed Ali said, “The man who views the world at fifty the same way he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

THE STAGES WE SEE IN FAITH

But process inevitably means that there are also stages and I believe that there are different marking points to the Christian walk. It clearly says in the book of Corinthians that in your faith at one point you can be an infant, at another you can be like a child, and then finally, you can live  as an adult (1 Corinthians 13:11). Something that I have seen over and over in other people’s lives, but most certainly in my own, is that there are three distinct marking points in the Christian walk and it all relates back to our relationship with Jesus.

We hear it all the time: you have to make God No. 1 in your life. Yes, it’s a cliché, but even though the phrase is overused, it still is true. This relationship with God is the key. In speaking of this relationship, it occurred to me that looking back over the last twenty-five years since becoming a Christian I have had differing relationships with him. The relationship changed and grew. Early on, the relationship was more distant, and then gradually has become more intimate. Likewise, I also recognized that Jesus began to play different roles in my life. Just as I was changing in relationship to him; amazingly, he was changing in the way he related to me. Slowly, but surely, I was living the privilege of a more personal relationship with him. Let me give you an example of how this works. No different than with my seventeen year old son, he has begun to trust me more and I trust him more as well. Josiah is growing up and how I am with him is changing. At one time in his life, he was an infant in which he was entirely dependent on me and I had to do everything for him. As years went by (and much too fast I might add), Josiah grew up into a vivacious and curious nine year old, where now I often had to protect him from himself. And now as he is nearing adulthood, my role as his parent has diminished greatly. He doesn’t need me to tell him to tie his shoes, go to bed at the proper time or eat his green beans. Josiah is becoming a mature young man with whom I am very proud. Our relationship has moved from me being a parent to him, to now Josiah has become my friend. In many ways, he doesn’t always need my input or protection, because he can take care of himself. In some ways, our relationship with God can be the same. In our own relationship with God, we too can become mature, and become that person to which he also is proud of us.

I began seeing these distinctions, in myself, with others, and in the Scriptures. There were growth spurts to be sure, but in the end, there are three distinct stages in this journey with God. I saw these marking points in the lives of those found in the Old Testament: like Abraham, David, and Elijah. I also saw these steps in the life of the disciples, moving from just-believing to really-living. And finally, as I related the Scriptures to my own life and story, I saw them personally—I had changed and was changing as time went on, growing in my relationship to the One who shaped me together. The progression was marked and obvious. As I began looking back at the years, I saw that not only did I change, but as I mentioned earlier, God also has changed in the way he related to me. Similar in the way a parent relates to a child, the relationship changed and in some ways, we began to relate in different ways. Specifically, I realized that in this journey I moved from being a believer, was transformed into a servant and finally, began to emerge as a friend of Jesus. Perhaps put in another way, God was first my Savior, then became my Lord, and finally became my Friend. This is the transformation I went through and still undergo, each day attempting to move into a friendship with the One who made me for him. By moving closer to Jesus, everything begins to fall in place. Moving forward through this blog, this is how we will distinguish these marking points in the journey of being a Christian: a believer, a servant and a friend.


In: Friend to Jesus, Spiritual Formation
Tags: , , , , , ,
Mar
14
2012

Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation. Teilhard de Chardin

There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. C.S. Lewis

But this is not the full story. Let’s listen to another part of the story that God wants to share. We need to go way back; back to the beginning, even before we were created. An important character of the Bible shows up who also is very crucial to its story. In fact, he is the antagonist, our opponent, enemy and foe. He is the nemesis, and he is a formidable one (not to God, but to his children and to his creation). His name is Lucifer (or Satan) and he is an essential character in the story of God’s purposes of creation and redemption and it can be a great danger to forget that.

To begin, Lucifer was and is a very unique being.  In terms of understanding who this person is, in the book of Ezekiel, we are painted a portrait of who this remarkable angelic being was before his rebellion and fall.

You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz, emerald, chrysolite, onx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and beryl. Gold work of tambourines and of pipes was in you. In the day that you were created they were prepared. You were the anointed cherub who covers: and I set you, so that you were on the holy mountain of God; you have walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, until unrighteousness was found in you. (Ezekiel 28: 13-15)

The Message translates one section of these verses, this way: “A robe was prepared for you the same day you were created.” In this telling, we can think of the story of Joseph and the favoritism from his father Isaac when he was given his special coat of many colors (Genesis 37: 3-4). With a passage like that, it is obvious that Lucifer is favored by God as well. But this is where significant problems begin to emerge in the story—God had other plans.

God earlier was partial to Lucifer, but now he has decided to create someone even more favored, even more beautiful, and I dare say, with even more authority than this beautiful prince. Lucifer (see Isaiah 14:12-15) was one awesome creature, but now he was about to be subject to another creation and people. Simply put—we, as human beings supplanted Lucifer as God’s beloved. In terms of the overall plan, we were the rightful heirs right from the beginning. In reading the Scriptures, it can be surmised that Satan’s jealousy of man began a whirlwind of destruction that we are still subject to today. Again, understanding who we are in the story is of utmost importance. To help spell this out better, below is the hierarchy of the creation in terms of the position of God, the angelic beings, and mankind as his creation.

Before Creation

  • God
  • Lucifer and the angels

After Creation

  • God
  • Human creation
  • Lucifer (Satan), the fallen angels and angels

After the Fall of Man

  • God
  • Lucifer (Satan), the fallen angels and angels
  • Human creation

After the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ

  • God
  • Human creation
  • Lucifer (Satan), the fallen angels and angels

Specifically, if we reframe this understanding of the “hierarchy” of God’s creation, it begins to paint with broad strokes where Lucifer fits into the center of this story. If we, being made in God’s image, can now begin to understand why this fallen and evil creature wanted our destruction, we can begin to understand why we are so important and why our lives are so crucial to the makeup of this world.

The delineation above tells us some important theological insights. First, after God created the earth and Adam and Eve, human beings not only had dominion over the earth, but over Lucifer and the angels as well. However, here’s the bad news and a very important, but tragic point: after man disobeyed God, Lucifer now has now taken dominion and authority over God’s treasured creation, his children. In essence, when we Adam and Eve “obeyed” Lucifer, when they followed him into his lie, when they disregarded God’s command for their lives—on paper, it was all over and lost.  The New Testament spells out what Genesis tries to tell us:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient (Ephesians 2:2). 

In the early part of the book of Genesis, we see this example when it tells the story of the Fall. As we go on and flip a page or two into the book of Genesis, the passage describes this awful situation with greater clarity. In this jealousy Lucifer had toward God’s children, in his great hatred toward us, he attempts to lead us away from the One who truly loves us—and with nothing more than a piece of fruit,with just a simple red apple that you could pick on a cold October day.

         The Serpent: “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’”

The Woman: “…God did say ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

The Serpent: “You will not surely die…”

Before night fell, Lucifer succeeded in his manipulation and lie, and God’s children found themselves subject to a different ruler—to this evil and fallen being. In the Fall, in our disobedience to God, we obeyed the Enemy and became his slave. This can be missed when reading Genesis. This is the aspect of reading the Bible as a narrative and not only looking for the obvious. At this point in time, the entire world is under the dominion of this rebellious angel. As we have said, the Bible calls him Lucifer or Satan and in different passages he is called “the god of this age” (2 Corinthians 4:4), “the prince of this world” (John 12:31), and “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). As Milton writes in Paradise Lost, “Satan exalted sat, by merit raised to that bad eminence.” That day the world turned sour or as Sally Mann has said, “The earth [became] sculpted out of death.”  Because Lucifer knew his demise, what a better way to end it—to destroy the creation God loved and treasured the most.

YOU GOTTA SERVE SOMEBODY

Let’s talk a little bit more about theology. A new thing happens and God does not forget about his cherished ones. As Jesus, he comes onto the scene and restores what had become so messed up—not only is he our substitute, but he also ransoms us from Lucifer’s hand. What does that mean? For some of us, when we think about the cross, we immediately think of the phrase—Jesus died for our sins—theologically, this premise is what we call substitutionary atonement. However, in the early church, they viewed the cross in another way; they saw Jesus’ death as a ransom for our lives, as a deliverance and protection from Lucifer’s authority over mankind.  After the Fall, the human race literally became his property and possession. Theologians from the early church up until the present call this ransom atonement. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, all that is nullified—Lucifer’s reign and control can be over if you want it to be.

So often when Jesus spoke to people he asked them to follow him and this was the reason—to follow him meant that we would literally be turning our back on the one who hates us and we could begin to learn how to live with the One who always had our best at heart. If we were to follow Jesus, everything could be as it should be—we now have restored to us the privilege of being an heir and child of God, and we no longer have to be subject to someone who does not care for us in the least. We now literally give our lives back to God and release ourselves from Satan’s control and contempt (to learn more about this premise, you can google Christus Victor). As a central teaching of the New Testament about Jesus’ death on the cross, it contends that God not only saves us from sin and death, but also Lucifer’s hatred and control.

Let’s look at this concept from one more angle. I love literature. I studied it in college and it is still one of my favorite things to do—to read stories. I have learned so much through them. Drama, tragedy, comedy—they illustrate for us in exceptional ways important truths about life. Stories teach us the most. This is why Jesus spent so much time telling them—it is how we learn best. They stick with us and this is why Jesus spoke truths through parables and stories. The problem is that stories don’t always spell it out. You have to read them (and sometimes reread) and listen for what they are trying to say. Sometimes, it’s not so obvious to understand what the author is trying to say. And when you think about it, the Bible is written almost exclusively as a story when one reads it cover to cover. Sometimes when we read the Scriptures, we need to remember to read it that way—simply as we would read an exhilarating novel that a friend has recommended. Walter Wangerin did us a great service when he wrote The Book of God, because it brought us back to the fundamentals of the story of redemption; the pages we turn do not become just a bunch of rules that need to be followed out, but the fullness of a story where we become the central characters alongside our Creator.

This takes us to a final point. Let’s look at the word kingdom. Throughout the gospels, Jesus uses this word over and over when he is teaching the people and his disciples. What he is attempting to explain is that in this world there are two kingdoms co-existing with one another: the kingdom of God, and for a better word, the kingdom of the World (to which Satan is the “prince” of this “kingdom”). He makes it clear and states that each person is in one camp or the other. Jesus says it about as blatantly as it can be said: “If you are not with me, you are against me.” (Matthew 12:30) There is no middle ground. Each person is either in allegiance to him or blindly being swayed by his enemy.  Even Bob Dylan gets it; in one part of a song he wrote, he belts out this truth:

You may be an ambassador to England or France

You may like to gamble, you might like to dance

You may be the heavyweight champion of the world

You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

 

Might be a rock’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage

Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage

You may be a business man or some high degree thief

They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

 

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,

Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,

You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,

You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

 

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed

You’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

The question we each have to ask ourselves is where do we stand, who are we going to serve and follow? Again, there is no middle ground. With this issue, there is never a happy medium. Your mailing address is either in his Kingdom or in the world. You are either for or against Jesus. You are either serving him or someone else. At least, this is how Jesus explained it.

 

 

 

 


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