Church, Intimacy

Fellowship is a strange word.  It is not commonly used today, unless it is in reference to The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring. And generally, in our Christian circles, we have come to accept the understanding of fellowship to mean a potluck, or some kind of event where people get together and share food.  While this is definitely a valid aspect, I think there is more. Fellowship is a spiritual discipline; it encompasses engaging in companionship with those who share like interests–Christ.  God brings people into our lives for us to share our lives with, in order that we may grow to be more like his Son.  Proverbs 27:17 sums it up nicely by saying: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another,” (TNIV).  The discipline of fellowship is one instrument the Holy Spirit uses to sharpen us.

Because the discipline of fellowship is usually well-liked, and one we tend to naturally engage in, it’s not hard to put it on the back burner and forget about it.  If we like it, and it’s easy, then we must be doing it right.  But are we? In a culture like ours where individualism is valued, and people lead hectic lives, true fellowship often slips through the cracks.  Easily, it becomes something else on our list of things to do.  And the people God has brought across our path never get close enough to help us grow; instead they are only allowed a surface relationship, seldom, if ever, experiencing the fellowship God intended us to enjoy, and mutually benefit from.

This week, I am reminded how valuable the people God places in our lives are, and what a joy it is to fellowship with them.  Some dear friends, who’ve moved away, are staying at my house for a visit.  Through their companionship and conversation, God has reminded me of his call on my life, and helped me refocus my priorities.  I feel like I’ve grown more in this week filled with fellowship than I have all year!  Relationship and fellowshipping with others is one of the greatest tools God uses to help us become more like his Son.  I am challenged to surround myself with people who push me to grow God-ward, encouraging me to reach my full potential in Christ, and to be more intentional about encountering the Spirit in fellowship with them.


Somewhere Over the Rainbow

God, Intimacy, Love

My friend knew I felt displaced in life—my ambitions and understanding of things suspended by a yoke of uncertainty—and so he asked earnestly, “So now what? What are you planning? What do you desire?”

I bit down on my sandwich and said with a longing, “I just want to be home.”

It was a fine answer for my friend, and it struck him with a nostalgia for his home in Nebraska where friends and family were left behind. It was pleasant to see him dream. They say home is where the heart is, so I almost couldn’t disturb the peace. But I did. And I did so at the risk of being misunderstood as gothic, or worse, suicidal. It is a lonely thing to be misunderstood, which is why I was surprised to have said anything at all.

What I meant was I wanted to be home home, you know, in paradise with my Jesus. You don’t usually hear this kind of talk except from the deathbed, right?

I don’t often ache for heaven, though I do for His presence; lately, the two are one in the same. If I think long and hard enough I am sure to find a reason and rhyme behind this aggression for eternity. Perhaps it is provoked by the fact that most of my closest friends are either in full-time ministry or married (or on the cusp). I kind of assumed by this age God would afford me an intrepid life for the Gospel off doing missionary work in an exotic land to an unreached people group. I would want Him to.

I had to backtrack to explain to my friend that what I meant was something inspired out of Philippians 1:23-24 “I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.”

I cannot completely relate to Paul here since there seems to be an asterisk where the phrase ‘on your account’ is. I am not sure to whom I could or should say that to. Marriage would provide an easy answer in the wife. So would being a pastor in the congregant. I think the absence of an obvious answer allows me to relish in the far better—to depart and be with Christ.

C.S. Lewis once said, “If I find within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probably explanation is that I was made for another world.” It is an uneasy aching, however. Paul wrote this verse while in prison with execution looming. I am young. There is so much life ahead of me to dwell on the premature. But there is nothing premature about aching for the presence of God. Nor could I say I truly understand the intent of eternity if I did not know the presence of God enough to ache for Him now. It would simply be a jargon of religious plurality for Paul to say I desire to depart…and then leave it open-ended to the imagination of someplace, such as a Nirvana or purgatory.

Every religion offers an afterlife. An afterplace. So does Christianity. However, the central message of the Gospel is not about a destination more so than it is about reconciliation. While on the cross Christ turns to the thief next to him and affirms him, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Quite simply, the judgment and reward of eternity is not someplace but Someone.

All matter is corruptible, prone to depreciation and boredom. Pleasures fade. Beauty ages. There is nothing spectacular that isn’t susceptible to becoming common. And, if our highest imagination of heaven is materialistic, then our heaven is bastardized: for the luster of emerald studded gates will dull; streets of gold will turn pedestrian; the host of angelic creatures will be a tired zoo; and the mansion on the hill will rot into a den of pointlessness. In light of eternity, how long can any of these things amuse us for? It is like a child watching a balloon slowly deflate alongside his happiness. If the highest pleasures and amusements in the afterlife cannot by nature last for an eternity, eternity will quickly become something hellish. Heaven left to the invention of man is soon enough damned by man’s discontent for the common. The last thing you would want is to ask for all eternity, so now what?

The depravity of man is most profound and absurd in its belief that God merely exists in paradise but is not the Object of it.

The substance of the Gospel is that it offers an imperishable paradise in Someone not something; because God by nature is incorruptible. The glory, majesty, splendor, wonder, and beauty of God can run circles around eternity. He can never become common. Our worship never exhausted. Eternal life is to pursue You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).

It is the joy of my salvation for my heart to ache for the presence of God—to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. I just want to be Home.

Fall Colors

Creation, Gratitude, Intimacy, Love, Old Testament, Sacrifice

Malachi 1:6, “When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts.”

Last Sunday Pastor Jordan preached out of Malachi. A tough book to handle homiletically. It starts off affectionately enough but quickly tailspins into controversy (the whole “I love Jacob but hate Esau” talk) and crashes into the raw nature of a Holy God. The cordial introduction is made quick work of and feels like a contrived setup—though it is far from it—to simply catch its original audience off guard, that being, the Levitical priesthood who were more than responsible yet indifferent towards the corrupted priest-and-sacrifice economy originally designed to showcase a tradition and posture of mercy, of healing, and of worship, but that was instead bastardized by greed, laziness, and mockery.

It is not so much that there was a small margin of error in the selection for a proper offering, it is not as if God expected the priests to choose the “one” sacrifice in the same sense we may erroneously think of there being only one soulmate. There was no perfect sacrifice nor perfect choice, just the cream of the crop. The sacrificial system was to give, not out of the worth of the animal, but in response to the worthiness of God. It was not meant for precision and pressure, but for freedom to worship.

I cannot imagine how a jealous God absorbed the full extent of this insult when the priests deliberately went out of their way to give from the bottom of the barrel and not from the bottom of their heart. It was a spat to the face, and surprisingly enough God did not wipe out the people entirely. He was faithful, even in anger, to covenant love. To illustrate this He reminds them of a scandalous love affair with a conniving, undeserving scoundrel for a patriarch (Malachi 1:2).

And to prove there was no perfect choice, God chose to love Jacob. And to prove their was a perfect choice, God chose to sacrifice His son.

In one sweeping motion the cross unprecedentedly overturns and fulfills, on a cosmic scale, an unfinished system through the sacrifice of One. Done away with forever was the need for animal sacrifices in order to make way for worship in spirit and truth, which, ironically, nonetheless calls us to sacrifice still (Romans 12:1). God did not do away with sacrifice in general, just in particular. As the saying goes, “He who has loved without dying has not loved at all.” Yes, to say Christ is the consummate Sacrifice is absolute; to say Christ is the only sacrifice is left wanting, because then, what must I do with gratitude?

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Perhaps this verse is not about calling us to an old law but rather to a covenant Love, an explanation—to help us make sense—of gratitude. Paul does this with a refreshing truth.  Covenant love is not physical circumcision. The heart is the new circumcision. Covenant love is not animal sacrifice. Worship is the new sacrifice.

Gratitude can never do away with worship, in as much as, love can never do away with sacrifice.

Yet, I thought to myself during Pastor Jordan’s preaching, if my body is the living sacrifice, I cannot help but think that I offer nothing but blemish and lameness. With that realization, I could not but resign to sadness.

Then suddenly the Spirit lifted up my eyes and reminded me of something I saw that weekend.

With horchata drinks in hand and a discounted Domino’s pizza already downed, Ben Wagenaar and I created a homies paradise as we roamed aimlessly through the cool trails of the Nature Center talking about nothing new under the sun but enjoying brotherhood through the exploration of God and creation. I motioned for us to stop as we crossed midway over a bridge, as all this was new to me (I had never visited before), and my eyes beheld in shock at the beauty of autumn.

“Springfield is underrated,” I spoke out loud.

Running water trickled calmly underneath but leaped to meet with the falling rain. A few feet away a turtle pocked its head out of the water and stared in salutation. On the horizon, where earth meets the sky, the autumn trees appeared as frozen flames brilliant with warm colors.

I knew this scenery was only possible because a part of Mother Nature was dying. And she did so without fight nor tension. It was her desire to shed her leaves in order to embrace the harsh winter to come. As it is with life in Jesus, when we present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, we present ourselves as Fall Colors.

Beautiful in dying. Colorful in living.

A couple weekends ago I took a trip to IHOP in Kansas City, coincidentally also with Ben, and I heard Misty Edwards sing live. In one of her songs she sang, almost as if personally to me, during a time when I had nothing of myself worth offering,

I knew what I was getting into and I still chose you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still like you.
I knew what I was getting into and I still want you.
I don’t regret it; I am not shocked by your weakness and brokenness.

If you are not the cream of the crop, of which I never was nor will ever be, do not fret, through Christ you are altogether lovely; your worship as sweet fragrance. Being a living sacrifice is not a beauty pageant. God desires for us to live out a redeemed theology of brokenness and sacrifice, for only then can we can live out worship in spirit and in truth—that truth being, I am weakness and repentance, yet grateful and adored.

At the close of the service I prayed to the Lord as He wiped away my tears, “BE LIVING IN MY DYING.”

Principle or Incarnation?

Intimacy, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Law, Love

“I don’t want religion, I want Jesus.”

I’ve said this before, but I’m not sure it really reflects the truth of the Gospel.  I agree in so far as I want to know Jesus intimately and want to discard anything that keeps me from that relationship.  I disagree as far as the statement means that I have to give up religion to have Jesus or give up Jesus to have religion.

Religion isn’t inherently good or bad.  It’s defined as a system of beliefs, attitudes and practices.  I dare you to read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) , one of the most important teachings of Jesus in Bible, and not see a system of beliefs, attitudes and practices.  There are beliefs about the sort of people who are blessed, attitudes towards God and towards humans, and commanded practices.  This sounds like religion to me.  So why do so many people often discard “religion” in favor of “relationship”?

Because we don’t understand the nature of love.  When I was married to my wife we exchanged vows, promises that we would always act in a certain way towards each other, placing boundaries on what was and what was not acceptable in our relationship.  I can’t act in a way that violates those commitments and say that I am loving her.  In the same way, when I say that I want to love Jesus, to have a deeper relationship with him, I can’t act against what he has said is the way of love.  Love isn’t a separate principle(s) that is defined by our individual desires and understandings of the world, it is incarnated and revealed in the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith who is present in the common life of Christian believers through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Relationship without Religion doesn’t work because there is a deficit of communication.  Religion without Relationship doesn’t work because there is a deficit of incarnation.


Moses, Feet, and Dirt

God, Intimacy, Love

Why did God tell Moses to take his sandals off?  Moses, probably smelling like goats and sweaty from walking up the side of a mountain, was probably pretty curious as to how a bush could stay on fire for so long.  Then God talks to him from the flames.  “Take your shoes off, the ground you’re standing on is holy.”

I can’t remember the cultural specifics about why taking his shoes off is more of a holy thing to do than to leave his shoes on.  I don’t usually ask people to take their shoes off, especially when they’ve been sweating in them all day, because I’m not real interested in smelling the stench.  But God tells him to take his sandals off of his sweaty feet and plant those calloused, smelly soles in the dirt.

Now Moses is standing there in front of this bush that is burning, isn’t spreading, and apparently isn’t burning up with sweat running down his legs, mixing with the dirt on the ground and this is holy.  Moses smells like goats and unwashed man, has dirty feet, and this is holy.

Maybe when God said “Take your shoes off” He wanted Moses to be a little less clothed.  Not in a weird, eww God has a foot fetish, but in a “Hey, I remember when Adam and Eve walked around naked and weren’t ashamed, and that was holy” type of way.  Maybe God was inviting Moses to be known and to be unashamed.

I think I hear those words everyday.  Take your shoes off, be vulnerable with me, this is holy.

Originally Posted March 25, 2010