In Colossians 2, the Message translation says this, “When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 MSG). Jesus took our cross and gave us His crown. Now, what does this mean?
In Galatians 3:13 (NIV) it tells us that, “Christ redeemed us,” that is- He bought us, “From the curse of the law.” Remember that old arrest warrant has been cancelled (Colossians 2). There’s an arrest warrant for our life. “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole'" (Galatians 3:13). Jesus willingly allowed Himself to go to the cross. In fact, the Bible doesn’t say He just allowed Himself, but it tells us that He resolutely set out for Jerusalem, where He knew the cross was waiting for Him.
Jesus resolutely set out to go to the cross. Now that isn’t to say that He didn’t want to bypass the cross. He was fully God AND He was fully man. In Matthew 26:39 we read, "Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will." Jesus Christ took our cross. We are the guilty ones (Romans 3:23). He is the innocent one (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Now while He died so that we would be forgiven, He also died so that we who were far off from God could be brought near to God. For He Himself, the Bible tells us, reconciled the two of us that were made hostile to one another (Ephesians 2:15). God loved us so much (John 3:16) that even while we were enemies to Him, Christ died for us (Romans 5:10). Because of Jesus, we are no longer enemies, but children of God and heirs of the kingdom (Romans 8:17). We are sons and daughters of the Most High God. Imagine how this understanding of our identity could change our daily living. No longer are we defined by our dysfunction or the dysfunction of those around us. We can silence the voices of our past that have wounded us with the new song placed (Psalm 40:3) within our hearts by our loving Father who says, "You are mine!"
In this Blog Post, I would like to focus on some lessons that emerge from the Passion story of Jesus. The week of Christ’s triumphant entry, last supper, crucifixion, and resurrection epitomizes the Christian experience that takes us through times of celebration, rejection, anguish, suffering, and redemption. Jesus tells us, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). We are to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and learn from Him, so that we “know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10). While there are many lessons that emerge from the Passion story, I will share three that are particularly meaningful to me.
First, sometimes we stand, so that others don’t fall. Jesus knew that He would die for those who would reject, mock, deny, and abandon Him and still He “resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) where the cross awaited Him. He did not suffer for His sake, but for ours. Sometimes we ask God why we must suffer, and while we may suffer at times for our needed growth, we may suffer for the sake of someone else. As a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) our lives are no longer our own for we have been bought by the blood of Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:20). We are transformed with “ever increasing glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18) into the likeness of Jesus Christ. Christ was sent into the world to save us (John 3:16) and He has sent us into the world with His spirit to do what He did (John 20:21). He saved us by dying for us. We save others by dying for them—by suffering for them and with them. In 2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT) we read: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” This is an important reminder that our suffering is used by God to help others. When we are tempted to complain about the pain, we can remember that God wastes nothing in His kingdom and will use it all for His glorious purposes.
Second, in times of suffering, we must learn to be silent. Suffering is inevitable. From Genesis to Revelation, the good and the bad all suffer alike. In fact, Jesus states, “You will be hated by everyone because of me” (Matthew 10:22) and that some will be “persecuted and killed” for Him (Matthew 10:22). Suffering is universal and it is a guarantee for a follower of Jesus. Sometimes we suffer because of Him or for Him, and sometimes we suffer because pain happens. We do not have control over the suffering, but we do have control on how we will respond to it when it occurs. As Jesus was suffering through His trial, beatings, and crucifixion, His words were few. Isaiah 53:7 states, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Our words are powerful (Proverbs 18:21) and reflect our hearts (Luke 6:45). We can hamper the power of God working in us and for us by our words. In times of suffering, it may be difficult to be joyful and speak words of praise and thanksgiving—and that is okay. The Passion of Christ does not have a lot of songs in the suffering, but there is silence in the suffering. Our quiet response to pain can be a greater indicator of our trust in God, then our shouts of praise in our strength. Our words can make us feel worst. In silence we are less likely to entertain the grumblings of our heart, which allows us to focus on God and His faithfulness.
Lastly, do not try to defend your reputation. Live with integrity and let God do the rest. When Jesus was being falsely accused, He did not entertain the accusations with arguments to justify Himself. In Matthew 27:12 it states “And when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, He gave no answer” and in Matthew 27:14 we read, “But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge--to the great amazement of the governor.” Jesus was silent because He trusted the Father to defend Him. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). Jesus knew who He was, who His father was and why He came. He did not seek or need the approval of man because He looked to the Father for His strength and identity. People will question our lives and our motives, but it is not our job to defend their charges. It is our job to keep our hearts pure before the Father and seek His approval. God knows our hearts and He will defend us if we let Him fight our battles. If we insist on getting our own way, then we get in His way. There are many lessons in the Passion Story. I pray that you will reflect on what God is telling you through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The ultimate message is that God is for you, with you, and He wins! Remember, God loves you.
"Nevertheless as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the Lord fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw My glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed Me and tested Me ten times- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors. No one who has treated Me with contempt will ever see it." -Numbers 14:21-23 (NIV)
Can you imagine if God says a similar statement about us? To think of us as treating Him with contempt? Do we think of ourselves as treating God with contempt when we grumble, and when we complain, and when we seek to have things differently than they are today? One of the greatest effects of discontentment in our world is that it robs us of the rest of God that is promised to us in Christ.
The Israelite community was given a Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But, they did not respond in faith. Instead, the Bible tells us that after the spies had returned from scouting out the promised land, they responded in fear and grumbling. Caleb and Joshua believed that God would make a way for victory over the inhabitants, but the people sided with those who gave the negative report: "But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored." (Numbers 13:31-32) "That night all the members of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” (Numbers 14:1-4)
In Hebrews 4, it tells us that the Israelites were not allowed into the Promised Land because of their unbelief. The writer encourages us not to follow their example. For us, the promised land is not a location, but a state of being. It is the state of being at peace. Jesus tells in the Gospel of John (14:27), “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Jesus gives us peace as the birthright of the children of God. We have the responsibility to ENTER the peace and take it, just as God expected the Israelites to do. We like the idea of the gift, but we don’t like the idea that there’s anything to the gift that we actually have to do to obtain it. Our unbelief and contempt for God stifles within us the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). We can enter into the rest of God by praising Him, thanking Him, trusting Him, and radically obeying Him.
About two years ago, I went to my annual eye exam and was told that my vision required the use of bifocals. I found this to be an odd diagnosis because while my eyes were tired after reading, for the most part, I could see quite well. However, I went to an “expert,” and I figured he knew better than I. After I got my new glasses, however, I could not see as clearly as I could without wearing glasses. When I told people of this problem, they replied that I just needed to get used to them. So, I gave it about another week before going back to the eye doctor with my complaints. When I went back to him, I got a new eye exam, and he told me that he gave me the wrong prescription and that I did NOT need bifocals. I was both relieved and frustrated. I was relieved because it confirmed what I knew, and frustrated because it was costly for time and resources.
In reflecting over this experience, I cannot help to think that this is the process by which many of us develop our theology. The dictionary defines “theology” as the “study of the nature of God and religious belief.” Most of the time we are given a theology, like a prescription, by an “expert.” The experts that we rely upon are our family, clergy, media, etc. We rely on their "expertise" in helping us sort out our theology. Once we get our prescribed theology, we may not be comfortable with questioning the diagnosis. However, the prescribed theology is just like a pair of glasses, in that it can enhance or distort our view of the world. We are ultimately responsible to question and seek the right diagnosis, especially if we notice that there is not a good fit, regardless of our how others may want us to just accept it.
In thinking about my religious upbringing, I was not taught or encouraged to question matters of faith. It shouldn’t surprise you that I remember my pastor getting frustrated with me when I started questioning him in youth group. He replied to my questions that I was just “being difficult.” However, I did have questions that were not being answered. I was told to take the glasses of others and put them on to perceive matters of faith—and it just did not fit! Perhaps the “theological glasses” fit for them, but it did not fit for me. I had questions and continue to have questions concerning theology, but I have learned that I must challenge the lenses I have been given to understand theological matters—because the lens might not fit.
In Philippians 2:12, Paul instructs us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Theological matters are works in progress that requires us to work at seeing things clearer. It is always alarming to me when people are so confident in theological matters, especially given what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (AMP): For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. We are in the process of receiving progressive revelations of God’s truth and we do not see it clearly at first. It takes time to see it clearly and the only way for it to happen is for us to get closer to Jesus, who is our light and our truth.
Jesus is the LIVING WORD! Jesus illuminates the meaning of the scripture that shapes our theology. In Mark 8:22-25, we read about Jesus healing a blind man at Bethsaida. Jesus heals him, but the change in his vision takes time. After Jesus spits in the man’s eyes and put’s his hands on him, the man opens his eyes and sees, but not clearly. Jesus lays his hands on his eyes again and it says, “Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” The man could have been content with being able to see distortions, after all this was better than being blind; however, he went back to the great physician to see clearly! Think about the stages we see in the passage: before Jesus the man was blind, the first healing restored sight, and the last healing truly opened his eyes! I can’t help but to think how we are like the blind man and how many of us are walking around with distorted vision, distorted theology, because we think we are seeing clearly because an expert told us that this is how it is. But what if we have the wrong lenses through which we are viewing God and His leading. The Pharisees had the wrong lens and it resulted in them missing out on embracing Jesus. He states in John 5:39, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” In other words, the only way to read the scriptures is through the lenses of Jesus.
One final note about lenses and theology. Most of us should go for an eye exam every year because our vision changes as we get older. The old glasses don’t work as well as they used to and we need an adjustment in our lenses. Likewise, matters of faith will change as we get older. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” It is good and healthy to challenge the lenses through which we perceive theological matters, as well as matters of the world. One of the things that I appreciate about international travel is to see the world through a different cultures perspective. I enjoy dialoguing with those of other faith perspectives because I value the opportunity for an “I” exam, as my beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes are challenged. I value my religious upbringing; I just wish they encouraged me to challenge “my vision” by openly questioning “their vision.” May we be a community that invites questions and embraces the mystery of faith. While we look at things through different lenses, we, like Paul, resolve to know only one thing with certainty--Jesus Christ and His crucifixion for us (1 Corinthians 2:2).
In John 20: 6-7 (NIV) it tells us of the account of Jesus’ resurrection. It says, “He,” meaning Peter, “Saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen.”
As followers of Jesus, we receive His glory in exchange for our grave clothes. The grave clothes are in the empty tomb to represent our old self that was crucified with Christ (Romans 6:6). Jesus didn’t take the old clothes with Him and neither should we!
One of the primary reasons that we do not enjoy the Christian life is because we are still carrying around the baggage associated with the old way of living. Either we cannot or will not give up the baggage. Sometimes, we are addicted to a victim mentality and we are scared of what might happen when we give it up. We can allow our wounds and scars to define us. It is impossible to be a new creation as long as we hold on to the old.
How did Jesus take off the old? Scripture records that the head cloth was carefully folded in the grave indicating that it was not removed in an erratic fashion; rather, it was removed intentionally and methodically. Likewise, we need to allow Jesus to remove our grave clothes in the same manner (Ephesians 4:22-32). We may be a mess, but Jesus can handle it! We just need to let Him work in our lives and daily make a decision to take off the old and put on the new. Rome was not built in a day, and we will not be straightened out in a day. But, thank God that as long as we are on our way, God sees the finished product!
2 Corinthians 5:21 (NIV): “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” No longer are we wearing our old clothes, but we are clothed with Christ. So God no longer says when He looks at us, “Oh, look at that mess.” Rather, He says, “Look at my Son, Jesus.” We’re clothed in Christ! Remember, your past does not define you- Jesus defines you!
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things" -Colossians 3:1-2
The Apostle Paul tells us that we are to set our minds on heavenly things and to pursue the agenda of the Kingdom. As followers of Jesus we are told to think about "whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy" (Philippians 4:8). However, many of us allow our minds to focus on the temporary things of life, which distract us from focusing on the things that actually matter. This distraction is many times welcomed in our lives because it keeps us from examining the meaning of our lives. The old adage is: "Ignorance is bliss." We allow the tyranny of the mundane to keep us from pursuing heavenly excellence.
We keep ourselves from really thinking too deeply about the meaning of life and the meaning of existence; in dealing with the low hanging fruit in our lives, we hope to avoid addressing the questions that really matter about our existence. We allow the tyranny of the mundane to keep us from recognizing the truth in and for our lives. It is only when we are confronted with truth that we are able to be free (John 8:32). But with truth and freedom comes responsibility. We choose ignorance in an attempt to abdicate responsibility, but willful ignorance comes at a high cost. To avoid the truth is to deny it.
Without meaning, we are without purpose, and without purpose, we have no idea if our lives are off course. Generally, it is when we are facing a challenge to existence (life/death) that we finally begin to think about such matters. However, at this point, it is really too late to question the meaning of existence because we have already allowed a meaningful life to slip past us.
We do not like to think and so we welcome distraction. Our aversion toward thinking is rooted primarily in two things: laziness and fear. Thinking involves work--and most of us would rather leave that to others. But thinking also brings about fear because we realize how much we do not know. We have a desire for stability in the things that we do know. However, that security begins to weaken in the light of the impressive expanse of the things that we do not know. Rather than embracing the unknown, we cleave to our small worlds of what is "known." All too often, we are like those chained to the wall in Plato's "Allegory of the Den."
Real knowledge, coupled with wisdom, will humble us. This humility drives us to our knees in the sight of a God who knows it all. Humility is a stark contrast from the boasts of this world, which seems to believe that it has everything figured out. When I think of the depth of what I do not know, it drives to seek out the ONE who does know it all. I do not need to have it figured out if I stick with the one who does. He leads us into all truth (John 16:33), but we must first seek Him (Matthew 6:33) with all of our heart AND mind.
The Apostle Paul writes to the young evangelist Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Often we are seeking after happiness, only to find that it is a moving destination. While God, as a good Father, wants His children to be happy, He ultimately wants us to be content. Why? Happiness is circumstantial and temporary, but contentment is a firm foundation that will allow us to remain “strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). God wants us to build our life upon the rock of the Gospel of truth and not the shifting sands of feelings.
In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus tells us of two builders, one builds his house on the rock, and the other builds his house on the sand. Both houses look great, but the storm comes! “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against” the houses (v. 25 & 27), and Jesus tells us that the house built on sand crashed. The storms come to both the wise and foolish builder. Storms are inevitable, but are we prepared? If we are basing the direction of our life on feelings, then it is the equivalent to building upon the sand. According to Dr. Ken Rubin of the University of Hawaii: “Beaches are temporary features. There is always sand being removed and sand being added to them. Often, they change drastically during the year, depending upon the frequency of storms. Ultimately, a beach erodes because the supply of sand to the beach cannot keep up with the loss of sand to the sea.” A life on a foundation of sands cannot expect to remain stable.
The question is not if the storms will come, but will we be able to withstand the storms of life. Jesus tells us, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). When the storms come, God wants to understand that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). It is our faith, not our feelings, that gives us the ability to overcome the world (1 John 5:4).
In this world a simple principle exists: whatever you feed lives and whatever you do not feed dies. Are we feeding our faith or are we feeding our feelings? Are we maturing in our faith or “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6)? God wants us to be mature and strong in Him through faith. Hebrews 6:1 states, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.”
Maturity does not come with age but Godly wisdom applied consistently in our lives. Maturity is the ability to delay instant gratification for a desired long-term goal. Often times we stop focusing on the foundation of contentment for the quick fix of “happiness.” An addict will give up anything for a fix of drugs. Many of us have given up much for the quick fix of happy. We have traded away long-term contentment and joy to meet the “needs” of the moment. The writer of Proverbs states, "As the dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly” (26:11). How many times do we go back to the same thing or do the same thing and expect a different result? Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
My dog throws up from time to time, but she is always polite and cleans it up by eating it. While it is gross, what sickens me even more is when she tries to kiss me afterward. No one wants to be kissed by someone or something thing that has vomit breath. And yet, how many of us have the spiritual stench of vomit on our lives because of our poor choices? Our lives should not stink. Rather, we are told by Paul: “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15).
God allows the storms to mature us so that we will focus on what really matters: the foundation. James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." If we do not grow in our faith, we will return to what we once knew: a life without a foundation. God does not want us repeating the same pattern of behaviors; He wants us to become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).
It is my prayer that we will begin to focus less on the storms and more on the lessons they can teach us about ourselves. Maya Angelou wrote, “You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
Irish writer, Frank O’Connor, told the story of two boys standing beside a tall orchard wall launching a small, felt, round object up in the air like a Frisbee. If you had been there to see them, it would have looked strange—even foolish. With the enthusiasm of a college graduate, one of the boys hurls his hat and you arrive just in time to see it leave the hand of its owner and travel high—up and over an imposing and significant wall. You might have wanted to call out and say, “Why did you do that? Now you are going to have to climb over and get it!” To which, the boys would reply with sly and knowing grins, “Exactly. That’s the whole idea.” I appreciate this story because it teaches us to not only dream big dreams but actually to dare to do the impossible. Often, our thoughts on focused on small matters, which not only depletes us of our energy and diverts our attention, but it keeps us from achieving great things for the Kingdom of God.
We worry over money, careers, current events, and even sports. Our worry may seem justifiable from a worldly perspective, but not according to the directives in Holy Scripture. Worrying robs us of our power to move mountains and is a sin against God. Jesus instructs us not to worry “about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear” (Matt. 6:25) because our “heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (v. 32). Our job is to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” and the result will be that the small matters will be taken care of by our Father (v. 33). God wants our trust as an expression of our faith (Heb. 11:6), but there is another reason that He tells us not to worry: it robs us of our daily grace. Each day we are apportioned an amount of grace (James 4:6) and that grace is to be combined with our faith to be used for great things. Worry diverts our energy from the great to the mundane.
What does it mean to seek God’s kingdom as Jesus commands? First, it is the recognition that Jesus is King and we are to do what He tells us to do through His Word and His Spirit. Jesus tells us to do what He did while He was here on earth. “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12). What an awesome responsibility and privilege to join in the redemptive work of Christ and do even greater things that He did while here on earth. What did he do on earth? According to Acts 10:38 (NLT): “And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” The Spirit came upon Jesus to do GOOD for others. When we worry then, we are using our spiritual energies on the futile and mundane. We are unable to change circumstances through worry and we are unable to be used to do the good work that God has planned for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Often our energies are exhausted on mundane matters because we do not see them as such. The dictionary defines mundane as “of this earthly world rather than a heavenly or spiritual one.” Jesus tells us that this world will pass away. Therefore, we should be investing our energies in the eternal matters of His kingdom (Matthew 6:19). Kingdom focus puts this world in perspective. We lose perspective when we lose our focus.
Sometimes we allow ourselves to be distracted by the small things because it affords us a convenient excuse to ignore the larger matters. We actually welcome distraction and worry because we get the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing. Here is an example: “I can’t serve right now because I have so many issues going on in my life. I just can’t do it.” This excuse is used so many times that I just do not even pay it mind because here is the truth: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). There is always going to be problems, but we have been given the strength to overcome them so that we can continue to work for the King rather than demanding the King work for us. Distraction leads to inaction or misdirected energies. We try to manipulate small matters because it seems to impossible actually to do something BIG. One commentator summarized Pope Francis’ message during a United States trip: “resist the tyranny of the unchangeable.” We should never believe that positive change is not possible. Jesus tells us “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). God wants to do the impossible through YOU—are you willing to toss your cap over the wall?
The question that I continually face is “Am I willing to lay down my life so that others may live?” This is a terribly haunting and troubling question. What does it really mean to lay down one’s life? Is it just a matter of giving up a heartbeat for another, or is it also allowing one’s heart to break, so that others may live? I tend to think it is to be willing for both to happen, not only for our friends, but also for our enemies. The death of Jesus represents both concepts in regards to laying down one’s life. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
In 2013, God sent me two treks to begin to show me what this means. He sent me to Kenya to look into the eyes of the orphaned, and He sent me to our streets to look through the eyes of the homeless. Through these experiences, He broke my heart. He showed me how apart from His grace, that I too am spiritually orphaned and homeless. He then called me to give more of my life “so that others may live.”
Recently, I was led to the story of Esther, who was a Jewish queen of the Persian King Ahasuerus. She was out of place, and living between two different worlds—of the Jews and the Persians. Her uncle, Mordecai, informed Esther of a decree that would exterminate the Jews. Esther was reluctant to speak because of her fear of the King, but Mordecai replied to her: “Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:13-14). I believe I was led to this passage because I am frequently concerned about things, and yet, I do not speak up.
I am concerned that we as a corporate “Church” are shutting the “door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces” (Matthew 23:13). The church is quick to recite John 3:16, but neglects to understand the amazing teaching found in the next verse: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” This verse is further illuminated in John 12:32, when Jesus says: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” Notice that the message of God’s son is not condemnation, but acceptance for everyone! The Church, which bears the name of Christ, must share in dispensing the amazing grace and unconditional love that He demonstrated in His life, teachings, and death.
The love of Jesus is incarnational and we are called to model it! Incarnational love means that we model the spirit of Christ as found in Philippians 2:1-11, and engage in the ministry described in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Jesus did wait for people to come to Him, but He came to us! He came not to condemn, but to love and to show us the Father. He came to heal us and to sanctify us! Jesus tells us:"Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you." Jesus came to tear down “the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14), and to “reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” (Col. 1:20). And, Paul exhorts us to be Christ’s ambassadors as we continue in the similar ministry of reconciliation! (2 Cor. 5:20).
“Can you discover the depths of God? Can you discover the limits of the Almighty?” –Job 11:7 Many of us enjoy a good mystery novel, television show, or movie because we enjoy the suspense and intrigue this genre has to offer. It is my guess that most of us revel in trying to figure it all out to see if in the end our suspicions prove correct. Our enjoyment of a mystery is predicated upon the conclusion of the mystery—we want to know what happened! We want an end to the mystery that will help us make sense of the story’s journey. Sometimes, if you are like me, we will seek to know the conclusion before we reach it because we just cannot take the suspense of not knowing.
Our human nature is not comfortable with mystery and ambiguity. We are addicted to reasoning and to understand the: who, what, where, when, why, and how of situations and circumstances. Job was a man who lost so much and asked many questions. His friends and wife were of no comfort. His wife told him, "Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!" (2:9). His friends sought to rationalize through blame because there had to be something that Job had done to be on the receiving end of so much pain. Finally, Job gets an audience with God, and we think, “Now, Job will get some answers.” But Job does not get answers from God, rather he gets questions posed by the Almighty in Chapters 38-41: “Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers” (38:2-3 Message).
God uses the questions to allow Job to reach this conclusion:
“I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head. You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.” (42:1-6 Message)
Job does not get answers to his questions, but a revelation of truth!
Humankind’s first sin was to rebel against God and eat of the knowledge of the tree of good and evil. The serpent tricked us when he said: “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil” (Genesis 3:4-5). The serpent exposed a divine curiosity within us that when coupled with pride could have disastrous consequences. Since the garden, we have attempted to use reason to put God into the box that fits comfortably within the limits of our rationality. As much as we may try, God refuses to be placed in a box and refuses to allow us to remain comfortable with what we think we know about Him. In Isaiah 29:14, God declares through the prophet: “Therefore once more I will astound these people with wonder upon wonder; the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.”
Our curiosity is a divine spark within us, but only when handled properly. God frustrates us by opposing our pride so that we can be in the best place to have a revelation of the truth. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). God wants us to seek wisdom and knowledge in Him and through Him, but we must remember that He does not work for us rather we work for Him! In Isaiah 1:18 (ESV) He invites us to reason together—with Him! But we must exercise humility recognizing that truth in Isaiah 55:8-9: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
Curiosity combined with pride lead to destruction; whereas, curiosity and humility lead to revelation. We must seek truth when we seek Christ (John 14:6). But we must let Jesus, be Jesus! We will receive revelation—that is the truth for us and for this time—when we seek God with all of our hearts and minds in love and through faith. We must be prepared for unanswered questions and respond in faith (trust and obedience in action). Keep asking questions, challenging assumptions, and the status quo, and allow yourself to be open to a fresh awakening of God’s movement around us. We may not know all the answers, but we know that in the end—LOVE WINS!
Dr. Rob Weinstein is an Associate Professor of Business Studies/ Chair of Human Resource Management Studies. He is the Founder and President of the M25 Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in Cumberland County, NJ. He is also the Founding Pastor of Bethany Grace Community Church in Bridgeton, NJ.
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