Year: 2017

Christmas Confession & Assurance

CONFESSION

Lord God,

We praise you for sending your light and love—Jesus the Messiah—into this world.

We confess that we often live like the light did not defeat the darkness.

We confess that we often live as though Jesus is not returning in glorious light.

We sometimes confine Christ to parts of our lives and our faith becomes small.

We do not joyfully serve and expectantly worship.

Forgive us for ignoring Jesus’ light.

Prepare us for His return.

Help us rejoice in the light,

So your grace illumines the dark places of our hearts, our city and our world.

Amen.

ASSURANCE

The God who promised never to leave us or forsake us,

has come to us in Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

He binds up the broken-hearted,

heals all our infirmities,

and relieves our burden of sin.

While it is true that we have sinned,

It is a greater truth that, in Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.

God has shown his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died and rose for us.

Arise, shine; for his light has come,

And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

Thanks be to God!

*Taken from City Life Church Christmas Eve liturgy.

Hope for Dizzying Times

A friend recently confessed political views in her church are so tense and divided, she can’t bring up politics with her fellow Christians. A member in my own church asked me if it was okay to not call himself an evangelical at work because he’s concerned people will draw the wrong conclusions. Many people I talk to are reluctant to evangelize for fear of losing their jobs. It’s been a dizzying year, asking it easy to feel disoriented within our own society, churches, and even with God.

Dizzying Times

Although the details were different, the Apostle Peter wrote to people facing similar challenges. He sent a couple of letters to Christians from across five diverse regions who were experiencing cultural disorientation. His letters are saturated in wisdom for times like ours. Perhaps the most important piece is this: cultural disorientation is an opportunity to re-center hope.

Cultural disorientation is an opportunity to re-center hope.

It’s easy to slip into hoping people will accept us or our views. We often go to considerable lengths to make sure people think being Christian doesn’t mean being weird, “You should come on Sunday, there are a lot of really cool people there.” Or we may avoid gospel conversations altogether. But shouldn’t being holy make us stick out a bit in an unholy culture? When cultural relevance becomes dear, we compromise our hope. Peter steers clear of this impulse to soften Christianity with the hope of cultural acceptance.

He also steers clear of cultural dominance, a posture more assertive and critical, more prone to attack or withdraw than to appease. When our hope slips into cultural dominance, we tend to get heated in political conversations, rant on social media, and subtly hope the government will become more like us. Sensing this temptation, Peter writes: “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless” (1 Pet. 3:9). He heads off a domineering, tit-for-tat attitude with an exhortation to bless those who call us names or show us evil.

Recentering Hope

So how do we move toward blessing others amidst the confusion?

Whenever we get lost, we’re told to find a landmark, a star, a street name, something familiar and fixed, and work our way home from there. To re-center, we must fixate on God’s call to be exiles of hope.

Biblical hope is neither passive nor aggressive; it does not strive for cultural relevance or dominance. Instead, it operates on a different plane. It steps out of the cultural moment, refuses to be defined by it, and tries to view everything from the “eternal moment.” Peter writes: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:3–4).

Peter expresses hope sometimes in an event, other times in an age, but always in a person: “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” Jesus came from the future into the present, bringing some of heaven with him, to secure a resurrected future for us. In Jesus, life climbed out of death . . . and we climb out with him, with hope for a whole new world. So how does re-centering around this hope alter the way we respond to those around us?

The Difference of Hope

Immediately, Peter says our hope affects how we suffer: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (1:6). When our hope is recentered in the risen Christ, we can rejoice in trials of all shapes and sizes. If the conversation gets tense around politics, we need not grow angry and embittered because we share a joyful inheritance in Christ’s future and just rule. However, we shouldn’t avoid uncomfortable debate either, knowing that our hope compels us to bring some of heaven to earth now. Viewing our work from the eternal moment, we can risk disapproval by sharing hope for a just world in Jesus, while also laboring towards one.

A version of this post originally appeared at Crossway Books as a part of a Knowing the Bible series, for which I recently wrote the 1-2 Peter & Jude study.

Liking Has Limits

When we connect with someone we often click or say that we like them. This connection is typically because of a shared interest or value, and because we “connect” we prefer the company of that kind of person. We do the same with food and clothes. We like particular foods more than others, so include them in our weekly diet. We are drawn to particular fashion, so we buy certain clothes that express who we are. We tend to like people who resonate with our self-expression, but biblical community is based on love, not likes.

Community is based on love not likes.

Love pushes us beyond the boundaries of like. Love melts social boundaries. It compels me to spend time with people who are different, to see the world from their viewpoint. Love puts a face on those we don’t agree with and says I care about you. Love does not equal liking, though it may include it.

Love is commitment, service, sacrifice, putting others first, whether we like a person or not. Love is hard, deep, true. And it’s easy to mistake the people we like for the height of love in our lives. But Jesus said love is expressed in our attitude toward our enemies, toward those who have different ideologies, ethnicities, incomes, and personalities. Jesus could have easily said, “Love your neighbor ask you like your friend.”

Because love can be demanding, we often daydream of seasons in our lives when “everyone got me.” College friendships become the standard by which we judge other relationships. Or we compare our community in one church against another, concluding that our present church is deficient and “not meeting our needs.” But this is mistaking loving for liking.

When nostalgia creeps in, what we often want is to wind back the clock to a time before we had to love people who were hard to love, who rubbed us wrong, who required very little effort to love, which is to say we love an idea of them, a fragment of them but not the whole them, not the true them, not all of them. In other words, liking has limits, restrictions, and boundaries. Liking is not love, though it certainly can be part of it. Liking accepts based on preference; love welcomes even difference.

It is possible to like someone so much that you don’t actually love them.

In fact, it is possible to like someone so much that you don’t actually love them. If we mainly like someone, we may not be willing to be honest with them, to tell them the truth about the ugly parts of their character. Why? Because it risks the relational comfort we feel when we are around them. But love risks the loss of being liked for the gain of being true. Love is truthful, not just tolerant. My wife likes me and she loves me. How do I know? She loved me enough to tell me once, “You are great at serving our family, except when it is inconvenient.” Gut punch. When we mainly like someone, we are unwilling to say hard things to them.

St. Paul took it a step further to say, “Love rejoices in the truth.” Sometimes we chicken out from saying what’s true about someone’s character, faulty beliefs, or poor decisions. And we will say to ourselves, I love them too much. It would crush them. I don’t want to hurt them. But often the truth is, we don’t want to be hurt. We don’t want to risk being un-liked. We love ourselves but only like others. Others have become a means to the end of my self-love.

When my wife dediced to tell the truth about my love of convenience and how it was impacting her, she had to push through just liking. She had to confront the very real possibility that her honesty would jeopardize my liking her, a least for a moment. She braced herself for temporary rejection in order to love me sincerely, to tell me the truth.

Love that Never Fails

If we like someone, we will find it much easier to love them, but it will also be harder to increase our ability to love. People who rub us wrong, have opposing personalities, or are entirely different require love. They increase our reliance on an outside source of love. They drive us to find a strength of love that can’t be found elsewhere.

That love, of course, is found in God himself: Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and Love (Spirit). Apart from immersing ourselves in intimate communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we will opt for liking and grow weary and cynical about those he’s called us to love.

Liking has limits, but love is limitless. If flows from the intra-trinitarian fountain of divine love, where different persons of the Godhead love and serve one another continually, spilling out to love the other (you and me) in limitless love. As I depend on that source of love, I keep discovering  people I love become people I like, and those friendships tend to be stronger, deeper, and more sacrificial than people I have merely liked.

10 Books I Really Enjoyed in 2017

About Grace, Anthony Doerr – This author won the Pulitzer for his book, All the Light We Cannot See, which is easily my favorite novel of the past five years. About Grace is Doerr’s first novel and traces the story of a hydrologist who occasionally has visions about negative things before they happen, but explores the much deeper idea of the longing for reconciled relationships.

Silence, Endo – Such a powerful novel rooted in the history of Jesuit missions to Japan. Endo explores the differences between Japanese and Western culture, the line between contextualization and syncretism, the difficulty of faith in suffering, the question of apostasy, and the voice of God.

Liberating Black Theology, Anthony Bradley – With resurgent race discussions, this book is a helpful analysis where earlier African-American Christians went wrong in trying to address the topic of race. Bradley comes to the subject with expertise, experience, and clarity.

Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography, Gary Wills – Confessions has long be a devotional favorite. I have read a lot of Augustine but not enough about his life. Wills brings some fresh insight into often misread passages in Confessions, can turn a phrase, and keep the reader engaged all the way through. It was a delight to read.

The Culture of NarcissmChristopher Lasch – Although this book is several decades old, its critique of modern culture still has incredible relevance. The culture of narcism has not only oversold the appearance of Self, but undersold virtue and the danger of the grandiose, therapeutic Self. Great insight and language for diagnosing our present the late modern identity crisis.

Exit West, Mohair Hamid – This novel gave me fresh empathy for refugees through an interesting plot device, magical doors that allowed the refugees to go to another country to find refuge and hope. The central couple faces their fare share of challenges, not the least the unending search for refuge and satisfaction. Disclaimer: I had to skip through some scenes.

Making Sense of God, Tim Keller – A stunning guide to the undercurrent philosophies that create doubt and skepticism toward God, religion, and faith. In his characteristic style, Keller sympathizes with skeptics, understands where our skepticism comes from, and graciously dismantles the many dichotomies and conflicts underneath secularized predispositions toward Christianity.

A Theology in Outline, Robert Jensen – A fresh look at classic, systematic theology with the insight of the late Robert Jensen. Short, pithy and inspiring. Take for instance his suggestion that to be made in God’s image is to be a praying animal, dependent not upon food and water but the will of God.

The Purity of Heart to Will One Thing, Kierkegaard – The title along will send yo thinking. Kierkegaard has become a favorite companion over the last five years. He challenges aberrations of grace and “gospel-centered” with the call to a lived doctrine. We cannot truly understand a doctrine until we’ve lived it. This book challenges us to cultivate the patience of willing something eternal, something we all need more of in a fast and big data age.

Secondhand Time, Svetlana Alexievich – The soul and struggle of Russia revealed. Alexievich won the Nobel for Literature and it shows. The book cobbles together interviews from hundreds of Russians on their experience of Stalin era and post-Stalin life, but does so with literary flair. The stories are riveting and heart-breaking, checking our Western consumer comfort at the door.