Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Scandal

We may not want to acknowledge it, but there is scandal in the story of Jesus. His birth. Born of a Virgin? He ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. He habitually broke the purity laws of Jewish teaching. Scandal is inevitable if we even glance at the story of Jesus.

1 Corinthians 1:23 says that Jesus was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” Jesus was an obstacle. He didn’t make the way of faith easy to find. You tripped and fumbled your way into it. You looked silly and foolish trying to find it.

That phrase “stumbling block” is one Greek word: scandalon. It means more than just something scandalous. It means something that is a trap or a snare. An impediment. For many who heard the words of Jesus, they were more than just hard to hear – they were too hard. They made it more difficult to believe than before.

I’m never surprised by someone’s struggle to come to faith. I’m never surprised that for many there is a long and drawn out wrestling match with God over ideas, theology, old hurts, disappointments, and unanswered questions. That’s part of the scandal. The stumbling block. There’s a lot to struggle with on the way to embracing Jesus.

The wisdom and truth that Jesus reveals is beyond our comprehension. It takes a while for us to begin to assimilate the depth of Christ’s wisdom and the clarity of His truth. It takes time for us to begin to grasp that “the kingdom of God has come upon you” in the face of this Jesus.

There is glory in this scandal. Even when its hard to see.

~ Godspeed.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Wisdom

We find ourselves looking beyond the wisdom of Solomon in Chapter 6.

Jesus is the picture of wisdom. He knows our thoughts. No action is unknown to him. Our future is a mystery to us, but not to Christ. Nothing perplexes him.

But that’s not the most amazing thing about his wisdom. What’s truly astounding is that Jesus knows (and wants to know) my heart. When Jesus and Peter talk in John 21 and Jesus says to him, “Do you love me?” Peter says, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”

Jesus knows everything, he has all wisdom. And the result of that wisdom is that he knows Peters heart.

By his wisdom Jesus knows my heart.

I’m just in awe that Jesus would bother. But that’s my sense of insignificance talking. Jesus doesn’t see it (or me) that way. Because he knows my heart.

I could say a lot about Jesus’ wisdom. Its scope. Its impact. What astounds is that Jesus has chosen to know me. And … well, you also.

~ Godspeed

Friday, March 25, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus - Problems

In Chapter 5, I run into my biggest struggle [my biggest problem] with Piper’s book so far. It feels a bit fatalistic to simply resign myself to the suffering I see. There is too much pain to simply bow to God’s sovereignty and go about my day.

Make no mistake; God is powerful and in control. Jesus is the center of all things. All things were created in him (John 1:3) and are held together in him (Colossians 1:17). He is the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13). The wind and the waves obey his voice (Luke 8:25). And yet, I’m not ready to stop asking questions.

I don’t want to dictate who lives or who dies; who suffers and who does not. But I would like to understand some rhyme and reason to the way things work. Just a glimpse of the plan.

Piper presents two choices in response to my questions: worship or curse. Given those choices I will choose worship. But that’s too simplistic. I will choose worship and still will ask questions. Why? Japan. Haiti. Pakistan. Cancer. AIDS. Violence. Abuse. “Why” is the question my non-Christian friends are asking and Piper’s Christian version of “live with it” and “get over it” doesn’t cut it.

C.S. Lewis’ answer – that this is the “best of all possible worlds” – has never seemed to cover it. Piper’s answer – a spiritual version of “suck it up” – certainly doesn’t. Even the answer that God gives Job – as good as it is – only goes so far.

In the end, I’m okay with not knowing all of the answers. I’m okay with “I’m God and you are not.” What I’m not content with is – “this is the way the world is, the way a sovereign God designed it;” and by implication, “there’s not much you can do about it.”

I have a little more free will than that. That’s why I’m here. That’s why God wants a relationship with me. So that empowered by the Spirit I can make some small difference.

~ Godspeed

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus – Joy

Joy is Indestructible.

I believe that, but I recognize that some will see it as a pretty bold statement. Especially in light of the circumstances and struggles in their own lives. In light of Haiti and Japan. Especially in light of Jesus. In light of Gethsemane. In light of Calvary.

At least in part the truth of those words rests in the definition of joy and happiness. Joy is internal. Happiness is external. Joy is independent of circumstances. Happiness is dependent on circumstances. Joy is a gift from God. Happiness is something we have to generate.

Even though Jesus goes through Calvary and Gethsemane there is still joy. That’s the significance of Hebrews 12:2. He endured the cross and the shame – for the joy. The circumstances aren’t conducive to happiness, but he still has joy.

Your happiness is not God’s priority. But God does want you to have joy. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” says Jesus in John 15:11. But no where does he talks about happiness.

Joy comes from the deep and abiding sense of God’s presence in your life. That is how you can become strong and unshakable in your faith.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ – Paradox

A Lion and a Lamb. A Savior who is defeated. Life from Death. Justice tempered by mercy. Majesty and meekness. Exaltation and humility. Love revealed in the middle of hatred and fear.

We begin to see opposites converging in the person of Jesus. “The glory of Christ is not a simple thing.” It’s a coming together of many differing things – some of them seemingly contradictory. But at the very heart of this faith that we claim is paradox. What Jonathon Edwards called over 250 years ago “an admirable conjunction of diverse excellences.” What has more recently been called a “beautiful collision.”

Call it whatever you want. Bottom line = our faith is filled with these paradoxes that we are never meant to resolve. Perhaps the biggest of them if embodied in Jesus himself. Human or Divine? Conqueror or Sacrifice? Lion or Lamb?

Jesus isn’t who he is in spite of these paradoxes. He is Savior, he is glorious because of them. He is the Lion of Judah because he was the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world.

I’m afraid that too often we take the tension out of paradoxes we were never meant to. We err on the side of the Lion and neglect the gentleness of the Lamb. We rest in the consolation of the Lamb and grow uncomfortable around the Lion.

And we end up with a Jesus that’s lopsided. Neither completely Lion nor Lamb and certainly not fully both.

~ Godspeeed

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ – The Mystery Begins

Chapter 2 of Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ presents us with the beginning of the Great Mystery – Jesus is the glory of God revealed.

Jesus, human and divine. Jesus, born of Mary. Jesus, “in whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Colossians 2:9)

Last time we talked about seeing the glory of God revealed in the majesty of Creation. Now we see God’s glory in a more immediate and personal way. In a person; in Jesus. Its still not about us. Its about God revealing God’s fullness in Jesus.

But in a small [and important] way – its about us. Its about us because the purpose God’s glory being revealed in these ways (in Creation, in Jesus) is to establish the basis of a relationship with us. God’s not content to stay far off; God is drawing near. God is pulling back the veil.

God is I AM. God is present. Right here.

Jesus is Emmanuel. “God with us.” He is present. Right here.

And that, is glorious.

~ Godspeed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ – Searching for Glory

Chapter 1 of Piper’s Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ opens with a quest for a  clearer understanding of the glory of God. Without the glory of God, he says, we don’t understand the gospel of God.

The Psalmist says that “the heavens declare the glory of God.” This quickly gives us a perspective focuses us on God – its not mainly about us. First and foremost, its about God.

True. So true. All of creation declares God’s glory and we are just a small (very small) part of that creation. The Creation points to the Creator. But the Creation makes a point about us too. This beautiful creation that reveals God’s glory so clearly has been given to us to explore, to steward, to enjoy, to embrace. That says something about us!

In our soul’s search for glory, we don’t have to travel far. God draws close. Our search can begin as close to home as our ability to recognize the glory that God has placed right in front of us. Its close by because God has chosen us to share it with us.

That is our call; to see and savor the glory of Jesus. To put the glory of Christ back into the center of all things. To claim that blessing for ourselves. “The healing of the soul begins by restoring the glory of God to its flaming, all-attracting place at the center.”

This Lent, we see and savor “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” [2 Corinthians 4:6] For Jesus’ sake and for ours.

~ Godspeed

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday - Lent Begins With a Question

In Lent 2011, First Saints is reading through the book Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper as a discipline of study, focus and prayer. Today, as Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, we are starting with a question. A very important question.

Who was Jesus Christ?

As we journey through Lent together, our aim is not simply to read about him. It’s not to learn about him. Our purpose is to see him!

I’m thinking of seeing that doesn’t happen with our eyes, but with our hearts. In Ephesians 1:18 (a text I almost preached on last Sunday), it says “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.”

That’s a great prayer to begin Lent with. May the eyes of your heart and mine be enlightened so that we may know the hope to which God has called us.

~ Godspeed

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Remembrance Day

On Sunday, 27 February, 2011, something incredibly significant happened. And most of us missed it.

Frank W. Buckles died on Sunday. He was 110. And believe it or not, the fact that he was 110 wasn’t that incredibly significant thing – although it is pretty amazing when you think about all that he saw in his life since 1901.

Frank Buckles was (as far as the Veterans Administration can determine) the last surviving veteran of World War I.

Longevity in and of itself is not such an amazing personal achievement. In some ways its beyond your control (environment, genetics, etc.).

What’s significant here is what Mr. Buckles’ death represents. The passing into history of a significant chapter of our past. The generation of people (men and women) who turned the tide in France. Who played a key role in stopping the German advance toward Paris. Marne, Saint-Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Cantigny. Places that most of us have never heard of, but names that men like Frank Buckles would never forget.

Frank Buckles lied to get into the Army in April of 1917 when he was just sixteen years old. Close to 5 million Americans served in World War I. They’re gone now. We’ve lost something.

I wonder if we’ll notice.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

7 Promises of God – Looking Back

First Saints just finished a great series of sermons. On seven consecutive Sundays we looked at some of the promises God makes in Scripture and explored the deep significance of those promises.

We discovered some surprises along the way! Some of these promises were familiar to us and over time we had built up some erroneous assumptions about what God meant in these passages. In other cases, we discovered that what we thought God was saying was just the tip of the iceberg – God was reaching much deeper than we ever imagined and offering something much greater than we had dared to hope.

With Lent just around the corner, we will be starting a new series of sermons. But before we do let’s pause and look back at the 7 Promises we’ve studied.

  1. God will supply our every need according to his riches in Glory (from Philippians 4:10-20).
  2. God’s grace is sufficient (from 2 Corinthians 12:9).
  3. God has promised us His Presence (from Matthew 28:20).
  4. God has promised that we will not be overcome by temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
  5. God has promised that all who believe will be saved (from Mark 16:16).
  6. God has promised that all things work together for good (from Romans 8:28).
  7. God has promised us eternal life (from 1 John 5:11-13).

God’s Word is full of promises – over 3,000 of them! These seven are just a small sample. I hope that they have spoken to you over the last seven weeks just as they have to me.

~ Godspeed