God Has Made Himself Available

Prayer was a big part of the Old Testament. People prayed all the time. They prayed for many things and in many locations. That was possible because they believed prayer reached the very thrown of God. It is one thing for your words to be in God’s presence and quite another for you to actually be in the presence of God. If you wanted to be in God’s presence you would have to go to the temple for that. However, it wasn’t just as simple as showing up at the temple with a “get into God’s presence for free” card. Here is a diagram (from ebibleteacher.com) of the temple that shows how exclusive permission was to gain access to God’s presence.

Herods Temple 1024

If you fell into the 99% of the world that wasn’t Jewish you could only get as close as the Gentile’s court. If you were part of the 1% of the world’s population that was Jewish you could get further. Half of that 1% (Jewish women) was able to get as far as the court of women. The other half of that 1% (Jewish men) were able to get further into the court of Israel. Beyond that you have to be a male Jewish priest to get any closer to God’s presence. Any closer and it required you to be the High Priest to gain access to the Holy place. The Most Holy Place was not only restricted to the High Priest but could only be entered on a particular day, the Day of Atonement. Getting into God’s presence in the Most Holy Place was exclusive.

In Hebrews 10:11-22 we learn that the exclusivity of the temple was temporary. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection opened the way for the whole world to have access to God. The curtain has been torn and the walls of separation between man and God have been removed by Jesus Christ. The Hebrew writer tells us that Christ’s sacrifice has made us perfect (Heb 10:14) and the result of that is our ability to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus Christ (Heb 10:19-22).

Through Christ, God is now available to all. He is not distant. He is near. The ultimate sign of God’s availability to us came through Jesus Christ. In Christ, God took on flesh and dwelt among mankind (John 1:14). It was God’s way of saying he is here, he is real and he is present. He is Immanuel, “God with us.” The apostle Paul tells us that the dividing lines of exclusion have been done away with in Christ,

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” – Gal 3:26-29

I am so thankful that our God is able to break all the dividing lines the world loves to draw between people and make us all one in Christ! What is more, God’s Spirit now dwells in us. Paul goes so far as to say that we are God’s temple (1 Cor 6:19-10). No more distance. No more exclusion…instead, availability and presence. God is good.


Adolescent Jesus, Adolescent Spirituality And Growing Up In Your Faith

My friend Jerry Starling has said, “We do a better job being like the adolescent Jesus than the adult Jesus.” Jerry says the picture of the adolescent Jesus we have in scripture if when Jesus was at the temple at age 12. Jerry says, the boy Jesus was answering and asking questions and that we often do a better job on that level of Jesus’ ministry than what we see in his adult ministry. Paul talks about the need for Christian maturity. Paul makes it very clear that one of the goals of our lives is to become “fully mature in Christ.” (Col 1:28). That means we have to grow up in our faith.

Several things happen when you grow toward maturity:

  1. The things that once used to interest you so much will change. You will get less interested in being right and clobbering people with the truth and more interested in actually trying to save souls.
  2. You will get more focused on inward renewal and maturing in your desires that ultimately leads to outward expressions and actions rather than trying to grow solely through behavior modification.
  3. The things that are trivial will appear more trivial and the things that are of utmost importance will stand out.
  4. Your gifts will get used less for self and more for God and others.
  5. Your love will increase.
  6. Your knowledge will increase.
  7. Your hunger for God’s Word will increase.
  8. More and more people will see Jesus in you.
  9. Glory and honor become less about you and more about God.
  10. Sacrifice will feel less sacrificial and the joy of giving (of self, time, talents, money) will feel less costly and more like a reward in and of itself.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” – Ephesians 4:11-16

1 Corinthians 13 Young Adult Remix

If you want to reach 20 Somethings, here is the key – Love them and let them know it. You may not have all the “right” programs (as if there is a giant cookie cutter you can press into your congregation and make it work). Your worship may not be flashy. Your members may be aging. The nursery may be empty. You may not know all the right things to say, the questions to ask or be up on all the latest cultural trends, viral videos or newest songs…but if you can just have a heart for this generation and reach out to them in love…embrace them and give them space to explore faith in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way…you will be amazed what will happen.

Here is why this works. You spend time with the people you love. That generates a connection greater than giving them the next great program or ministry. You give attention and affection to the people you love. That will build their trust. You will gain and earn the respect to speak words of truth into their lives, give them the guidance they need and be there to pick them up lovingly when they make a mistake. Love is key because love shoots right through all the surface issues of why they leave and why we don’t keep them around.

Do we love them like we should and do they know it? Is our love for them at least as evident as our love for doctrine and tradition? If your answer to that is no, then I would ask you to read what Paul told the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 13. Today it might sound something like this…

1 Corinthians 13 Young Adult Remix

“If I speak all the true doctrines of the church, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where it is silent, take the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess in the Sunday morning offering plate and worship a capella, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are traditions of the church, they will cease; where there are tongues that teach church doctrine, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part,10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 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. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

If you read 1 Cor 13 in context going back into 1 Corinthians 12 you will see that Paul didn’t think any of these gifts were bad things. In fact, he said to seek them out. Same for us. Doctrine is important. Even our traditions can be important to us. We just have to make sure that all of these things are seen and done through the lens of what will remain and the greatest thing that will remain, is love. So please don’t read my re-write as any slam on the church. If it is a slam on anything it is on those who take perfectly good things and use and abuse them and run people off (especially young people) because they “have not love” in how they use and practice those things. I just want to be clear on that.

Praying Like Paul

I am touched and motivated by this prayer by Paul in Ephesians 3:14-21. We prayed this payer over our LIFE group tonight,

“14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

I am going to start incorporating this into my intercessory prayers.

Book Giveaway – Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters by N.T. Wright

Congratulations to Luke Dockery who won an advance copy of Mark Driscoll’s book that is coming out next week “Who Do You Think You Are?“. I am following that up with another book giveaway. This time it is N.T. Wright’s book Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. This is an excellent book and one you guys definitely need to add to your resources if you haven’t already.

If you want to be in the running to get a copy of Wright’s book just comment on this post and I will announce a winner on New Year’s day. So get your comments in by then. Thanks for reading and have a great New Year!


Glimmers of God’s Perspective

Two years ago last month I got an email from my mother. She had forwarded an email from the church office back in Alabama that a dear friend had passed away. I was stunned. Sammy couldn’t have been much more than 40 years old. I checked my email later in the day and the strangest thing happened, my mother had forwarded to me all the past emails that had been bouncing around since Sammy’s accident all the way up to the last email about his death that I had already read.

The first email said he was in a wreck and that the whole congregation needed to pray that he would recover.  There were more. One email said he was getting better and that doctors were hopeful. The next would say he had taken a turn for the worse. Up and down his struggle for life went and the emails chronicled his journey toward death. There were moments of hope and there were moments of sorrow. I am not usually much of a crier but reading all of that certainly did a number on me.

I cannot tell you how strange it was to know your friend had died and read that initial emails with that in mind. Usually you read these emails as the events unfold but this was different. I was listening back in on emails that had been sent in the days prior already knowing that the end result was his death. It got me thinking about God’s perspective on everything. When we go through these things, God already knows how it is going to turn out. He already knows how the last email is going to read (more on that in a minute). There isn’t anything that is going to catch God off guard. He already knows everything. Psalm 139:1-4 says,

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.

Isaiah 55:8-9 puts it this way,

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

God is amazing and incredible. What am amazing blessing it is to be made by God, loved by God and sustained by God. God is answering prayers we don’t even know how to ask! (Rom 8:26-27). Paul says the end result of it all is that God will work good for those who love Him! (Rom 8:28). So let us live with confidence that God knows how this whole thing is going to turn out and while some times seem like they are full of despair Psalm 30:5 tells us that mourning may last for a night but rejoicing always comes in the morning. Let us remember that in Christ we are new creations, a new dawn has come and we are to be people who find joy in the midst of suffering and who find peace in the middle of the storm because God already knows how it is all going to work out. Not even death can stop Him!

Let me let you in on a little secret…I want to tell you how the last email regarding this whole messed up world of sin and death reads. Here is what it says…

“Death has been swallowed up in victory” – 1 Cor 15:54

What if we read these words and then started living our lives through that lens? We can conclude the same thing Paul concluded a few verses later…” Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”

Exchanging Sensuality for Sensitivity

The world we live in tries to immerse us in the endless pursuit of passion and sensuality. Sensuality is not a word we use often but it is a worthwhile word to understand. It means “unrestrained indulgence in our sensual pleasures.” (Dictionary.com). While that is seemingly appealing from a worldly point of view it is lethal to our spirituality. What I am not saying here is that life as a Christian is to put an end to anything that brings us happiness or pleasure. What I am saying is that a full out, no holds barred pursuit of passion and self-gratification results in the death of our souls.

Paul said it like this,

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.” – Eph 4:17-19

What Paul is saying here is that a life that chases solely after pleasure and unbriddled passion does something to us on the inside. It changes our hearts and our minds. It makes it harder to draw close to God and others. It makes our hearts darkened because our hearts are so full of self that there is no room for anyone or anything else. Paul says living like this results in an exchange of our Christ-like sensitivity for worldly sensuality. It leaves that person empty and wanting more but never fulfilled.

Our world has replaced sensitivity with sensuality and the result, when given enough time and enough exposure to the heart, is a fatal condition.

Paul continues,

20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” – Eph 4:20-23

A life that solely pursues passion is a life that, in that moment, is unable to pursue Christ or understand Christ. Paul says that our walk with Christ necessitated the putting off of the old way of living (for corrupt sensuality) and be made new in the attitude of our minds to be made new and righteous and holy. In doing so, our sensitivities return because we are no longer self-seeking but have emptied ourselves of unrighteousness and filled ourselves with holiness.

A few questions to consider:

  1. How do you think the world tries to blind us with sensuality?
  2. What void do you think the world is trying to fill?
  3. How can we address people who are in that state to show them there is something more fulfilling?
  4. In what ways have you personally struggled with this and what have you found helpful to regain your sensitivity?


What The Incarnation of Christ Teaches Us and Does To Us

Preaching, teaching or writing on the incarnation of Christ usually focuses on the Gospels. There is another verse that I think has so much to teach us about the incarnation and it comes from the Apostle Paul in Colossians. Paul appears to be addressing some false teaching in Colossae about the nature of Christ to which he replies,

“For in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” – Col 2:9

Jesus wasn’t part God, part man. Jesus was fully human and fully divine. That means Jesus had all the qualities of the immortal God wrapped into the body of mortal man. You can list all the attributes of God and assign them to the Jesus. I am sure that is not news to you at is point. Many people have made that point before. What is fascinating about all of this to me is the significance this brings to the actually incarnation/conception event in Mary’s womb in light of Jesus’ qualities as God. The incarnation takes all of the “fullness of God” and puts them into an embryo the size of a pin head in Mary’s womb. Not only do you end up with the smallest baby Jesus that you can imagine, you have 100% vulnerable divinity.

There is a tension that pulls between creator and created and between the all powerful God and the all vulnerable Jesus. Just a few verses before the scripture mentioned above, Paul wrote this about Jesus,

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” – Col 1:15-17

What does it say about a God who is willing to go from creator to created? What does it say about a God who is willing to step off the heavenly throne, put his immortality aside, take on flesh and be put in the womb of a woman he created?

As time passes and Jesus grows the vulnerability continues. He is ridiculed in his own hometown, misunderstood, mistreated, and homeless. After still a few more years and that same divine man is being nailed to a cross by men he created and loved. Finally, a body containing all the fullness of God dies and is raised back to life. Jesus, as God, endured all of that.

What does that mean for us? Paul tells us in the very next verse and at least for my tiny brain, the significance of all of this is mind blowing,

“and you have been given fullness in Christ.” – Col 2:10

In the incarnation Jesus empties himself so that we might become full. In the incarnation He steps down from heaven so that we might be raised up to be with him and he takes His place off the heavenly throne so that we too might be seated with him in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6). The incarnation of Jesus Christ is powerful, not just because it was his entrance into the world, but also because of the spiritual realities it opened the door to in the lives of those he came to save.

So here we are and we have been given fullness in Christ. God has placed us in a world that is lost and dead and aimless and empty. Will it be more alive when we depart than when we arrived? Will it be more filled with Christ’s presence due to our presence? Will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and even suffer for the sake of Christ? Let us live out the incarnation of Christ through the fullness God has placed in each and every one of us so that the world will see God more clearly and that they too may receive fullness in Christ.

1 Corinthians 13…the Best Chapter on Spiritual Gifts in the Bible

Whenever I do a wedding there is this feeling that somehow you have to fit in 1 Corinthians 13 because the word “love” is mentioned so many times. Love have made this chapter one of the best known in the whole Bible. Really, I do my best to avoid that chapter at weddings. When you preach or teach 1 Corinthians 13 as if it were about love it really sounds kind of strange. I mean what’s love got to do with speaking in the tongues of men or of angels? What’s love got to do with prophesies? What’s love got to do with wisdom and spiritual insight? What’s love got to do with it? The follow up question to that is, Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? Anyone?

The problem people have with 1 Corinthians 13 is a problem that people have with many verses in the Bible. It is a problem of stripping verses from their context, examining them in that isolation and coming to conclusions that were never intended by the original author. Read 1 Corinthians 11 through 13 all at once and see what chapter 13 is about. The NIV heading is “Love” but it is actually about the primacy of love in using our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts in the early church were gifts given to people by the power of the Holy Spirit to do things they could not do otherwise. This included things like speaking in tongues, prophesy, extra wisdom, interpretation of those who speak in tongues, and many more. In 1 Corinthians 11 Paul talks about problems of disunity and hostility in the church. Then in chapters 12 and 13 Paul gives us two things that, when properly understood, should bring unity and purpose back to God’s people. In 1 Cor 12 Paul writes about the unity of the body and how we all have different gifts but the leadership comes from the head of the body, Christ, and not ourselves. In 1 Cor 13 Paul talks about the fact that many people have gifts but they are all meaningless unless they are done lovingly. The point is, don’t get caught up in the gift. Get caught up in the one who gave the gift, God, and how He wants us to use those gifts in loving ways. Having great gifts is no excuse or substitute for treating people right. Do treat others poorly, no matter how great the gifts makes you nothing (1 Cor 13:2-3).

The whole spiritual gifts discussion in 1 Corinthians is a call back to love. While all the gifts they had may not be present in the same form as they were in the first century we still have something greater than all of that…we can still love. When we do the life and love of Jesus flows in us and through us and is more powerful than speaking in a tongue or having some great gift of wisdom. Christ is living in us and it will show. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor 9:15).

Review of Francis Chan’s Erasing Hell (Part 6)

Chapter 4: What Jesus’ Followers Said About Hell

In “Love Wins” Rob Bell appeared pretty thorough when he said he was going to tackle every occurrence of the word “Hell” in the New Testament. The problem was concepts are more important than individual words. It is entirely possible for to talk about hell without using the actual word in a given verse. In discussing Paul’s view on hell they cite a statistic that Paul talked more about God’s wrath and judgment more times than God’s mercy, heaven and forgiveness (p.98). If you turn to the end notes at the back of this chapter they give you a breakdown of the frequency of various terms and conclude that terms of wrath amount to over 80 times in Paul’s letters while “mercy”, “forgiveness”, and “heaven” occur 55 times total. So that statement is true if you limit Paul’s discussion of the positive workings of God in the world to those three terms but if you include just one more word, “life”, into the mix (the opposite of “death”) you have 76 more occurrences that outnumber the times he talks about things like death and destruction. Statistics like this don’t really mean much and what is really frustrating is that Chan is trying to counter Rob Bell’s tactics by talking concepts rather than just specific words but ends up making some of the same mistakes himself.

One thing I really like about Francis Chan is that he really tries to read the Bible and believe what it says through pretty simple interpretation…not many twists and turns and trying to fit things into predetermined outcomes and doctrines. He writes, “Just because some have swung the pendulum so far in the direction of wrath and judgment, let’s not swing it back too far the other direction and do away with what Scripture emphasizes. God is compassionate and just, loving and holy, wrathful and forgiving. We can’t sideline His more difficult attributes to make room for the palatable ones.” (p.101). I talked about that pendulum swing on at least a dozen occasions when I reviewed Love Wins. Here is one that falls in line with what C&S are saying,

“At the end of it all there were some good take away points about kingdom living and whether or not we are living lives that actually embrace God’s calling on us here and now. But in swinging the pendulum so hard it seems the pendulum knocked over several other biblical concepts and ignored many contexts, that seemed to be teaching the opposite of the points he made, along the way. It is hard to find balance when someone writes a book in reaction to theology/views they disagree with.” – LINK

It is so important that our theology is biblical and not reactionary to the theology we are combating against. One of the most important points in this discussion is that we never will completely figure God out. So we have to have humility about these things. We can’t erase a doctrine by cleverly manipulating a couple of scriptures. The judgment and wrath of God are all over both Testaments and just because they don’t sit well with us doesn’t give us the right to explain them away or ignore them.

A second point C&S make in this chapter is that in Paul’s writing God’s wrath is not corrective. It is retributive. In other words, God’s final wrath and judgment are never put in the context of turning hearts to Him from hell (corrective punishment). Instead the punishment is aimed at destruction of those who reject God. That is one of the points on hell that people have the hardest time with. It is hard to fit loving God together with vengeful God. One of the things that conflicts me a little about this book is how C&S take the retributive purpose of hell seriously and make bold statements about it only to backtrack and say things that would indicate to me that their real desire was that it just wasn’t so. Here are a few examples:

“I would love to think…that the Bible doesn’t actually say a whole lot about hell. I would love to star at my friend’s face when he asked that question we all fear – ‘Do you think I’m going to hell?’ and say, ‘No! There is no such place! Jesus loves you and wants to heal your pain and turn your sorrows into gladness!'” (p.108)


“While much of our church culture believes that talk of wrath and judgment is toxic and unloving, Paul didn’t seem to have a problem with these things. In fact, Paul believed they were essential truths.” (p.100)

And this…

“I really believe it’s time for some of us to stop apologizing for God and start apologizing to Him for being embarrassed by the ways He has chosen to reveal Himself.” (p.102)

Doesn’t that verse say that at the very heart and soul of Chan’s thoughts is that he really would erase hell if he could? Am I missing something there? I am not really sure how we take hell seriously but wish it away at the same time. I also don’t understand how C&S can say that God’s ways are higher than our own and it won’t always make sense but we have to believe and teach what we find in the Bible but, on the other hand, if I had my way I would take hell out of the Bible altogether…but I guess I will go ahead and preach it anyway. It keeps feeling like, in an attempt to ease people into the message, they keep making statements that negate other statements. If hell is God’s will and it is real and His ways are higher than our own, why wish it away? Why not instead conclude, I may not completely get it or how it all fits together but it is real and so let’s deal with it, teach it, preach it, warn, admonish, etc.?