The Alabama Election & Christian Witness

Mark Galli of Christianity Today wrote a solid commentary about Christian witness in light of today’s special election in Alabama. Albert Mohler also addresses the crisis of conscience. The biggest loser in the Alabama election is not Democrats or Republicans; it’s the Christian witness. Our Christian witness can be revived if we learn to suffer patiently in the public square. We would rather fight than suffer.

We all like a good story. A good story simulates our souls and evokes our emotions. The problem of our consumption of stories is that stories shape us and disciple us. They give us a worldview, a way of seeing the world around us. In our context, there are predominant false narratives which we consume that conflict with the narrative to which we as Christians submit. The Alabama Election brings one to the forefront.

The fight for the culture’s heart through political means has undermined the integrity of the explicit Christian witness. We choose to do what is right in our own eyes, “which results in moral, psychological, and social suffering unheard of in our history.” We fight for moral purity without the basic expectation of moral purity in our candidates.

One of the false narratives which pervade our culture is nationalism. If you do a quick Google search the initial results come back as 1) patriotic feeling, principles, or efforts, and 2) an extreme form of this, especially marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries.

I would also add that nationalism is further oriented towards developing and maintaining a national identity based on shared characteristics such as culture, language, race, religion, political goals or a belief in a common ancestry. Who are we as a country? The answer isn’t quite so clear-cut as one would hope.

On the surface level, loving one’s country is not a bad thing. God has ordained nations. However, whenever a good thing becomes a God thing the result is idolatry. While some would disagree that nationalism is a false narrative, and would even directly challenge my ensuing conclusion, the fight for the heart of American culture resides in one’s own view of morality. Moreover, if the only way to display the gospel is through political means, then one has bought into the lie of the false narrative. Further, if one’s perspective of the nation is elevated above the implications of the gospel, then lie is present there as well. Because of the United States history, trying to separate politics from faith is like trying to unravel Christmas lights. It’s time consuming, meticulous, and if only it had been done right initially. Knowing what should have been done does not alleviate the current situation of knotted Christmas lights–or better messy politics.

Like many of us choose to do, we would rather buy a new set of lights than deal with the mess. We attempt to do the same with politics. We would rather purchase a new nation through political aims than take the time to unravel and use what we have. It is an indictment against us all because we believe a lie shapes us all.

Whether you are on the right or left, chances are the purity of nation will make the world a better place. Here is the lie. One’s definition of pure usually involves thinking and acting exactly as you would. Self is at the center of pure. If only people would do this, we say, then the problem would be solved. In the end, the clamor is for uniformity in action and perspective.

The political right views purity of nation through one lens, while the political left views purity of nation through another. Regardless, the expectation is the same: a uniform identity. The identity proposed is usually divorced from any real conversation about real differences. The very plea for purity undermines the shared national identity of our history.

As Galli notes in his article, “The problem with many Christian conservatives is this: They believe they can help the country become godly again by electing people whose godliness is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.”

I would not limit the problem to Christian conservatives. The problem with many Christian liberals is this: They believe they can help the country improve by electing people whose moral superiority is seriously questioned by the very people they want to influence.

Because the United States has always been a melting pot of culture, language, race, religion, political goals, and common ancestry, one of our greatest values is love for the story others bring to the table. In order to do this, our conversation and our politics must be steeped in humility and moral accountability. As a Christian, fear cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. As a Christian, cultural congruency cannot rule my politics; it displays the love of self. The Christian faith has never been about fighting for something but serving and suffering the Savior the who modeled it for us. The Christian witness will be revived when love neighbor testifies to the love of God.

Books I’ve Read Recently

download-1Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt. The vision which drives the book is “every man, woman, and child in every place having a daily encounter with Jesus through words spoken and deeds done through his people.” Saturate is written to encourage the everyday Jesus follower to engage in the everyday stuff of life with the goal of seeing Jesus saturation for everyone in every place. Vanderstelt is thorough in articulating the vision which God has placed on his heart. There is a unique balance of Scripture, story, and vision casting. Vanderstelt longs to see the church re-connected to the everyday stuff of life instead of disconnected from life. Instead of people doing church, Jesus is supposed to be living life through his church. Meaning, Christian is not an adjective for activities, events, or things; people are Christian. Therefore, followers of Jesus can make disciples who make disciples when they are shaped by the gospel in every area of life. Vanderstelt articulates how environments help shape followers of Jesus. The reality is that people are being discipled and discipling others whether they realize it or not. The question becomes: to what or to whom are you discipling them? My hope is that you consider reading Saturate for a gospel-centered vision on discipling and gospel worldview.

 

download-2The Atlantis Gene/ The Atlantis Plague by A.G. Riddle. I have been trying to reintroduce fiction into my literary diet. I found the first two books in a trilogy absolutely riveting. I am excited to read the final book. Riddle blends history, science, religious theory, and potential real-world events to uncover worldview and mankind’s motivation.

For example, “The war is always the same, only the names and places change. There are demons upon this earth. They live in our hearts and minds.” Riddle does well to communicate the longing of humanity’s soul is to find meaning and a place where the random violence makes sense.

Later, in a book steeped in science and evolutionary theory an exchange happens between a scientist and a soldier, “You already know that the universe supports the emergence of human life. In fact, the universe is strictly programmed for it. If any of the constants were even slightly different—gravity, the strength of electromagnetism, the dimensions in space-time—there would be no human life. There are only two possibilities: either human life emerged because the laws of the universe support it by random chance, or the alternative: the universe was created to foster human life.”

 

download-3Not the Place to Ignore Me by Joshua Motes. I have a unique connection to this book. Josh is one of the members of my Church Planting Residency Cohort. Josh writes about his experience in Afghanistan where he survived a horrific ambush. “Thousands of miles from home, on the business end of a daring mission into a deserted Afghan cityscape where friend and foe blend, author Joshua Motes hears God speak these words, calling him back to wholehearted devotion and a renewed commitment to be an influence for Jesus among the men he led. As one of the few American soldiers serving in the military that has experienced direct fire combat where life and death are a constant reality, First Lieutenant Motes offers a unique perspective on living out a committed life of faith.”

I am thankful for Josh and his service. Having served multiple tours, Josh is someone who listens to God and obeys. Josh is very honest about the tension he lived in and how as Christians we face a very real enemy.

“We worship God when we abandon ourselves to Him, and forsake our pathetic attempts to weather whatever it is we are facing under our own perceived strength.”

A Growing Heart Gives Thanks

A few weeks ago I attempted to get back into the lifting mode. I have been going to 24-hour fitness a few days a week to play basketball, but since my college football career ended I have not done any serious lifting. After a few games of pick-up, I pull off my basketball shoes and put on some others and head into the workout area. Jim and I were going to bench. As I and a couple guys walk that way, I notice something. Everyone seems to have on headphones. I am not a music person, so as I observe the room I wonder why people listen to music. Being curious, I ask Jim, why he listened to music when he worked out. His response was profound. “I use music for motivation. Everyone needs motivation.”

We all need motivation. We all use something for motivation. What do you do for motivation? Where do you go for motivation? Or better, what is your motivation?

God desires to grow our heart. If we are honest, this world is tough on our heart. Rather than experience a growing heart, it is easy to experience a shrinking heart with increasing skepticism, pessimism. For something like a workout, music is appropriate. For life, we need something more lasting.

TheBranch.GrowingHeart.Kyle.008For Christians, our driving motivation is something called the gospel. I love how the Three Circles Method encapsulates the message of the gospel.

Brokenness – We live in this world and it is characterized by brokenness. We do not have to look very hard to see this. It seems like every week the news gets worse. Sex scandals, violent shootings, that’s just on a national level. For you, it might be financial troubles, crazy kids, loss of a loved one. Even if you are someone who thinks life is pretty good, chances are you have a growing skepticism and concern of the world at large. Mentally you go somewhere, or practically you do something to maintain your motivation to keep going.

God’s Design – The world we live in was not God’s original design. The way that we have gotten ourselves into brokenness is something the Bible calls sin. All sin really is, is defining good and evil according to what we think is best, or better, that we can do anything better than God. Turning away from God’s Design and pursuing our own way.

Brokenness eventually leads us to death and destruction. Ultimately, separation from God.

God doesn’t want us to be in brokenness so he gives us a way through the brokenness. That way is Jesus. Jesus comes and enters into our brokenness. The death that we deserve for brokenness, Jesus takes our place and dies on the cross after living a perfect life. Then, Jesus rose from the dead making a way out of brokenness.

People try many things to get out of brokenness: religion, success, relationships with other people, education, abusing substances to escape. None of these things extract us from the circumstances of life.

The only way through is to turn from our sin and to believe that Jesus lived, died, and rose for us. We can then begin to experience God’s design in our life as we get to know Jesus. We are then sent back into brokenness to make Jesus known and help others pursue God’s Design. One day, the hope of eternity is how God will eliminate the brokenness and we will live fully in a restored world.

God wants us to experience His design and therefore grow our heart. In the midst of life, God’s desire is for us to be motivated by the future hope we have through Jesus and live in the present as if it is already here.

We see this when circumstances are far from ideal in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. The backstory for this book is found in the book of Acts. It is where Paul and his coworker Silas went to the Ancient Greek city of Thessalonica. After one month of telling the good news about King Jesus, a large number of Jewish and Greek people gave their allegiance to Jesus and became the first church community there. But trouble was brewing. Paul’s announcement of the risen Jesus as the true Lord of the world led to suspicion. As the hearts of the people changed, their actions began to reflect attitudes of gratitude and joy and action peace and love, which were subversive to the culture.

The Christians in Thessalonica were eventually accused of defying Caesar, the Roman Emperor, and they said there is another king named Jesus–they were merely following His example. The persecution actually became so intense that they had to flee the city. This was painful for them because they loved the people there so much.

This letter is Paul’s attempt to reconnect with the Christians in Thessalonica after he got a report from Timothy that they were doing more than okay, that they were flourishing despite this intense persecution. Paul writes the letter with two movements. The first is a celebration of their faithfulness to Jesus. Then, he challenges them to keep growing as followers of Jesus.

The Thessalonians lived in a culture where all of life was permeated by institutions and practices which honored the Greek and Roman gods. Transferring your allegiance from the gods of the age to the Creator God through King Jesus this came at a cost: isolation from your neighbors, hostility from your family.

But for the Thessalonians, the overwhelming love Jesus who died for them and the hope of His return made it all worth it. Everything they did was motivated by hope in the coming kingdom of Jesus, a full return to God’s Design.

As Paul concluded his letter, he encourages the Thessalonians to live out the will of God.

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

One of the oft-said phrases when taking Xavier on a bike ride is “Look up. Look ahead. See where you are going.” Inevitably he becomes distracted, nervous, too confident, and ends up getting stuck in the grass, or getting stuck on the curb.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we will likely wreck.

Playing basketball on a regular basis, I am always amazed at how many guys dribble with their heads down, especially when they are pretty good players. When their head is down, their eyes are down. Because they are not looking up they miss obstacles, players trapping, and opportunities, players making good cuts.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we miss obstacles and opportunities.

I remember teaching my sisters how to drive. Initially, they would always look right at the front of the car, or even at the car in the next lane over. My words echo what I say to Xavier as he rides his bike–look ahead. Your eyes take you where you want to go. Good eye discipline keeps you in your lane and allows you to anticipate by making adjustments when other cars break, or you need to make a lane change.

When we do not look up, look ahead, and see where we are going we are ill prepared to travel the road ahead.

When Paul encourages the Thessalonians to give thanks [to God] in everything (or all circumstances). We are directly challenged. The qualifiers Paul adds to basic thankfulness conveys the importance of thanking God within all circumstances of life, even the difficult ones. In Thessalonica, these circumstances include suffering. It is important to notice, however, that Paul reminds the Thessalonians to give thanks in everything, not for everything.

I was reminded of this passage when I heard of the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A gunman entered a small, rural Southern Baptist church and opened fire, killing over 25 people according to reports. This horrific event has stirred up another round of cultural debate over gun laws, showing that our society is not only sharply divided but willfully politicized. Blood has not even cooled on the ground before pundits issue their pronouncements. Lost in much of the commentary was the fact that Devin Kelley was apparently denied a gun license by the state of Texas. Evil, it seems, will overcome almost any barrier. I appreciate how Owen Strachan’s response to such evil.

We know this from the Word of God: evil has an expiration date. Jesus is going to return. He is going to judge the quick and the dead. Those in Christ will be privy to experiencing God’s design in full. Those apart from Christ will get their hearts longing with life eternal apart from GOD.

Our secular age speaks much of justice, in truth. But secular justice has no Christ. Specifically, it has no Christ-centered hope of eternity. It tells us that things are getting better, that we are making “progress,” that we can solve the world’s problems. We have to. We have to get it right, now! Though we can surely make gains in our society, we cannot heal our world. Only Christ can. Only Christ will. 

The Christian approach is decidedly different when it comes to the pain and suffering of this world. Since the believer trusts in a sovereign God who can turn any situation to their good and who can make someone more than triumphant in any adversity or other circumstance. Thus, our heart grows. We can love, forgive, be selfless because the death of the body is not the death of the soul.

Thanksgiving to God is to be given in adversity and prosperity, for no matter what happens all things work together for the believer’s good. To be thankful is a fruit of grace and is in contrast to the constant grumblings and ingratitude of a godless world. Look around. Our world is filled with blame and complain. The quick politicization of every tragedy will surely provide enough example. If all you have to live for is this life, then, of course, you get upset when something happens to mess all of that up.

Gratitude is subversive to the attitude of our day.  Gratitude is a sign of God’s Design. A Christian can be thankful because they have their eyes on eternity.

 

What motivates us to go forward is being thankful for the hope of eternity we are heading toward. Keep your eyes on eternity. Look where you are going.

Books I’ve Read Recently

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 6.09.36 AMAmong Wolves by Dhati Lewis. This book takes an in-depth look at the book of Matthew as the author explores what doing ministry looks like in the density and diversity of a city. Lewis challenges the gentrifying norm in cities and looks at disciple-making and community formation in light of such realities. Dhati Lewis identifies eight movements within the book of Matthew for mobilizing disciple-makers in the city. Embedded within the book is a philosophy of church which challenges much of the predominant framework practiced by American churches because culture is no longer geographically bound. I would highly recommend this book for anyone desiring to learn about ministry in an urban context, or practicing in such context.

A quote which resonated with me: “Disciple-making is not a ministry of the church, it is the ministry of the church.”

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 6.10.39 AMStarfish Movement by Dan Drider. The idea behind the book is simple. The starfish was designed with multiplication in every cell. If you cut one starfish in half the result is two starfish and not a dead starfish. That means a starfish will often reproduce in a situation that would otherwise kill another animal. This multiplication quality is the definition of resilience. God has designed every Spirit-led believer with such innate ability to make disciples. However, in our current church systems, this innate ability has been stifled and lost. For example, “Most discipleship systems in our churches are created to increase biblical knowledge and produce behavior correction. Jesus was teaching His disciples to learn to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. He spent little time working on moralistic-behavior correction.” Drider provides real steps for the reader to begin exercising and experiencing one’s innate disciple-making ability.

A quote which resonated with me: “The average church planter in China is an eighteen-year-old girl who is minimally educated.”

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 6.11.22 AMHe Is Not Silent by Albert Mohler Jr. According to the author, the solution for preaching in our post-modern context is expository preaching. Before Mohler arrives at such conclusion, he unpacks a philosophy of worship in which preaching of the Word is central. In order to support the task of post-modern preaching, in chapter seven, Mohler describes how every pastor is called to be a theologian. Therefore, the preacher must be able to dissect the Word of God, present it inline with the biblical story, and then challenge or come alongside the predominant narratives of our day. Mohler is very blunt when critiquing present-day preaching. One scathing assessment is “contemporary preaching suffers from an absence of gospel.”

In our age where topical series dominate and a plethora of Scriptures are used in every sermon, I agree that hearts are longing to hear the Word of God.

A quote which resonated with me: Americans are “Consumers of meaning just as much as they are of cars and clothing, Americans will test – drive new spiritualities and try on a whole series of lifestyles…We must seek constantly to turn spiritual hunger toward the true food of the gospel of Christ.”

Movements: The Reformation

The church has been growing for almost 2000 years and contemporary Christians would do well to learn from the men and women who have faithfully followed God throughout the centuries. One of the landmark moments in the history of the church is called the Protestant Reformation.

“Once a coin into the coffer clings, a soul from purgatory springs.” – Johann Tetzel

Today is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. For those of you who are not quite sure what the Reformation is and why it is a big deal, I thought I would provide a quick overview. Though you may not be entirely familiar with the Reformation, it has deeply impacted the faith you practice.

Unknown-2Martin Luther was a Catholic monk and priest in the 16th century. A man named Johann Tetzel was selling indulgences in Martin Luther’s hometown of Wittenberg in order to raise capital for the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Since AD 1215, pious Christians would build up a “treasury of merit” on which they could draw on, which would expedite their time in purgatory. An indulgence allowed a remission of temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences could also be purchased for those who have been deceased. For baptism, according to the Catholic Church, washed away the guilt, but nothing removed the punishment.

During the Renaissance, with the resurgence of classical antiquity, Rome became adorned in splendor. Pope Julius II permitted the sale of indulgences in 1507 to raise money to build St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and was renewed in 1513. Leo X later made a deal with the archbishop of Mainz, which corresponded to the selling of indulgences. If Archbishop Albert would agree to allow the sale of indulgences, Leo agreed to split the profits with him.

If you could pay then you could avoid spending a long time in purgatory. The fast track through purgatory aroused Luther’s ire. The church had lost the heart of the gospel—God offers salvation as a free gift. 

Luther posted 95 Theses to debate on the Castle Church door in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517.

When Luther circulates his 95 Theses, his thoughts were dangerously subversive ideas that posed challenges to the finances of the church as much as to its theology. Purgatory was never called into question in the 95 Theses; Luther’s challenge concerned the means by which one gets out of it as quickly as possible. Luther desired to rid the church of the flawed hierarchy. The cultural, political, and religious authority was flipped upon its head by Luther’s claims. The religious, social, and political turmoil which resulted from Luther’s actions set a precedent for future movements.

Pope Leo X finally addressed Luther on June 15, 1520, the conflict exploded giving birth to the Reformation. Leo issued the bull Exsurge Domine, (“Arise, O Lord”), which condemned Luther as a heretic. Many others such as Calvin, Zwingli, and Arminius followed in Luther’s footsteps and they were reawakened to the Scriptures and the Gospel. While their intentions were to reform the church, eventually core beliefs led to irreconcilable differences.

Here are some claims Luther made:

  • God’s love is not conditional upon transformation; rather, personal transformation follows divine acceptance and affirmation.
  • One’s relationship with God is made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and is through faith. There is no longer any need for intermediaries- for the intercession of Mary or the saints to procure salvation.
  • Scripture is inspired, authoritative, and sufficient for Christian doctrine and practice.

The Reformation was about moving toward the Gospel–God himself has come to rescue and renew all creation in and through the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We learn about God through the Scriptures.

Rescue and renewal are offered as a free gift from God, one that could not be earned either by works or money, but only by grace through faith in Christ.

While these beliefs seem profoundly individualistic, and they are, they also have deep communal implications for how Christians value one another and seek Jesus. For many, Luther’s claims seem obvious. However, Christians tend to slip back into old habits in which salvation is earned, rather than given; and where many Christians rely on pastors for their intake of Bible than reading the Scriptures for themselves. Let us not take these developments for granted.

How To Stay In The Conversation (Part 3)

images.jpegI stumbled across this show on CBS called Bull. I probably have binged a little too hard on it, but the show has been fascinating. The lead actor plays a psychologist who is an expert in trial science. The premise of the show is how every case has facts and every jury (every day people) hear these facts differently. So, Dr. Bull and his team weave the objective facts of the case with a creative narrative together to win legal cases. In most episodes, Dr. Bull chooses to work for the innocent party. The defendant will likely be found guilty aside from his help because the jury has already subconsciously found the defendant guilty prior to any case being heard. Sometimes this subconscious verdict is based on the media, sometimes on how the defendant is dressed or appears, or even the jury’s own self-projection from their life experiences. Dr. Bull and his team choose to present a case and narrative together which highlights the facts the jurors will actually hear.

Throughout the episodes, the narratives usually get quite creative. However, what has never been argued: 1) the objective and verifiable facts, 2) our experiences color how we see and interpret these facts, and 3) there are always more facts to be discovered.

The natural question in today’s world: Can we ever be objective about the facts?

In my optimism, I believe we can get objective facts, but what to do about those facts and how we interpret them will always be highly subjective.

The initial blog post asked: How do you stand firm in a Kingdom worldview while remaining humble and teachable in posture?

My answer: Resilient communication.

So far, I have shared the first two steps (saturation & care). The third step is FACT.

I define FACT as information without bias. Bull provides a colorful depiction of how difficult it is to present the facts without spin. It is inherent in our nature to filter everything we hear through our own lens.

In our culture where truth is “relevant” or “subjective,” FACT seems like an elusive word. The term Fake News has been tossed around. CNN recently ran an ad campaign about defining facts (to which some of you may find ironic). In most cases, everything has a spin. Most facts are articulated from personal perspective and experience, which come in layers and vary widely. Give the NY Post’s quiz on how Facebook defines hate speech a try to see how subjective statements can be. What is the core truth beneath these layers?

Because people are not all-knowing we must learn to ask good questions about the potential narrative being sold to us. Therefore, when staying in the conversation we should present what we think we know humbly and sincerely. Direct information with no judgment is a must. Statements without sentiment should be shared to find common ground from which a relationship can be built.

I would argue whatever facts we do present should be loosely at our fingertips, ready and willing to hear new information. When new information is discovered, we should show grace. Further, avoid leading or suggestive questions. In a conversation which you are trying to listen and learn, you must be careful not to skew the potential response. Suggesting a prepackaged answer will likely create barriers, rather than take them down. We tend to share our views of the facts or our interpretations of them to win, persuade, or achieve some hidden objective.

If the goal is to stay in the conversation, then we must learn to present information without bias. Here are some examples of FACT:

  • Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the national anthem to raise awareness about the police brutality against black men, women, and teenagers.
  • Marijuana affects the parts of the brain that control emotions, memory, and judgment.
  • The Bible is God’s special revelation of himself.

These three sentences could be stated very differently.

  • Colin Kaepernick is desecrating the American flag.
  • Marijuana causes negative damage to a person’s body and image.
  • It is wrong to believe in both evolution and the what the Bible says.

These are probably exaggerated and not the best examples. However, when we are in the heat of conversation, we need to be aware of which statements are facts and which sentiments are our feelings toward what has happened.

As a Christian, we need not fear Christianity in the marketplace of worldviews. I believe a Christian worldview is unparalleled to any other worldview. The narrative of God himself coming to rescue and renewal all creation through the incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ is the ultimate narrative. Any other narrative which competes for supremacy will inadequately deal with the brokenness of life.

As you talk with your neighbors, co-workers, friends, family, and others online, do you espouse a worldview consistent with Christ, or bias and barriers?

Find the facts. Listen and learn. Stay in the conversation.

Making Jesus Known

Yesterday I had the privilege to preach at The Branch again. View the sermon here. I will have a few more opportunities before the end of the year. We continued our series “Jesus is_______.” The idea from the series comes from Judah Smith’s book Jesus Is______. However, the burden for the series arises out of the mission of The Branch Church. Many people in the Pacific Northwest are uninformed, misinformed, or under-informed about who Jesus is. Therefore, the Branch has a singular mission which affects everything it does. Dave and Lori Vigna have done a wonderful job of keeping this mission front and center.

Know Jesus. Make Him Known.

We need to have an accurate depiction of Jesus. The Jesus we imagine will be the Jesus we follow. The type of Jesus we imagine or characterize a lot about how we feel and then subsequently act in light of our belief about who Jesus is.

How do you picture Jesus? Jesus uses various titles to describe himself in the Gospels, one of the most referred to titles is the “Son of Man.” It is a way in which Jesus testifies that He is the long-awaited Messiah. How would you complete the following sentence: ‘The Son of Man came…’?

There are three ways that the New Testament completes that sentence; while the first two are well known (and might have come to your mind), the third is usually surprising:

  • The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).
  • The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).
  • The Son of Man came eating and drinking (Luke 7:34).

While the first two oft-quoted verses tell us about Jesus’ purpose in coming–to serve, to give his life as a ransom, to seek and save the lost–the third describes his method. If you flipped through the pages of the Bible and made some basic observations, there are a couple things I think you will notice about Jesus: 1) He is always being invited to parties. 2) He is always at a feast or eating a meal with someone. 3) Complete strangers are coming up to him, both to make audacious requests and to simply be near him.  4) Jesus was always with people. 5) He was always celebrating—at parties, at festivals, at holidays even with the cross coming at the end of his life.

Unknown-1I am convinced some of us have a false view of Jesus. We think of Jesus as some stern old guy looking at everyone in disapproval.  We think Jesus and fun are fundamentally opposed, that God is a cosmic party pooper. Nothing could be further from the truth. That is a better picture of the Pharisees. Those far from God hated the Pharisees, but they absolutely loved Jesus. God invented happiness. He came up with the concept of humor. He created our ability to have fun. He built a beautiful world and gave us five senses to enjoy it.

Jesus is Happy. Jesus smiles. Jesus laughed. Jesus made jokes. Even think about your own experiences. You enjoy a good party. You enjoy friends and laughter. A defining theological principle throughout Scripture is that people are made in the image of God. Therefore, I think God has the best sense of humor and ultimately Jesus was one of the happiest people in the purest sense.

In talking about Jesus, Hebrews 1:9 says, “he was anointed with the oil of gladness above his companions.”

Jesus Is Happy.

That may be a controversial statement for some. Before I go too much farther, let me make another statement. I believe God wants us to be happy.

But here is the thing, being happy, or better, happiness is a fickle thing. In our culture today, happiness has been co-opted in a myriad of ways. Happiness is not an absence of conflict, nor of ultimate comfort. Happiness is not found, rather it is grown.

The pursuit of happiness is like trying to grab smoke. Happiness is like a mirage that we think we see as real, but as soon as we get close it disappears. People attempt to find happiness in status, individual satisfaction, security, and even in the search for self. Happiness makes a great emotion but a terrible master.

The outward display of happiness comes and goes like seasons. I liken the emotion of happiness to a plant. Let’s face it, sometimes we just do not feel happy, nor should we be. God has given us plenty of other valid emotions. Happiness is the fruit or flower of a plant, while internal joy is the root. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, which comes and goes with the circumstances of our life. Joy is rooted internally planted by the seed of salvation.

Therefore, if we want the genuine outward display of happiness to be Christ-like, then we have to cultivate the deep roots of joy. We should not chase after happiness. We should chase after Jesus.

I love how excited Jesus gets when the 72 return in Luke 10:17-24, even though Jesus has set his face towards Jerusalem, knowing he is heading there to die. I think it is one of Jesus’s happiest moments.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (I think Jesus is making fun of Satan). However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Joy is rooted in eternity. Happiness is a natural result of knowing God and of experiencing his love. We are created by God and for God and we are restless wanderers until we find ourselves in God. Which means, we are happiest when we are joining God in what He is doing.

Trevin Wax in This is Our Time addresses the idea of happiness in light of following Jesus. Many movies allure us into thinking happiness is found when we follow our hearts.

Following Jesus in an era when everyone is following their hearts is difficult, partly because we think we must choose between two options: be authentic and true to yourself, or conform to society’s constraints.

Christianity says, “No thanks” to both. In response to people who believe we should be “authentic” above all else. we say: You don’t know yourself well enough to grasp your deepest desires, and even if you did, your desires are often wrong. We need deliverance from many of our deepest instincts, not the celebration of them.

In response to people who believe we should keep the rules and conform, we say: Salvation does not come through a checklist of rules, as if by willpower we can manage our sin. The gospel frees us from the burden of the law.

Christianity says something different altogether, combining authenticity and conformity in a most creative way.

To be authentic, as a Christian, means I am to be true to the person Christ has named me, not the person I think I am inside. I am to live according to what God says I am–His redeemed child, a person remade in the image of Christ–and I now act in line with that identity. As a Christian, saved by grace through faith, I am not authentic when I sin. I’m sinning against my newfound identity. I am being inauthentic when I choose to disobey God, when I give in to temptation. I’m rejecting the identity God has spoken over me. Tru authenticity is not accepting my own self-expression but accepting the self-expression of God through Jesus Christ.

To be a conformist, as a Christian, means we are seeking to have our minds renewed and our lives transformed. We want to be conformed into the image of Christ. But this conformity means we look like rebels to the rest of the world. The true rebellion is in the heart of the Christian who follows Jesus by swimming upstream against the currents of the world. That means, when everyone else is following their hearts, we will follow Jesus.

The disciples joined Jesus on the journey of eternity. When our story is shaped by God’s story as believers we are to be marked with joy and exude happiness. We should be people of celebration, who really love life! Christians should be the most fun people to be around. We get to live forever!

Eternal life does not start at death; eternal life starts the moment of your conversion. People should look at the church and say “I don’t know if I believe what they believe, but man, they have a good time!”

Jesus was happy and we should be too.