To exalt why we exist, to know freedom abundantly…
…yeah, yeah, I’ve heard it all before.
But if you’re like me these days…drained, disoriented…wondering when and where you are…unsure of most things status and standing…lend an ear.
‘Cause while I don’t have all the answers, I’m also not one to hide what I find. Even if it means going back to certain wells time and time again.
That said, a few weeks ago, I was glancing through Hebrews 4 when it hit me: While verses 14-16 are often attributed to genealogy and lordship, they also hold value in light of Christmas.
Don’t believe me? Well, let’s read together…
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”
Upon first look, it’s fair to say there’s not much Bethlehem and Messianic prophesy referenced in this passage. Granted, one could say the “great high priest” achieves the latter, but either way, odds are you’re not thinking Luke 2 when reading Hebrews 4.
However, when we take a deeper dive, we begin to see the significance of what “great high priest” means for us today. For instance, after emphasizing Christ as Word and the trust/rest dynamic in v. 14, note the critical turn in v. 15. As the Message translates, “We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality.” Rather, He is able to understand our weaknesses and temptations because He not only conquered them but experienced them!
From here, we begin to see how this passage pertains to Christmas. Before the Son of God could bear our sin in His body, the Son of Man had to be born into it. Before He could redeem us from the curse of the law, He had to establish His plan of grace. Before He could save us through the Cross, He had to love us through the manger. You get the picture.
Yet, even before the manger, Christ had to be our high priest relating to us before the beginning of time. In this way, His sovereign authority could craft a divine pathway for our eternal relationship and our fearless approach beforehand. After all, nothing takes God by surprise.
Of course, the theological layers run deeper, but for now, consider this. When we celebrate Christmas each year, we’re essentially saying…
… “Lord, I’m taking hold of your mercy, I’m entering your rest, I’m accepting your help, I’m renewing my mind…all because you loved us to know our flesh as flesh. And from that relatability, I can receive you in confidence as the center of my ability, humility, stability, tranquility, etc.”
I love how the Amplified breaks this down…
“Therefore, let us with privilege approach the throne of God’s gracious favor with confidence and without fear, so that we may receive mercy AND find His amazing grace to help in time of need…an appropriate blessing, coming just at the right moment.”
Ahhh, at the right moment. Isn’t that what we’re always searching for? The right time, a right moment, the right one, even? And yet, so often we miss the fact Jesus is all these things. A perpetual reality punctuated by the incarnation, Jesus was our hope as a high priest before He became hope as a baby. Now we can live with Him in heaven forever all because once upon a time, a hope once deferred became the hope we cling to today.
Accordingly, for all you in despair, in a rut…a funk, whatever it may be, know this: Jesus came at the right moment so He could intervene for you at the right moments. Past, present, future…He never stops being a shining light of David directing our hearts to where His rest lies. As Paul states in Ephesians 2:14, “He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” All the more so, His light could enter, penetrate the darkness, and shatter the mold.
And so…as we wrap up another year, my prayer is that you’ll embrace this season and boldly enter into God’s best, His rest, and His next. For when you see the Cross behind the manger, you understand Christmas; however, when you see the priest in the manger, you’ll know the courage that can be yours as you invite into your weakness. How awesome it is to know Christ made Himself vulnerable so we could be vulnerable back? Not to mention with each other as we share the good news of His love in all we say and do.
‘Til next time, may you know the hope that is yours and the breakthrough that will be yours this Christmas season.
Sooo…I wasn’t initially going to write anything on this, but after cutting a pod earlier this week, I’m calling an audible.
‘Cause truth is: I’m surprised how much a feel good movie in ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ has me feeling, well, not that good.
While the film, in itself, is charming full of laugh out loud moments and clever wit, to say the film lacks irony would be an understatement.
For instance, when contrasting real life to rom coms, our protagonist is clear she hates happy endings since they hinge on plot convenience more than anything else.
The funny thing: This is exactly what ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ does on the issue of self-love which begs the question…
Does self-love actually exist?
To be fair, the answer can’t be addressed in a vacuum since real love can’t be compartmentalized. That said, while secular voices can only go so far in their quest not to offend, one must wonder if we, as a culture, are synonymizing love and esteem as much as we are love and tolerance.
This in mind, I want to tackle the question by un-blurring the lines between self-love/love and self-esteem/esteem. As for love versus tolerance, don’t worry. I’ll come back and do a ‘part 2’ once the right movie comes along.
Before we define any contrasts, let’s define some terms.
“If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not [a]love [for others growing out of God’s love for me], then I have become only a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal [just an annoying distraction]. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy [and speak a new message from God to the people], and understand all mysteries, and [possess] all knowledge; and if I have all [sufficient] faith so that I can remove mountains, but do not have love [reaching out to others], I am nothing. 3 If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body [b]to be burned, but do not have love, it does me no good at all.
4 Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. 5 It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. 6 It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. 7 Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening].
8 Love never fails [it never fades nor ends]. But as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for the gift of special knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part [for our knowledge is fragmentary and incomplete]. 10 But when that which is complete and perfect comes, that which is incomplete and partial will pass away. 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 did away with childish things. 12 For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. 13 And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.”
Granted, most are familiar with this passage; however, what’s often missed is the reason why we struggle grasping it.
Hey, tell me haven’t ya heard? Love is a serious word. Hey, I think it’s time ya learned. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care care what ya heard. The word love, love is a verb.
…and while we’re at it, let’s hit the bridge as well…
Back in the day there was a man who stepped out of Heaven and he walked the land. He delivered to the people an eternal choice with a heart full of love and the truth in His voice. Gave up His life so that we may live. How much more love could the Son of God give? Here is the example that we oughta be matchin’ ‘cause love is a word that requires some action.
Yeah, yeah…I’m starting this exegesis with the most popular ‘love Scripture’ and one of the most iconic 90’s Christian rap songs ever. Nevertheless, the content is 100% certified truth; specifically, love isn’t love without action…without a transitive nature.
Speaking of which, allow me to get nerdy for just a second…
In math, the transitive property is expressed as the successive members of a sequence of at least three, where if A is larger than B, and B is larger than C, then A is larger than C. Interestingly, from a theological perspective, this confirms the existence of the Trinity (more on this in a future post).
In this case, let’s use the metaphor to compare us to ‘B’ with the people we love as ‘C’. If ‘B’ (love median) and ‘C’ (love recipient) are given, then who represents A?
In fewer words, God (i.e. love giver). But the big picture point is this: The reason love exists is because there has always been a giver and receiver for all of eternity. Thus, whenever we talk about self-love, it’s only fair to reference the concept as intransitive since the act is not only internal, but immobile.
But Cam…Matthew 22:39 says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. Certainly, self-love isn’t a bad thing?
And to that, I’d have to agree…wait for it…in a vacuum. But as mentioned, we can’t address this topic in a vacuum so let’s zoom out further and ask another question…
Is the self-love culture conveys the same as what Scripture describes?
‘Cause when we reference the Word, we find love, in every use, to be a direct response to receiving love. For example, before we can confess God as love (1 John 4:8), we must first believe the preceding verse: “Let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Therefore, the difference between self-love (culture) and loving yourself (Scripture) is one is contained and the other can’t be. One is restricted, the other depicted. One is incomplete, the other complete. One is achieved, the other received. One looks to preserve, the other looks to subserve. I could go on.
For now, let’s discuss esteem.
As Webster defines, esteem is a regard involving an admiration, adulation, and/or appreciation of another. A derivative of gratitude, esteem molds an ‘I respect you’ statement into an ‘I value you’ declaration.
Unfortunately, most learn esteem as self-esteem, taking that ‘I value you’ and reforming it into ‘I value me’. Again, this is appropriate in moderation; however, we must be careful not to abuse the practice as how we love. Reason being: like self-love/love, for self-esteem to exist, there must first be esteem and for esteem to exist, not only must there be a giving entity, but authentic community surrounding it. Put another way, the necessity of esteem isn’t rooted in feeling valuable, but in sharing praise.
“Through Him, therefore, let us at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.” (AMP)
“All the earth will [bow down to] worship You [in submissive wonder], And will sing praises to You; they will praise Your name in song.”(AMP)
…for praise to have any purpose, it must be expressed as unrequited adoration. For if the affirmation of self is what focuses our esteem, then what we think is love is pride in disguise…or as I like to say, a vehicle for validation.
And it’s here where self-esteem goes off the rail for many people. Yes, self-esteem has a place, but can we say it has purpose when it’s narcissistically misappropriated? For example, we see in entertainment, politics, even health, the cultural message of self-esteem being a barometer to success and worth. Ironically, the same voices are also surprised when such pathways are met by insecurity, stress, and burnout. Keep going, they say. Don’t give up, they say.
Of course, Christ in us, we see how this is done the right way. In context, we tie esteem to love through the nature of God which then allows us to see anxiety as the bypassing of holy residence to feel significant. Sadly, for most, self-esteem is and will forever be detached from its Creator, leading many to strive for desirability through skillsets, passions, even status. How sad is it that many discover strengths without wondering or questioning how they got there in the first place? No wonder so many struggle with voids given they’re pursuing meaning without reason!
But getting back to the movie…
After our protagonist’s comatose catharsis, she finally comes to the pay off: While love is not a fairytale, it doesn’t mean you can’t love yourself. True, the happy ending might not exist, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be happy. As long as you’re not depending on others for acceptance, you can love yourself to determine your destiny…and at least come close to a happy ever after.
Now…*cracks knuckles*…I have much to say to this moral discount morale boost.
But being I’m already near 1300 words, I’ll be short. The problem I have with this movie (and others like it) is how it conveys love as being stronger when it’s independent.
While I agree that our sense of value should be detached from what others think, if we’re constantly generating love out of self-preservation (i.e. an egotistic approach to void filling), there’s no way we can sustain love in any capacity.
Essentially, the movie’s tagline fits the “moral” of the story.
To love yourself, complete yourself. Don’t possess your emotions, numb them! To feel esteem, don’t rely on others to affirm it, provide it for yourself. Don’t just be indifferent to what others think, but be different to what others do. That way you can love you without the sensitivity to others’ needs getting in the way. After all, love isn’t given; it’s a personal choice.
*Sighs* *Sarcasm subsides*
I guess what I’m trying to say is…
The reason we love is because it has always existed.
The reason love has always existed not only points to the existence of God, but to the reality of a Godhead.
By this, we can accept the truth that though we were made for love, we weren’t made to ignite and sustain it by ourselves¹. Accordingly, as the object of love and not the subject, let’s be careful with any cultural messaging suggesting the contrary. In the same way we create because we’ve been created and design because we’ve been designed, we love because we were and are forever loved.
Again, God didn’t generate us; rather He formed and fashioned us uniquely with delicate precision before the beginning of time (see Isaiah 44:24, Isaiah 49:15, Psalm 71:6, Jeremiah 1:5, Galatians 1:15). And while we can’t possibly fathom the eternity of such love, we can accept its presence as constant sovereignty living and breathing outside ourselves.
How sweet is it to know we can experience the Gospel as the greatest romance in history:
We love because we were first loved and we love because it was first given.
Finally, we can answer our original question, ‘Does self-love exist?’
In short, outside of God, loving anyone or anything is impossible. Sure, we can admire, cherish, and enjoy the people in our path and the companies we keep. But if ‘our way’ is more important than any other, we can’t possibly know the origin and intricate delicacies that make love what it is. This doesn’t mean a lost concept of love and/or esteem can’t be based in self; it just means if what’s good for us is the gravity, the epicenter of perception and paradigm, the idea of crazy, crave-able love is a mirage via the transitive property.
If a) God is love, but b) God isn’t a part of our love, then c) is what we think is love really love at all?
Okay…enough preaching already; time for one last thought…
Next time you’re discouraged about a situation with no happy ending in sight, remember…
You’re not alone…
You’re not your own…
Because of a + b, you don’t have to express how you feel to know your love is real.
Context: This post was inspired by a May 16 conversation with my dad prior to his Sunday AM message @ The Gate Community Church on May 19. Moving forward, any content centered on internal endurance (and/or a ‘Proverb outside of Proverbs’) will be categorized into this new series called ‘Proverbial Life’.
It’s a complicated theme in Scripture…
God, as love, authoring His will in the deepest still; the epitome of fellowship perfecting faith before it could create.
No question, the infinities of life are complex, sometimes intimidating; however, when we consider God at the beginning, we converge on a central truth:
We were made for connection (for love, with love, by love)…
…to pursue peace with all people1…
…and to be unity in community.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done in a day when relationships are compromised by busyness, striving, even insecurity. Perhaps you’ve encountered similar barriers wondering how to navigate around them.
If so, I want to encourage you with a Proverb that somehow found itself in Luke 21.
But before I dive in, allow me to uplift the down heart reading this…
You are not alone. You are not here by accident. You are a treasure. You are an asset to an unshakable Kingdom. You are a chosenchild of God. Just marinate in these identity statements a bit.
If you’re not in the rhythm of daily dying2, staying the course in any situation will be challenging. An odd segue, I admit, but one I speak from wanting you, the reader, to surrender all trust in God knowing He understands your wants, needs, desires, and dreams better than you do.
In writing this, I don’t want to downplay the struggle of connecting to those preserving their rhythms, content with you being on the outside looking in. I get it. If there’s one mountain in recent church testimony, it’s this. Still, even though the purest of intentions can become unyoked priorities, you can’t take on the wrong burdens even if you’re the only one who sees them.
Having said that, let’s dig into the Word…
“By your patience possess your souls.” ~ Luke 21:19 (NKJV)3 4
“By your endurance you will gain your lives.” ~ Luke 21:19 (ESV)
“By your [patient] endurance [empowered by the Holy Spirit] you will gain your souls.” ~ Luke 21:19 (AMP)
“Stand firm, and you will win life.” ~ Luke 21:19 (NIV)
“Staying with it—that’s what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won’t be sorry; you’ll be saved.” ~ Luke 21:19 (MSG)
As expected, wording varies upon translation, but the general concept is the same. When we reference this verse to Matthew 4 and note the heart of Jesus, we find the Son of Man walking in authority by the power of the Holy Spirit. Everywhere he went in this power, every time he returned in this power. Even when Jesus was tempted, Jesus was centered in his identity by…you guessed it…the power of the Holy Spirit.5
Often times, when we think power of the Holy Spirit, we think wonders and miracles, but for Jesus, the most frequent manifestation of the Spirit’s power in him was his reliance upon the Father to possess his emotions. A simple anecdote upon first glance, but one with significant applications when we consider Jesus was tempted in every way like we are today. This in mind, we can’t take lightly the vain thoughts we tolerate in place of deferred hope given the power of fear ultimately numbs us to the power of the Spirit.
Again, Jesus is the way we must model. To him, his ‘standing identity’ wasn’t mutually exclusive from his identity in God. He knew to walk in real authority, whether resisting the enemy or healing the sick, he had to possess his soul to keep it from ruling him. The more opportunities he had to cultivate endurance in this way, the more he walked confidently in his identity and the authority that overflowed.
Furthermore, it’s worth noting Jesus never asserted his authority as a self-evident right, but out of a posture of rest. This is key for us concerning spiritual warfare. To say Jesus asserted his authority out of rest means he didn’t contend for authority with the enemy; rather he exercised it knowing he was free from needing God to approve himself and defend his rights.
This, in turn, allowed his faith to flow from identity and empowered him not to be offended that his purpose was rooted in dying.
So in a weird sense, we should delight in the fact God tests us through relational voids6 given His heart is to refine our rest and trust in our ‘loved by God’ identity. Not to suggest every relational lack is a test from God. I’m just saying when we look at how Jesus lived and what He longs to develop within us, how can we not be grateful knowing our patience can mature as we master our inner man? How can we not be excited our ego-triggered fears can be subdued by the same power Jesus abided in?
Bottom line: Every day is an opportunity to die to self, receive God’s life, and discover our purpose through our ‘loved by God’ identity.
Next time, you’re alone, remember Jesus was often alone…yet relied on the Father in those moments.
Next time, you feel judged, remember Jesus was constantly misunderstood, even in praise…yet consistently ran to the source of his confidence.
Next time, you feel drained, remember Jesus was tired on many occasions…yet knew the fruit he bore strengthened his perseverance.
Next time you feel disconnected or discouraged, remember to rejoice as you suffer in steadfastness!
After all, God is always up to something special, something incredible beyond your comprehension. Just keep your eyes centered on the perfecter of your faith, surrender what you think should be present in your life, and stand firm regardless of how you feel…
…knowing no matter what happens…
…the Creator of your soul will be there to gain your souls.
Sermon prep for the bivocational pastor can be a challenging issue. From selecting the right topic to developing ideas in the midst of unrelated work, crafting a sermon requires forward thinking and resolute diligence. Whether you’re a novice bivocational pastor or a seasoned veteran, here are some ways I’ve learned to conquer sermon prep stress.
Pray at all costs
It’s been said no man is greater than his prayer life. Considering prayer, quiet time, and sermon prep are mutually inclusive, one could also deduce how no pastor is greater than his sermon prep. Of course, ideas come and go and the needs of people change; however, the one thing that must never waver is the commitment to pray (for revelation, the people of your congregation, etc.) at all costs.
To put it another way, the foundation of any teaching must always begin with prayer since it allows God to be the driver as opposed to our own finitude. So whether you’re discouraged or simply have sermon writer’s block, pray through the grind and position yourself for illumination by carving out closet time between you and God. Oh, and while you’re at is, don’t forget to bring a note/iPad so you can jot down what God tells you for future reference (which reminds me…go see “War Room” when you have the chance; such a powerful film…you won’t regret it) .
I’m a fan of living in the now; however, with sermon prep, looking ahead isn’t just a good idea; it’s absolutely necessary. For instance, there are times when God will unveil a sermon series to you, as opposed to a stopgap message. When this happens, there are two appropriate responses: 1) rejoicing and 2) projecting (i.e. looking ahead). Not to suggest a la carte messages are inferior; I’m just saying when you’re given a sermon series, it’s critical to a) let the Word/assignment marinate in your spirit so it can be processed andb) look ahead so it can be divvied up systematically.
Take advantage of breaks
At my job, there are two types of seasons: busy seasons and “less busy” seasons. During “less busy” seasons, my workload will occasionally stall to the point I’m able to reference my youth pastor worklist (or my wife 😉 and chisel it down so I can direct my focus on other things (like this blog).
Granted, productivity can still happen during busy seasons; it just means anticipation must be met with greater intentionality. Case in point: during year-end closeout season (one of the busiest for accountants), I know at the very least, I have two fifteen-minute breaks and an hour lunch. This means regardless of how busy work gets, I can take advantage of 7.5 hours of potential prep time.
Of course, we all find ourselves in different boats on different waters in different seasons; however, the point here is: if you seek the opportune moment, you will surely find it (Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 11:9; Jeremiah 29:13).
Flesh out the content
Some of my greatest pastoral mentors are known to manuscript their sermons. While I certainly understand the benefit of such an approach, I also know it can be more practical for some to develop a detailed “five point-ish” outline, with a clear-cut introduction and conclusion. Whatever method you use, make sure the content is fleshed out. By this, I mean a message with a coherent outline and an organic flow sprinkled with some applicable illustrations to help the audience track with the truth1.
Develop a routine
Preaching is just as much week-by-week rhythm as it is in-the-moment delivery. While congregations and experiences vary, the common denominator for rotation speakers lies in developing a steady routine tailored to what works best for them. For me, I like devoting select days to content development/study and others to revision and delivery. Of course, each week is unique with the potential to go off-script. Yet, while those weeks can be unnerving, they don’t have to be as long as I reference an establish accountability system or development checklist. Doing so will not only sharpen the content, but enhance confidence leading up to the sermon date.
Perhaps you’ve discovered some other helpful tidbits aiding you in your sermon prep. If so, feel free to share them in the comment section below.
I believe the most memorable sermons feature applicable illustrations. For me, if a powerful truth is presented without an analogy/work picture attached (or without it amplified on a big screen for me to read à tweet), it can sometimes go in one ear, out the other; however, as a youth minister, I’ve learned the value in bolding the truth by associated it to something presentable. At any rate, the goal is not to entertain and/or convince the audience of the truth’s relevance (i.e. let God do His job) as much as it is giving them a greater chance to remember it in the first place.