The Feel Deal: Why ‘Isn’t It Romantic’ Isn’t That Romantic

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.

*Spoiler alert*

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.

First, what is love?

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For starters, the most central answer can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:

“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]. 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. 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.

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. 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. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. 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].

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. 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.

Consider this great DC Talk chorus

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…

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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.”

1 John 4:19 paraphrases this in fewer words:

We love because He first loved us.”

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.

As Hebrews 13:15 and Psalm 66:4 capture…

“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.

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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.

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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…

  1. The reason we love is because it has always existed.

  2. 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?

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Okay…enough preaching already; time for one last thought…

Next time you’re discouraged about a situation with no happy ending in sight, remember…

  1. You’re not alone…
  2. You’re not your own…
  3. Because of a + b, you don’t have to express how you feel to know your love is real.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. By our own means and terms
Photo creds: What’s on Netflix

Proverbial Life: A Quick Guide to Possessing Your Soul

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…

  1. 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 chosen child of God. Just marinate in these identity statements a bit.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…

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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?

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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.

Accordingly…

  • 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.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Hebrews 12:14 NKJV
  2. To the will of your flesh
  3. Putting NKJV first since I like the way this translation catches the Greek
  4. Patience in Hebrew refers to suffering in steadfastness
  5. So while there’s truth in viewing this verse as a bottom line for a well-disciplined life, the whole point is what connects standing firm to winning life…and that is the power of the Spirit.
  6. And conflicts
Cover photo creds: WallpaperUP

Love Reminders: Why Voids Are Not To Be Avoided

I got a random question for you…

Have you ever wondered why it’s easier to accept your flaws as opposed to your voids?

Flaws = Weaknesses, imperfections, what you can control and change

Voids = Lacking a necessary good, what you can’t control and change

If so, I want to encourage you: No matter how vast, no matter how voluminous the void, God’s sovereignty is always greater to not only fill it, but overflow it.

Granted, this truth is clearer conceptually than applicably, not to mention I’m sure there are some who struggle less with voids than flaws; however, in case you’re sittin’ there thinking I get all this, I just don’t know how to get there, consider this post a joint dive in discovering fresh purpose in places you never thought possible.

‘Cause truth is, for many of us (myself included), we prefer bridging our voids than exploring them in depth. Even when we do take the plunge, we’re often not ready for what we may find be it ego, fears, and/or our infatuation with the past. As Richard Rohr states in his book, Immortal Diamond

Whether humans admit to or not, we’re all in love with the status quo and the past, even when it’s killing us. [For most], it’s easier to gather energy around death, pain and problems than joy. For some sad reason, it’s joy we hold lightly and victimhood we hold on to.”

This in mind, let’s go back to the initial question and rephrase it: When it comes to the holes in our lives, have you ever wondered why we put God behind the telescope and our voids under the microscope?

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Or are we so content in idolizing what’s not working in our life, so content in finding identity in ego¹, we fail to see our voids as God’s love reminder. To quote Jamie George, senior pastor at Journey Church in Franklin, Tennessee, “The thing that’s not working [in your life] is your opportunity for salvation to be saved from your ego and remember who you are.”

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Accordingly, the reason we wrestle with our voids often ties to not knowing what God wants to reveal through them. On the surface, we admit God wants us to know the highest heights of His love in the darkest depths of our despair. Yet, deeper down, we fade God in light of false hopes telling our trust what to do. Before we know it, we’re lost in a search for meaning outside the only place we can find it desperate for breakthrough, but not necessarily for freedom.

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Perhaps this is why Jesus taught love as an invitation first (Psalm 91:14, Matthew 11:28-30, John 3:16, John 15:15, Romans 5:8, Romans 8:38-39, Revelation 3:20) and as an instruction second (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Matthew 22:37-40)…so we could see awe in the awful and life as not only richer than temporary troubles, but richer because of them! The inevitable hurdles we encounter, they are more than opportunities to be humbled, but lifelines we’re passionately loved and rescued through. Therefore, we must accept the fact voids are imperative in the narrative of our lives as they offer a chance to centralize Christ as our security, the redeemer of all things who takes our time traveling tendencies and morphs them into a desire to know God as perpetual presence.

Think of it this way: In this life, on this side of heaven, there are many people living apart from God. To them, fear in the face of chaos makes perfect sense. After all, they have nothing to rely on other than themselves, their hope a mere flatline on the cardiogram of circumstance. But to those who trust in God, they can fear² Him in disarray knowing the chasms created in trial also create the heart space we need to receive those aforementioned love reminders³. As I told a colleague at work today, an empty container is better than no container at all since only the former can be opened and poured into.

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Bottom line:  Whatever you did…whatever you’re going through…those experiences are never worth the fear we preserve keeping them close at heart. Remember your battle scars are more than checkpoints signifying where you got it right; they are altars pointing people in the direction of wonder and reference…the veins by which people can know God longs to commune with them. Ultimately, our voids help us adore God, abide in gratitude, and die to our need to make sense of it all.

Selah.

Footnotes

  1. The sum of self-reliance/independence (i.e. prioritizing reason over faith); sentence shout-out to Jamie George and his Awakening series
  2. Fear as in awe/adoration
  3. See Psalm 23:1-4
Cover photo creds: medium.com

Resurrected Community: A SOAP Study on John 13

ScriptureJohn 13:1-9

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!

Observation:

While much attention in this passage is given to the washing of feet, it’s interesting to note the towel’s contextual significance in the moment and beyond. With His hour rapidly approaching, Jesus knew now was the time to prepare His disciples for life post-resurrection; however, He also knew ‘now’ was not yet the time to commission them for evangelism. Accordingly, Jesus, through the towel, opted to preview the next ~40 days, a stretch during which He wouldn’t evangelize, but strengthen His community as a future colony of heaven (i.e. Kingdom community)12.

Having said that, before we can dive further into “towel theology” (i.e. the towel as a communal template to daily rising with Christ), we must first talk about what Christ sought to model through it.

Consider this: The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most powerful event that this planet has ever witnessed. Yet, as for who actually ‘saw’ the resurrection? Nobody but a couple of awe-struck Roman soldiers who in a matter of hours would go from literally trembling in fear to lying about what they had seen. One would think the lives of these guards would instantaneously change à la Paul’s conversion, but truth is the power of the resurrection didn’t change them at all.

Of course, none of this was a surprise to God given He knew what the soldiers denied would be what many believed as they experienced His transformational love working through human hearts3; still, the takeaway here is while Christ’s resurrection was certainly a powerful moment in history, it wasn’t the greatest demonstration of divine power. Rather, as we’ll soon see, the cross,  paved the way for the greatest force of divine power – sustainable agape love.

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Application:

The application is simple: To be raised with Christ is to build His community as Jesus did after His resurrection.

“If then you have been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead, walk in newness of life and seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” ~ Colossians 2:12, Colossians 3:1, Romans 6:4 (Blended ESV)

Again, we may think the key to being on mission with God is effective evangelism, but when we consider how Paul and early church perceived being raised with Christ, we find the critical priority to be the community of Jesus serving one another in love with evangelism as the overflow. For when a genuine Christ community exists that’s all the Holy Spirit needs to impact the cultural community it exists in.

Therefore, we must be careful we don’t abuse evangelism as a promotional means to add to ‘our’ number, but rather allow the Spirit to awaken eyes to see the love we have for one another. This, I suggest, was the center of Paul’s approach to mission – we don’t build a colony of heaven through forced rhythms of effort, but instead build Christ’s community through unforced rhythms of service laden with love, kindness, and compassion. Doing this, as Paul saw it, was the way a local church could reflect heaven on earth and the way the Spirit could spread this light into new places.

As for the body of Christ, the recipe for cultural transformation is straightforward: To build communities of agape love and to let the Spirit establish them as colonies of heaven. For as we know, in this life we are plagued by worldly structures bent on dominating, manipulating, and controlling through destructive systems of independence yielding cultures of anxiety, fear, hatred, and pride. However, by living confidently in the assurance of our guaranteed future (Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 4:16, Hebrews 11:1), we can be free to accept a Kingdom, ‘crucified and raised in Christ’ structure as the framework by which we love and serve – a structure that proclaims the good news in this way: We are free because we’re helpless, free because we’re confident, free because we’re crucified in Christ, and free because we’ve been raised with Christ, the foundation to being a Jesus community4. Once we accept our helplessness, then we can better depend on the Holy Spirit, rest in our future completion, and serve in present love.

Paul describes this endgame in Galatians 5:13 and 6:2:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” ~ Galatians 5:13

If you bear one another’s burdens, if you love by serving each other, you’ll stay in the Spirit and remain in alignment with Christ and so fulfill the law of Christ.” ~ Galatians 6:2 (paraphrased)

With Christ’s resurrection in mind, the core of being a community of Christ is experiencing the law of Christ as loving one another by serving one another…

…which brings us to why Jesus took the towel in John 13. 

While many are quick to emphasize Jesus’ humility and modeling of submissive service, what’s often missed is how the washing of His disciples’ feet clinched the founding of His community. Backtrack to v. 3 and we find our first sign of evidence: Jesus knew the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going back to God. This is the real reason why Jesus took the towel5 – to not only achieve a timely metaphor, but to unveil a central commandment (i.e. ‘love one another’) that would soon become the cornerstone of Christianity.

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Remember up until their feet were washed, the disciples were followers, but not a following of disciple-makers. When Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash His feet, Jesus said, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no part with me‘. Why? Because love through serving was the foundation Jesus was laying. In other words, Jesus knew convicting Peter to helplessness would open him up to radical dependence. We see this instantly when Peter replies, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head‘. Yet, even at the utter of this imperative, little did Peter realize this act of total dependence would result in radical freedom, a newness of life where he could experience life as a new human serving and loving.

As Peter discovered, the implications of this reality, specifically how we do church, is huge. In a world screaming ‘make your life count’, it’s worth noting the early church would not have understood such dogma. To them, one didn’t try to make a difference, but rather let their love through service be the difference. As such, having embraced their identity as a resurrection community – a community who loves and serves in the moment – their operation as the new humanity would ultimately revolutionize arguably the world’s greatest superpower in history.

Bottom line: What Jesus did in John 13 went far beyond washing a few stinky feet.

Rather by exchanging outer garment for towel…

  1. He revealed what resurrection community would soon look like – a ‘walk in the Spirit’, ‘serve your spouse, forgive your brother, love your enemy’ way of living far contrary to the ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ lifestyle we know today.
  2. He connected repentance to not only being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2), but also celebrating our helplessness, dependence, and freedom to be a John 13:35 community so, “by this all people will know that [we are His] disciples, [by our] love for one another.”
  3. He redefined church as a body of believers becoming the colony of heaven on earth by living in the Spirit (i.e. daily dying and rising with Christ).

Selah.

Prayer:

Footnotes

  1. As would soon emerge through the Holy Spirit
  2. Not to suggest we don’t prioritize evangelism; after all, the Holy Spirit’s coming was so we could be empowered to be Christ’s witnesses.
  3. Remember after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus not only prepared a community the Holy Spirit would eventually come upon in Acts 2, but also a unified body transformed by Christ’s love as a testament to God’s existence.
  4. Inspired by Messenger Fellowship’s ‘Being the Community of Jesus’ module.
  5. Side note: I love how this moment captures Christ’s baptism and brings it full circle (more on this in a future post).
Photo creds: Highland Park United Methodist Church
*Content inspired by Messenger Fellowship’s ordination course*

 

 

3 More Things I’m [Really] Sorry For

If you’re like me, you like to reflect.

So much to say, so much to do…how can either happen when there’s so much to think.

Yet, as we journey another January, the heart behind this series, as made known last year, is still the same:

If we want to think right, then we must get right, if we want to get right, then we must get real…and if we want to get real, we must value cleanse before change.

Not to suggest such internal inventory is easy. Certainly putting all things on the table for examination requires courage, humility, vulnerability…among other things; however, since my goal with these posts is to help us embrace God’s ‘next’, it only makes sense to pray into the substitutions¹ God has for us.

That said, here are three things I’m owning as we turn the page to 2019…

1) Making sense of my surroundings

It’s remarkable the ways we justify our surroundings. I know for me, whenever I find myself in what I can’t explain, living in the moment can almost seem secondary to knowing why it has to exist. ‘If only I can solve the mystery, perhaps then I can find the satisfaction and peace I crave,’ I sometimes think.

But as we know, the journey of life is far from cut and dry. As much as we want to reconcile all our relationships and circumstances, we’ll never be able to given sin and free will’s response to it among other things.

Granted, God’s sovereignty isn’t confined by man’s weakness. But it’s also not restricted by our ability to ‘sherlock’ the past. And it’s this temptation I believe trips many of us up. We long to feel affirmed when we’re down. We yearn to feel validated when we smell injustice. We burn to make sense of our surroundings when they don’t make sense. Yet, in our quest to solve our voids, little do we realize the size of our ego and the numbing effect it has on our attitudes and heart postures.

It’s not always fun to accept, but the way I see it: Often the reason we are where we are is because God wants to help us find our kneel…to show us where our independencies have become idolatries…and to learn reliance within the unforced rhythms of grace. Perhaps you’ve struggled to grasp this feeling in seasons of idleness or stress…in settings where you felt more like a fish in an aquatic Pandora’s box.

If so, take a bite of my 2018 testimony. Our free will exists so we can choose Jesus to find freedom. No 12-step program full of striving. Just a simple decision to resist the fear of man and the impulse to make sense of our surroundings.

Accordingly, if you sense the temptation but not the exit, yield to surrender, voice the heartcry, and receive the serenity of stilled waters. God has not abandoned you, so don’t you abandon ship.

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2) The Nazareth complex

I suppose this could be a subset of point #1, but the nature of this conviction alone is worth emphasizing.

As alluded to in my 2018 Year in Review post, when last year started, going back to The Gate was far from an option. Having phased out of LEGACYouth weeks prior, my hope had clung to a sunset narrative where my last days of youth ministry would coincide with where it took place. While there were many reasons I emotionally did not want to return, the core of my withdrawal² centered on what I call the Nazareth complex.

The Nazareth complex is based out of Luke 4:14-30 when Jesus is driven out of his hometown (i.e. Nazareth) after revealing his true identity at the synagogue. While obviously I’m no Jesus, the personal correlation was this: Among whom whose eyes I had been under for years, there was no way for me to be known as God knew me. As such, what Nazareth was to Jesus, The Gate/local church was to me. To move on with my life, I had to leave the church to find anyone who not only would listen, but see me sans past and last name.

Of course, it’s safe to say Jesus never employed such a self-absorbed attitude. Still, it’s not hard to see why my deception took months to dissipate with resentment rooted in deception and victimization fixed in misapplied Scripture. To justify my isolated ego, I had to constantly cite the past, church gossip, unsurrendered soul/spirit hurts…even assumed vain assumptions (sounds confusing, but that’s unholy fear for you).

Yet, as the story goes, I eventually woke up, realizing if I truly wanted to move on and take hold of the new, I couldn’t keep holding on the way I had been. Six months later, the exchange is still ongoing…however, the door to freedom is much wider, in large part, to having repented of this complex.

tumblr_nikl8pxddz1tq4of6o1_5003) Financial fitness

For many couples, one spouse is the buyer, the other is the saver. In my relationship with Lyssah, the contrast is evident. While I’m a buyer who lives well within his means, Lys is much better at budgeting and sticking to it.

Ironically, you would never know by where our financial anxieties lie. As co-bread winners, to make ends meet, we both must work…whatever the cost with whatever time we can give. Unfortunately, the drive for excellence doesn’t always extinguish the entitlements and justifiers we use to buy (or even save for) momentary contentment/peace.

I know for me, I can only afford to invest so much as I near the end of paying off student loans. The white lie, then, is if I can’t currently invest as much as I want for my family, I should be frugal in my giving and employ generosity through alternative means. Yet, as I’ve been convicted, often my lack of giving ties to a lack of trust manifest as leverage against God for not opening certain doors. And I think for some of us, we forget withdrawing doesn’t just apply to our presence and/or banking transactions. It’s applies to trusting God with our finances…our energy…our time…not just what to sow, but where to sow and how much.

All that said, if you feel financial weak starting 2019, you’re not alone. Yeah, I’m an ex-Ramsey spouse. I have content, lessons, and principles I can pass down to future generations. But I also know…

  • If I’m not maturing my stewardship, those values can only go so far.

  • If’ I’m not maturing my stewardship, my intentionality in inviting God into my budget will be compromised.

As for 2019, no longer will I reduce God to an on-call financial counselor and over-rely on my wife’s strengths to make up the difference. Rather, I’m going to pursue financial fitness, embrace frugality under the context of stewardship, and flex into shape accordingly.

Think of it this way: Even though money isn’t the end-all, be-all of extending God’s providence, in no way should we want God’s faithfulness to be restricted by what we’re not trusting Him in.

Besides if you’re reading this, chances are you have enough and know God as more than enough. Not do you have what it takes…but you can do this. Why not do it together?

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Selah.

Footnotes

  1. Where I’m letting go of a stronghold, sin, negative thought pattern, etc. to replace it with something better
  2. Albeit an indefinite sabbatical was necessary
Photo creds: https://buzzerg.com