Suffering and Redemption [maranâ thâ’]

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see […]”

As Christian millenials we buy into the beautiful story of redemption by grace that Christ presents us in the midst of our sin and depravity. We openly celebrate the benevolence of a good God and the things he has done to prove his faithfulness. Agreed, following Jesus is a brilliantly beautiful journey.

Yet, brethren, there is so much suffering in this world. As we follow Jesus we inevitably are confronted with the painful instances of suffering whether it is in our personal lives or the happenings throughout the world; the reality of suffering is consequential and at large. This reality reminds us that the Earth is not quite redeemed in its present state.

One of the most beautiful aspects of receiving salvation as a result of grace is that we leave a life of sin and enter a family courtesy of an invitation by the living God; we are inevitably grafted into the overarching narrative God has been weaving since the beginning of time and the hopeful future he has promised us.

From the beginning of creation to the death and resurrection of Jesus we begin to see that the family of God is much bigger than our local church, much less ourselves.

Currently we know that the body of Christ far surpasses our residence in the United States. We believe in the same God that Christians in the Middle East pray to in the midst of persecution, serve the same God that is using faithful men and women in China for a church movement, and walk in obedience to the same God that our brothers and sisters in Africa do as they live in poverty and injustice, yet, remain joyful because they believe in the hope of the Gospel.

Ultimately, we link arms with a group of people known as the body of Christ; we link arms with one another not only to acknowledge the immediate transaction of salvation that takes place, but also because we are hoping for one more final transaction in which Jesus Christ himself will come back and bring about an existence without pain, suffering, and sin.

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years
Bright shining as the sun
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun”

Brethren let us stand in solidarity because we have all received this blessed gift of salvation and also because we eagerly await for the return of Christ. As we stand in suffering we are given the privilege to pray the prayer of maranâ thâ’, “Come, Lord Jesus”.

maranâ thâ’.

 

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Holy Spirit Semantics

 

I think most churches nowadays would agree the Holy Spirit is a component of the Trinity as well as the Advocate Jesus left behind when he ascended back into heaven after his resurrection. However, the interpretation of how the Holy Spirit interacts with believers has been a subject of high debate. Does the Holy Spirit still speak to us today aside from the Word of God? If he does, why doesn’t he speak to every person in the same way?

 

At the end of the day this conversation is of minute importance; I might even say we are missing the point in trying to figure out how others ought to hear from God.

What is of utmost importance is if we are allowing ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit in our daily lives.

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

-Romans 8:5

What does it mean to be led by the Spirit?

Charismatic followers of Jesus will declare openly that the Holy Spirit speaks to them in very specific ways. This may include specific encouragements, exhortations, and even timely initiatives to share the Gospel with non-believers in their everyday lives. The Holy Spirit moves with the emotional volatility that comes with the day to day routine.

On the other side of the spectrum, conservative followers of Jesus will view the Holy Spirit as simply a guide as apart of the Holy Trinity; the Holy Spirit is not necessarily active in the day to day, but should be acknowledged as a being that is holy and divinely appointed by God. The Holy Spirit is seen as a consistent Advocate that is unchanging.

Perhaps these are two pieces of an incomplete puzzle. There are most definitely truths found in both of these views, but why do they differ so much?

The resolve in unclear, but the path to following Christ and being led by the Holy Spirit are clear. Above denominations, personalities, and propensities is affirmative Scripture that lays out exactly how we ought to be led by the Holy Spirit.

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God […] Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

-Romans 8:14;17

If we are to be led by the Spirit it is to walk in the belief that we are adopted in sonship by the living God; we also ought to see ourselves as co-heirs with Christ and share in the sufferings of Christ.

Ultimately, being led by the Spirit is to walk as children of God that joyfully partake in the sufferings that come along with following Christ. As we follow Christ we embrace and seek out suffering with the conditional reality that the suffering has been amended by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There is No Special Moment [Perfectionists Listen Up]

Inside many of us lie a lurking perfectionist waiting to rear its head in the various areas of life; some of us have told this perfectionist to stay in its place while some of us allow it full autonomy.

Perfectionist is defined as such on Merriam-Webster.com:

  1. 1a :  the doctrine that the perfection of moral character constitutes a person’s highest goodb :  the theological doctrine that a state of freedom from sin is attainable on earth

  2. 2:  a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable

The former definition connotes a positive attribute; perfectionism is something that compels us to be excellent. The latter illustrates perfectionism to be a rather negative attribute for it aims to live in a reality that doesn’t exist; this latter definition is what often characterizes and, unfortunately, plagues many millenials today.

We want the perfect career, friend group, and significant other. If it’s not ideal or what we want, we wait for the next opportunity. We reject the semi-good job, broken yet transparent friend group, and metaphorically swipe left on the guys/girls we have remote interest in. We wait for this “moment” where things happen to click and all is right in the world.

I think this perfectionist line of thought is in direct parallel with our broken view of God and ourselves. If our view of God characterizes him as a God that didn’t fully cover every bit of our brokenness then we will view God as insufficient and therefore will strive to compensate for the rest of our brokenness-we will, of course, be unsuccessful. Likewise, if we view ourselves as even slightly capable of going through this life without the grace of God, we will strive for our own perceived ideas of perfection in our various areas of life-we will, of course, be unsuccessful.

Rather, if we view God as the one that gave us beauty for ashes; if he is indeed the ultimate author of salvation, then we will be depleted of any type of striving and will therefore be compelled to allow God to gift us with his unconditional love-no strings attached. If we view ourselves completely incapable of succeeding of confronting and overcoming the many struggles of life [including our own sin] we will gladly allow Christ to take on our burdens and sin; we will no longer strive for the “perfect moment”.

Simply put, perfectionism and the “perfect moment” do not exist in the kingdom. The kingdom already came in the unsexy form of an infant in a dirty, smelly animal manger. We don’t have to work to see perfection in our lives because Perfection itself came to Earth and paid the ultimate price for our sins.

There was never a “moment” Jesus waited for throughout his time on Earth. The Bible shows that Jesus talked a lot about how the kingdom is already here for he was the coming of Christ. In him was fullness of life, salvation, and eternal life with God. Yet many of the Jews saw Christ and swiped left; they were waiting for the very moment that was happening before their very eyes.

There are no special moments when it comes to following Christ; the time is now. Let’s throw the perfectionism out the window and live a life characterized by brokenness, messiness, and priceless grace.

The Cross of Self-Pleasure

The classic vernacular of Christian sentiment is that Christians, once full given over to God, are now mandated to live for Christ and his perfect and pleasing will rather than one’s own will, which is deemed in the Bible as sinful and self-condemning.

In other words: when we said yes to Christ we said yes to a life surrendered to him. This means, out of joyful obedience, every decision we make or would think about making would be siphoned through a filter that accords itself with the Bible and the commands it lays out. This is everything from “thou shalt not murder” to living a life that is beneficial in preventing others from stumbling as a result of perceiving your life as sin, even though your behavior may not be inherently sinful.

In saying yes to Christ we also say “no” to anything that would dare inhibit an intimate relationship with Christ. Just like a married man would refrain from sex with any other woman apart from his wife so we must abstain from certain things that would inhibit our monotheistic relationship with Christ.

While there are obvious things that would clearly inhibit a relationship with Christ, here is one behavior that challenges millenials in our declaration of faith: Denying ourselves the self-pleasure and taking radical joy in being obedient to Christ.

The incentive for young people is to do as we will and live as we want as long as it falls within the rules. The spectrum is wide from folk that completely disregard the things of God to those that follow Christ too legalistically to the point where they miss the mark on the beautiful exchange of salvation we are offered.

The sin nature in each of us beckons us to pleasure ourselves in many forms. Our social status, possessions, careers often take precedent over an intimate relationship with Christ; the precedence referred to may not even take an explicit, ordinal nature.

Often times the question we ask ourselves when it comes to our behavior regarding Christ is this:

“Is this allowed?”

This question is entirely permissible for it is not inherently a terrible question to ask.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

-Matthew 16:24-25

The beauty of the Gospel is that there is an endless amount of joy, revelation, and perspective that we can gain from reading the Word of God and obeying his commands. Implicitly, this is my interpretation of these two verses: to the degree we will want to save our life, we will lose it; to the degree we want to lose our live, we will gain it.

Each one of us is admittedly on a unique journey; however we all know Christ and the goodness and grace he offers us. Let us seek and follow Christ until he calls us home.

 

Inside Out

A song called “From the Inside Out” came into existence back in 2006 by a band called Hillsong United. What songs such as the Helser’s “No Longer Slaves” or Housefires’ “Good, Good Father” are to us millenials today was “From the Inside Out” to the young twenty somethings of the mid 2000’s. This banner anthem became famous for a few reasons, but here’s a highlighted verse that seemed to ring throughout the church back in those days:

“Let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love you from the inside out”

This song got me thinking today how far we’ve progressed as a church; we’ve progressed in some really great ways and, at the same time, probably have digressed in other ways. I think something our generation is desperately in need of is this prayer Hillsong United turned into a song:

“Let justice and praise
Become my embrace
To love you from the inside out”

In other words: let the things of God become so embedded in my heart, that I would love, obey, and follow God from the inside of my heart to the outer interactions of my daily life.

Nowadays we sure have a lot of solutions for the problems of our church, society, and communities. There seems to be a numerous amount of experts and experiential gurus for any given problem whether it be relationships or something as cerebral as church development.

We get inundated with all this fantastic information, yet our bodies intrinsically fail us. We can only take in so much information.

This information we attempt to receive in the form of sermons, conferences, and gatherings hit the outside of our lives and attempts to penetrate into the inner workings of our hearts, yet if we are all honest, rarely does this ever occur.

For so many of us this has become a frequent experience, especially in our younger days. This phenomenon has become known as the camp high. Some of us never escape this vicious, perpetual cycle that entraps us in a spiritual euphoria only to be bogged down by the worries of life, sin, and brokenness.

“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Psalm 119:11

This psalm speaks powerfully to an issue that millenials, you and I, immensely struggle with. We take good, pure theology from the Word and ultimately allow it to pass from one ear to the other. But if we follow this psalm we protect ourselves from a life of inconsistent volatility, sin, and rebellion. The camp high moves from an emotional euphoric experience to a diligent, brilliant journey of walking with Jesus.

An image that stirs me is two contrasting pictures of fire. In one we have an absolutely immense burning bonfire; this type of fire is raging in nature and the whole world is in awe of its display. While the fire is powerful in nature not only is it borderline uncomfortable to be in its presence, but the fire fades because it cannot be realistically fed. Ultimately, it fizzles and becomes a pile of ash; it’s burnt out.

The second image of fire is a modest sized furnace, similar to what you would find in a 1920’s grandmother’s basement. While it looks small in stature, you open the door and the fire is piercing. It’s not sexy, but the furnace warms the entire house. This type of fire, in furnace form, gathers and invites people in to share it’s warmth; this type of fire is sustainable and brilliant.

The Bible talks a lot about the value diligence and faithfulness bring to the table; Paul exhorted his churches to be consistent with a solid foundation of theology and faith intertwined together.

Often times millenials opt for the fire formerly mentioned; we are passionate folk that will change the world. Rather than wearing my theology on my sleeve I want to bury my theology in my heart so that it would touch every portion of my life.

Perhaps our churches might become more known for what immense faith, diligence, and surrender we carry out on behalf of our benevolent God rather than the critical beliefs of condemnation and legalism we have become so infamous for today.

 

Stay Humble, Stay Ready

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

‘God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

-1 Peter 5:5-8

This passage is Paul writing a letter in 1 Peter and he seems to be addressing the youth of the church in these verses. I think there is something for millenials to take away from these verses. Perhaps the youth of Paul’s day had a similar profile as the ones you and I see today in our classrooms and workplace

Young people are wild; we are vibrant and undoubtedly a source of rejoicing, spontaneity, and brilliant personality for the entire world to see. We are an unbridled fire that seemingly cannot be contained; God absolutely wants to use us in his plan to redeem the Earth and seeing his kingdom come. Who better to use than wild young people that have said “yes” to Jesus at a young age and have an entire life ahead of them to do the will of God?

Yet I think in many ways we are plagued with detrimental characteristics that prevent us from walking in full obedience and surrender to the King himself.

In these verses in 1 Peter, Paul is urging the youth in two important areas of living:

  1. Be humble and ready to submit
  2. Stay alert and ready

When I read these two points Paul is attempting to convey, I am quick to remember my shortcomings in these areas of life. I think of the many times my friends and I have been resistant from asking help from an authority figure (a.k.a. someone older/more experienced); I also think of the times where I have let my guard down in following Christ simply because I was tired or weary from the day’s work.

What would it look like for millenials to walk in utmost humility? What would it look like for millenials to live their lives in a way that was steadfast and diligent, yet still retaining the benchmark elements of being energetic, wild, and brilliant?

You Might Be Pretty Selfish

It’s nearly every man and woman’s desire to be known and to know others. In fact, we spend the first decades of our life developing ourselves and seeking to make lifelong friendships all to better to know others and ourselves.

This, of course, is a natural desire. God made us to be known and to know others intimately because he is the same with us. He loved and knew us when we were still in our mother’s womb. We can intimately be known and know others because Christ has given us the capacity for a love that has no fear.

However, like all good things God has done, man continually finds a way to distort and pervert this natural desire.

In our society today we have seen the idea of self-love and self-help become increasingly popular. As Christians we should recognize that true love comes from Christ because we were so disabled in our sin that Christ had to make a way for us to walk in godly relationship with him and others. We needed Christ so desperately that he had to come down from heaven and give his life as a perfect sacrifice just so that we could be restored in perfect relationship with Jesus.

What often becomes the temptation is to displace Christ in the arena of love and, instead, place ourselves as the sole author and source of love. We, instead, ignore our depravity and say we are sufficient as is; we attempt to overlook this depravity by loving others when really it is us attempting to love ourselves in selfish ambition.

Millenials this is a trap we need to be wary of. How many times, in our heart of hearts, do we hope others will love us because we have loved them first?

The reality is that, without Christ, our love is a mere extension of selfishness. We will not know true, sacrificial love until we acknowledge that Christ is the one who loved us sacrificially first.

There have been many times in my life where I have sat down with someone for lunch and experienced this type of trap. Both us have a ton of things to say about “holy” topics such as church and organizations and really our only goal is to get our say in so that we can somehow validate our ideas. Have you ever witnessed a self-validating conversation? Both sides use the word “I” frequently and the responses to those statements are simply a caveat into another conversation that continues to over validate each individual. The conversation, though full of solidarity, is anything but. The conversation is actually an exchange of moments of selfish validation and not for the edification of the person sitting across the table.

When we give our lives to Christ we say goodbye to every need for validation and get every bit of our worth from the cross and what Christ has done for us. When we give our “yes” to Christ, we no longer have to worry about being seen by others and the positive or negative opinions they might have of us.

 

 

 

Life Might Be Too Good

Many of us are familiar with the story of the rich young ruler. The rich young ruler asks Jesus the requirements he must fulfill to merit eternal life. The ruler has followed the commands of God and, on paper, looks like he’s on his way to heaven. Jesus proceeds to throw a curveball knowing that the ruler could not complete the thing he was about to suggest to him. Jesus tells this rich man to sell everything he has. (Matthew 19:16-30)

This got me thinking in a few areas of following Jesus.

  1. Jesus sure seems to have a lot of requirements for following him; Jesus’ calls to action for non-believers was anywhere from selling possessions to social justice to being born again
  2. If the rich young ruler really was doing everything right, why was selling everything a deal breaker in inheriting eternal life?

God wants our hearts; he wants everything in our lives to be surrendered and submitted to him in obedience. The rich young ruler walked away saddened because he was not willing to give up what was most precious to him for the sake of following Christ.

If this is our line of thought I can only begin to imagine the amount of surrender and submitted obedience that has yet to take place with so many of us millenials.

Have we really given everything to God? The answer is no. While on Earth we will never be able to be fully obedient or surrendered. But I think in this we have many resources that will allow us to be as obedient and surrendered as possible.

Some of us have a life that is, by most standards, pretty good (comfort, safe, etc). Some of us currently are living a life that, by most standards, bad (despair, suffering, etc). If you are living in suffering, then you know that it seems to compel you to commit yourself more to spiritual practices that would connect you with God our Father. In suffering we are humbled, vulnerable, and desperate for a solution that only God could fill. If you are living a comfortable life then you know that suffering is often hard to come by; contentment sets in and we are left engorged with the pleasures of life only to fill what little space of our stomachs with spiritual bread crumbs. Life becomes almost too easy for our own good.

The ruler had everything and he did what was right. He followed every command that would merit him a believer in Christ; yet Christ knew that the young ruler’s heart was still held captive by the riches of the world. Christ also knew that the self-inflicted pain of selling possessions was going to fully sober the young ruler’s heart to the reality of the Gospel.

Two questions remain:

  1. What are the “possessions” that we need to go off and sell?
  2. What are the things we must inflict upon ourselves that will allow us to better comprehend the goodness of the gospel?

Slaves to Righteousness

You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

-Romans 6:18

This statement is paradoxical in nature and, at first glance, does not seem to offer the redeeming and sanctifying freedom that we hear so much about in most church pulpits. The idea of being a slave in general is resentful, undesirable, and unpleasant. How can being a slave to anything possibly be something that leads to redemption, much less life?

Specifically in this passage Paul delves deep into the inner workings of sin and its implications for mankind. We find, as we read deeper into the text, that we are completely helpless in our confrontation with sin, thus deemed as slaves to sin [formerly]. As Paul continues he offers the idea of grace, sanctification, and the goodness of God. Ultimately this leads to freedom from sin and a life in Christ; however, this jump is not immediately made by Paul.

If anything, our freedom is conditional and premised upon whether or not we offer ourselves to obedience to the idea of grace; this can by synonymously tied to obeying the commands of God and adhering to the implications of the crucifixion.

Most of us know nothing about being a slave, but I think there are a few things we can assume:

  1. It’s not something we’d willingly want to do; even if we did want to be a slave we certainly would not want to do it all the time.
  2. If slaves did not want to do a certain task, they did not necessarily have the autonomy to do so. They had to choose to do these certain tasks for risk of being beaten, whipped, or killed.

Millenials this is for us. We look at salvation and immediately think freedom. It is not erroneous to infer this; however, it would greatly behoove us to reconsider our methods of walking out this freedom. If we adhere to Paul’s words we must offer ourselves to obedience and the workings of the cross; this implies that we offer ourselves to God even when we have little or no desire to do so.

Obedience, brethren, can be a scary and undesirable place. At times it’s not pretty and it’s not glamorous. The beauty of obedience is that it is consistent, diligent, and persevering. It is a reflection of the choice we made when we first committed ourselves to Christ. Much like how marriage operates today in terms of lifelong, persistent commitment is the same sentiment our relationship with Christ ought to be.

Obedience doesn’t necessarily make the Instagram shots or make for a great Snap Story, but it makes for an epic lifetime.

Lonely, but Press In

In our millenial generation the reality of loneliness often rears its ugly head. This in turn is perceived as suffering and discomfort. We are a social generation. We love to be with people, feel cherished, and be in community with like-minded folk. As we seek to live in such territory, pains such as isolation and loneliness become antithetical discomforts to our pursuit for peace through friendship, community, and solidarity.

As followers of Jesus many of know the truths that tie us to the Gospel; many of us know that God himself is with us and for us, not against us.

Often times, however, we do not allow the reality of God’s wonderful presence permeate our lives; we do not allow the reality of his goodness and lovingkindness to take root in our hearts and minds.

“Deep river, my home is over Jordan,
Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into camp-ground.
Deep river, my home is over Jordan
Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into camp-ground.
Oh, don’t you want to go to that gospel feast,
That promised land where all is peace?
Oh deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into camp-ground.”

This song, Deep River, was a song sung by black slaves as they sought solace amidst cruel and terrible white masters. In the eyes of slaves, their suffering at the hands of their masters resembled the pains and trials of the Israelites who spent forty long and painful years wandering in the desert.

This song, also known as a negro spiritual, was a call to hope for something their eyes could not see, but a reality their hearts believed in after their time on Earth-it is a reality in absent of pain and suffering, a place of perfect worship for the Father, and full of rejoicing.

None of us could possibly imagine what it is like to be a slave; the extent of our suffering, however small in comparison, brings to light that this world is not all there is for us. The suffering we see in the media, the pain I experience in sin and being imperfect, and the reality of the wage of sin in others is plenty enough to convince me that heaven is what I long for.

In fact, heaven is no longer a simple desire or wish; it is a desperate plea in which I cry Maranatha (Come, Lord Jesus).

Brethren, in our times of trouble let us first turn to the word of God. In it we will find that its comforts are more fulfilling, convincing, and full of hope than any other comfort the world could offer. Let us turn our gaze to the Father who is perfect in nature and interceding on our behalf.