This Mother's Day

Mother’s Day is not in Scripture but rather was created by Anna Jarvis in 1908 and it was recognized as a holiday in 1914 in the United States. Long before 1914, Moses commanded the people of God are to “honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12).

This Sunday is Mother’s Day and I plan to be honoring my wonderful mother, Bevy, and my beautiful bride, Jana, of 13 years who partners with me in the raising of our two precious children. I have tremendous respect for the role that mothers occupy in this world. As a kid, I didn’t know what I had being raised by Bevy. Now, as a 37 year old, I can see that I was graced in more ways than I’ll ever know. With Jana, that blessing is multiplied again. Grace upon grace. 

"An excellent wife, who can find?” asked King Lemuel (Prov. 31:10). An excellent woman, an excellent friend, and an excellent mother really is a treasure. 

As a pastor preparing to preach on this special day, I’m very conscious of the fact that not everyone shares in the same joy that I have when thinking about Mother’s Day. There are all kinds of women in our church here in Seattle that feel very differently about this day and to roll past my sisters without stopping to listen, to think, and to pray for them betrays the very fact that they’re my family in Christ. 

I want to encourage my brothers and sisters and others who, like me, will be ministering on Sunday to stay mindful that not everyone is jumping up and down to celebrate. This doesn’t mean that we don’t celebrate. It simply means that in our celebrating, we’re also thinking of one another and that is a beautiful expression of the gospel.

Some women:

  • have never married and are without children, 

  • are single mothers,

  • have gone through miscarriage,

  • are widowed,

  • are infertile, 

  • had terrible childhoods and no longer speak to their mothers. 

 

For some ladies, Mother’s Day is a trigger that digs up deep pain and our God has a close eye on each moment, memory, and heartache (Psalm 56:8; 1 Peter 5:7). The Holy Spirit is the Great Comforter (John 14:26) and would have us "comfort one another” (2 Cor. 1:4). Paul tells us that we are to “Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). 

 

As we head toward Sunday, may we keep our eyes on Jesus and seek to bless one another... be it with flowers or tears. 

 

 

 

Why and How to Go to Church

 

 

A post on Why and How to Go to Church may seem like a silly thing to write on. However, after serving as a pastor over the last ten years, I’ve seen that it’s the simple things that matter. Just as Jesus emphasized the power of faith even as small as a mustard seed (Matt. 17:20, Luke 17:6), a simple thing like a lack of church participation will grow into stagnated disciples. Stagnated disciples result in churches being less effective in their communities, because the focus is skewed away from the glory of God and our enjoyment of Him.  

 

So, here’s a few things on going to church.

 

Actually Go to Church

I know the word “commitment” scares us. However, we are all committed to certain people, places, and practices. Who and what you’re committed to reveals your priorities and values. When it comes to worshiping with the whole church on Sundays, those who faithfully, regularly, and consistently participate do so because they’ve likely met Jesus. 

The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says that Christians are to “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Interestingly, he points out that some folks in the early church fell into the “habit” of the neglecting corporate worship. One thing we know about habits is that they are hard to break. What's even more frustrating about unwanted habits is that we know that they became habits by willful, intentional repetition. The Scriptures clearly admonish us not to fall into the habit of skipping out on gathering with the family of God but to make it a regular part of life. 

 

Go to Church with a Purpose

Notice that part of coming together is to “encourage” each other because there’s coming a “Day” that will end all Sundays. Christians worship a God that rose from the dead on a Sunday, and the day that he returns will be the last “Day” as we know it. Can you imagine if this past Sunday was the last Sunday you’d ever gather with the church? Some may roll their eyes at this question, but it’s a real question because of a real promise. You see, every Sunday when we leave corporate worship we all head back to a tough world with real pain, real sin, real questions, real frustrations, real doubts, and so on. We need all the encouragement we can get from one another. So, one of the major reasons for going to church is not for ourselves only but to build one another up, to point out the wins, to pray for each other, and to remind one another of our God who loves us, is with us, and will return for us.

 

Go to Grow

As followers of Jesus, we go in order that we might grow. Paul reminds us that we are to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Rom. 12:1). This is done as we gather with other brothers and sisters around the preached Word of God and the sacraments of communion and baptism. We grow as we pray with and for one another. We grow as we confess our sins. We grow as we worship. We go to church because we cannot grow alone. There’s a common statement here in Seattle (and in many other places) that is utterly foreign to the Bible, and indeed to many persecuted Christians all over the globe today, that says “I can grow in my faith without being committed to the church.” There’s so many things wrong with this kind of thinking, but for the sake of brevity—that is simply self-righteousness at its peak. As you thumb through the pages of the New Testament, you won’t find any lone rangers seeking God devoid of the church. God himself dwells in community (i.e. Trinity), he created human beings to be in community, and he’s rigged the whole Christian faith to be one in which we are interdependent upon each other. Yes, God meets with us privately in Bible study and prayer, but this is not to come at the expense of the “Body of Christ.” Paul tells us that the church is like a human body in which every part is needed. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don't need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don't need you!’” (1 Cor. 12:21). 

 

Is church frustrating sometimes? Yes. That’s because it is a gathering of sinners in need of the grace of God. Remember coming in from recess in school when everyone’s dirty, sweaty, thirsty, and dying to get to the water fountains? There’s pushing, shoving, name calling, and waiting our turn that tests our limits. Church can feel like that. Everyone is coming for a drink of water and we can be quite selfish about getting our needs met first and foremost. However, God says that we’re family and that we need each other and should put others interests ahead of our own (Phil. 2:3).

 

3 Practical Things on Going to Church:

 

1) Prepare on Saturday

Many simply pop up out of bed on Sunday morning and scramble to get to church without being too late. However, Jesus gave his life for your soul. So, think it through. Go to bed earlier. Pray with your family for a moment the night before about getting good rest and that God would meet you on Sunday morning. Pray for the Sunday School teachers and Kids workers, pray for your pastor, and pray for your time in what I grew up calling “Big Church,” aka the “Worship Service.” 

 

2) Be on Time

Every day of the week we are expected to be on time to jobs, appointments, practices, and so on. Rather than scramble in while the first song is going, be there a few minutes early to get kids checked in, settle in, and talk to a few folks. 

 

3) Stay for the Whole Service

This may sound silly, but it’s necessary. Here at Redemption, we put some serious time and energy into our liturgy, which literally means “work of the people.” We believe that the entire worship service is vital for our growth as a church family. Thus, to leave right after the sermon and skip communion, giving, prayer, worship through song, and the benediction indicates that our consumerism has crept in and is in need of repentance. So slow down, and make some space, because the God who loves you wants to commune with you.

 

***My friend Virginia Spotts edited this post for me. Hit her up! 

 

Jesus Remembered

Can you be saved from your sins and receive eternal life on your deathbed? Does it even count?

We sometimes hear about “deathbed conversions,” in which someone repents of sins and confesses faith in Christ in the final moments before their death. Some might question whether such a “last-minute” conversion is legitimate being that the person has supposedly lived a life of sin and is now asking for a “free pass” to heaven. Does God actually save people like that? 

What happens when someone repents of their sins on their deathbed, and they don’t get to live out a life of repentance, take communion, be baptized, join the church, or live a life for the glory of God? What happens to that person?

THE DYING THIEF

To find an answer to these questions, we can look at the example of “the guy on the cross” next to Jesus on Good Friday.

When Jesus was crucified, there were two other men crucified alongside of him (Matt. 27:28Mark 15:27-2832Luke 23:33John 19:18). Luke’s Gospel is the only one that tells us about one criminal crying out for salvation:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And [Jesus] said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’”
— Luke 23:39-43

In his last dying moment, Jesus promised the one repentant thief that he would be with him that day "in paradise."

How do we know this man underwent a real change, a real conversion, and was given a new heart there on his cross? We can actually look at what Luke records him saying there next to Jesus as evidence that on his cross, Jesus gave the dying thief a new heart.

Let's look at what the thief says in his rebuke of the other criminal scoffing at Jesus:

“DO YOU NOT FEAR GOD?”

Most people in their dying moments are reflecting on their life, relationships and this is accompanied oftentimes by thoughts of fear and God. This man had is in utter agony experiencing death at the hands of men. However, he was not merely looking at men, he sensed the presence of God in Jesus. 

"OUR DUE REWARD" 

In his rebuke of the mocking thief, the now redeemed man confesses that their punishment is "just." They had broken the law and this was their punishment. He was aware of his moral failure. He knew his own sin. 

“THIS MAN HAS DONE NOTHING WRONG”

We also observe that the man testified from his cross that Jesus did not deserve a criminal’s death, for he had done "nothing wrong!" In making this statement, the criminal was acknowledging that Jesus was “without sin” (Heb. 4:15) and that his punishment was unjust. 

 

“JESUS, REMEMBER ME WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.”

He acknowledged that Jesus is King of God's Kingdom, but he took it a bit further and made a request of Jesus. He asked Jesus to "remember him." The people of God often use the word "remember" throughout the Old Testament in prayer to God. Interestingly, when it the word "remember" is used it is always in the context of petitioning the God that they know will act on their behalf! The man was asking Jesus for more than to think of him–he's asking for Jesus to act on his behalf! That's exactly what Jesus is accomplishing on his cross! Acting on behalf of his people – bearing our sins and taking them away.  

So, can someone be saved from their sin and be given eternal life on their deathbed? Yes! 

The grace of God is so vast and amazing that if the thief on the cross and the Apostle Paul were to ever bump into each other in heaven, and the question they were asked, "What did you do to get in here?" Both could reply, "Nothing. Jesus remembered me. Jesus acted on my behalf." That, my friends, is grace and grace alone.

 

Installed as a Pastor at Redemption Church

This past Sunday I was installed officially as Pastor of Preaching and Theology here at Redemption Church in Seattle, Washington. Jana and I are overwhelmed with joy over where God has placed us and what he has called and empowered us to do by his Holy Spirit and for his glory. 

I became a Christian at the age of 15 and within the first 90 days of knowing Jesus I was convinced that I was called by God to serve him vocationally for as long as he would have me do so. It’s hard to believe that was 21 years ago! Over the last two decades I’ve gotten married --and happily staying that way! 😃, started a family, finished almost 3 post-graduate degrees, planted a church, written a couple of books, served as a pastor in other places, and most certainly, I’ve partied the whole time.

There’s a few of the highlights but there’s a bunch of lowlights, too. My story, like yours, isn’t flawless and I’ve had the wind knocked out of me in some ways that has, by grace, shaped me into the man I am today. 

To be installed as a pastor is a tremendous honor and there’s a whole lot of things I could say about the office of pastor and I plan to do so in the future. For now, I just wanted to say that I’m humbled and more thankful, rested, and excited about Jesus and his work here at Redemption Church than ever before! Serving alongside Pastors Drew and Ben is a lot of fun. Seriously. And we’re eager to see God continue to do great things amongst as we focus on Enjoying Jesus, Loving People, and Making Disciples. 

Jana and I so deeply appreciate the people in our lives who have prayed for us, encouraged us, and stood by us along the way. You are the ones who make a sunny winter Tuesday afternoon in Seattle really special. 

Much love, everyone! 

 

Psalms: Orientation, Disorientation, & Reorientation

The largest book in the Bible is the Psalms. You would be hard–pressed to find a book throughout the Scriptures that speaks more clearly to what it means to be a human being than the Psalms. This worship book is packed with an incredible breadth of emotion that oftentimes comes across as shocking to those who think that prayer and worship is all roses. The writers of the Psalms face real circumstances in the real world that try our patience, our stamina, and our faith; they speak out of their own lived experiences in a Godward direction. The people of God have benefitted for thousands of years because of the raw, vulnerable places to which the writers give poetic expression. 

 

 

A Book of Books

The Psalms are broken in major sections, or books. The section breaks are: 

  • Book I Ps. 1-41,
  • Book II Ps. 42-72,
  • Book III Ps. 73-89,
  • Book IV Ps. 90-106,
  • Book V Ps. 107-150)

 

Authors and Timeline

Contrary to what many assume, David is not the only person to pen the Psalms. Rather, there are many other writers that contribute such as Moses, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Solomon, Ethan, and Heman. Additionally, there are many who bear no author’s name whatsoever. It would do us well to be reminded that the Psalms are not the result of one generation of writers but many, many generations went into this enormous "project." Scholars tell us that it took approximately 1,000 years for the Psalms to be penned throughout Old Testament history.

 

Genres

Just like in your local music store (Sonic Boom!), the music is arranged by genre, so also the Psalms have seven genres into which they fall.

They are psalms of

  • lament
  • thanksgiving
  • enthronement
  • pilgrimage
  • royal kingship
  • imprecatory cursing
  • wisdom

Old Testament scholar and theologian, Walter Bruggemann points out something that I’ve found very helpful over the years and now it makes more sense than ever. He helps readers see that the Psalms basically depict three experiences we face as human beings in relation to God and he describes them as psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.*

 

Orientation

Psalms of orientation speak of things like creation, wisdom, and the favor of God. An example would be Psalm 8 -

I look up at Your heavens, shaped by your fingers, at the moon and the stars you set firm – what are human beings that you spare a thought for them, or the child of Adam that you care for him?
— (v.3-4, New Jerusalem Bible)

Here we see David totally oriented toward God. He's thinking clearly and full of worship and wonder at God in light of his creation. He not only knows who the maker is, he knows the maker himself... and his maker knows him, too. He is at peace in this beautiful world knowing that he’s not just part of creation in general, but that he uniquely belongs to God. He’s humbled in light of this reality and worship pours from his mouth. David is genuinely impressed with God.  Have you ever felt that way? Where were you? On a retreat? In your living room? Last Christmas? Yesterday? 5 years ago? How did you feel then? Here in Seattle, I run the Discovery Park loop trail a few times a week (weather permitting). Every time I come out of the forrest and get to the bluff, I'm stunned, totally in awe of what God has created and usually say something to God about what he's made.

"The sand is fantastic!"

"The mountains are peeking out behind the clouds."

"The black sail boat on the choppy slate-grey water is just perfect!" 

That's orientation. 

 

Disorientation

Unfortunately, remaining oriented toward God is not our only experience as Christians. (Oh, one day it will be!) Rather, not unlike the saints of the Old Testament, we go through sometimes extended seasons of feeling totally disoriented in our relationship with God, ourselves, and the world around us.

During times of disorientation we get a better grip on what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. To believe in spite of not feeling or experiencing the powerful presence of God gives the word “faith” a bit more grit, doesn't it? It is in the seasons of disorientation that life just doesn’t make sense. Things have fallen apart at work or at home or in a relationship and we're left in a thick fog, full of questions and doubts.

Psalms of disorientation are both corporately and privately sung in the Old Testament. These honest words of anger, hurt,, depression, despair, and deep questioning of God permeate the psalm. An example would be Psalm 13 – 

How long, Yahweh, will you forget me? For ever? How long will you turn your face away from me?
— (v.1, New Jerusalem Bible)

Feeling disoriented can go on for hours, days, weeks, months, and for some, even years.


Before moving on to reorientation, let’s sit in this fog one more second. What has caused disorientation in your life? When did God stop making sense to you? When did your faith start to wither up? Disorientation can happen in valleys or on mountaintops. Did tragedy strike your life and thus faith went through a whirlwind? Or did you succeed at something and forgot all about God? Are you expressing yourself to God in heartfelt, honest prayer? Or are you tempted to smother your true feelings because you think God is disinterested or annoyed by your complaints? Did you buy into that “fake it until you make it” nonsense that flies in pithy evangelicalism? Does anybody know that you’re feeling disoriented? How are you coping with it? Take it to somebody today who you love and can be trusted that will listen patiently and pray diligently for your soul. 

 

Reorientation

Thanks be to God that for the believer, disorientation is never the final word! Rather, over and over again we see Psalms of reorientation. These are where the psalmist has experienced God as his Rescuer! Listen to the words of Psalm 73 –

My heart grew embittered, my affections dried up, I was stupid and uncomprehending, a clumsy animal in your presence. Even so, I stayed in your presence, you grasped me by the right hand; you will guide me with advice, and will draw me in the wake of your glory. Who else is there for me in heaven? And, with you, I lack nothing on earth.
— (v.21-25, New Jerusalem Bible)

 

Can you feel the joy in his soul as he emerges from the fog and has clarity again? His heart and mind are filled with praise and gratitude that God came through! God made a way! Just when things got their darkest, God’s grace burst onto the scene in brilliant light! Have you ever been there? What was that experience like for you? Who did you celebrate with? What kind of images come to mind? What kind of language would you use to describe your experience of being reoriented?

 

Perhaps today you feel oriented around who God is and what he has done.  Maybe today is another day for you to walk in faith feeling fairly disoriented. Today might be the day that God reorients your perspective and heart around his ferocious love for you.  Whatever the case may be perhaps a look into the Psalms may be just what you need.

 

 

*Bruggemann, Spirituality of the Psalms (Facets)

 

Top 9 Books | 2016

Loads of pastors post their favorite reads that they engaged throughout the year. So here’s my top 9. 

Jesus Isn't Superman

Here’s a short excerpt from my newest book, The New Believers Guide to the Christian Life.

 

In the Old Testament, God's people understood him to be their Savior and Lord. The same is true in the New Testament. Jesus's dominion expands far beyond the borders of Israel, As he is declared to be the Lord and Savior of the entire world! To titles Savior and Lord are quite provocative. One of the titles test to ruffle our feathers mildly and the other feels like we're getting our feathers plucked out! Some come out when they hear that they need a Savior are immediately offended because they believe they are sufficient in and of themselves. Others actually love the idea of a Savior! In fact, this is why we have superheroes. And the typical Superman moment, a building is on fire and the man of steel–with perfect teeth–fly then, rescues the woman in distress, and gets her to the ground safe and sound. The savior is praised and flies off to save someone else; the woman goes home, back to life as usual, thankful for Superman.

But Jesus isn't Superman. In Christianity, Jesus not only saves us, but remains with us and takes on the role of being our Lord for every moment of every day starting with the present moment and extending throughout all eternity. Lordship implies that someone else is in charge, leading, and in total control.

 

 

What is the New Believer's Guide?

Tomorrow, The New Believer’s Guide to the Christian Life: What Will Change, What Won’t, and Why It Matters releases! I thought I’d give a quick blog about it. 

The New Believer’s Guide is a book designed to help Christians set out strong on their journey with God. For the first several years of my faith, I personally struggled with having realistic expectations about what the Christian life is and isn’t. There were times when I thought “Now that I’ve trusted Jesus, everything is going to be smooth sailing, blue skies, and all roses.” Then real life happened and that theological nonsense had to go.

 

But then there was a season of life that I believed that if I wasn’t suffering immensely then somehow I must getting something wrong. But who actually wants to suffer? Not me. In The New Believers Guide, I want to help believers understand what the Christian life is actually like.

 

More than that, one major emphasis of the book aims to drive home the relational aspect of our faith. That is to say boldly to the reader – "Your salvation isn't to be understood in terms of economics or contracts. God is not our Divine Employer! He's our Abba, Father! He's out to adopt children, not pick up hired hands. He takes the route of grace. He's the one who initiates, sustains, and empowers us to live the Christian life!" So one thing I try to highlight is what it means to be one of God's beloved children in whom he delights and all that fundamental reality to shape the entire Christian life. 

 

Lastly, I wanted to help answer some common questions that so many believers have. What is baptism and communion and why do we do those things? Why do we give money to the church? Who is a pastor and what does he or she do? What does it mean to be a church member? What is this whole "community" thing all about? Why be on a mission? I try to take time and answer each one of these questions in a way that is easily understandable.

 

I'm hoping that this will be a book that Christians who have been in the faith for some time could read along side a new believer and grow together. 

 

I'm forever grateful for the opportunity to write this and pray it blesses many. 

 

 

 

 

 

The Peach Jolly Rancher

Do you remember your first Jolly Rancher? The candy that could make your day or break your teeth is one that I’ll never forget. It's funny being 36 years old and a father of two that somehow lately memories that have been tucked away in the outskirts of my mind are being dislodged. Some are painful, some are beautiful, and some are just plain fun. This one’s fun. 

 

I remember being about 9 years old in Panama City Beach on our family vacation. We loaded up in my mom’s Aero Star minivan and made the 6 or so hour trek down to what some call the “Redneck Riviera.” Maybe I was too young to notice or care for the snarky comment about where we went on vacation. My mom and brother were on the beach and my dad and I were to go grab something from our condo. My dad had the 80s vibe down. He had his short green swimming trunks, a white v-neck, and his flip flops. He also donned his aviators with the kind of swag that American Apparel today dreams about. We made our way to the lobby and boarded the elevator. It smelled of bleach and there was sand under our sandals. You know that gritty elevator feel? It’s great.

 

We got to the seventh floor, took a right, and three doors down was the palace of the Early’s for the week. My dad reached into his right pocket and pulled out the key and opened the door. The air conditioning rushed out upon us like the wind of Pentecost. I looked in his hand and he also had two peach Jolly Ranchers. I’d never seen one. I don’t know how on earth I’d lived nine whole years and never actually seen one of these marvelous little creations. My dad handed one to me and said, “Here. Eat this. Don’t tell your mother. You’ll love it! It’s peach. You’re from Georgia... so you know…”   I took it, opened it up, and popped it in my mouth. He said, “Don’t bite down! It’ll break your teeth!” I listened. For maybe the first time in my life, I listened to my dad and I’m glad I did. 

 

To this day that was the best Jolly Rancher I ever had. I haven’t had one since I was in high school, I guess. And I did try grape (or whatever that flavor actually is!), and watermelon, and all the others. But the peach one… in the doorway… with the ghost of Pentecost blowing… and my reflection in his aviators…. peach is the best Jolly Rancher. 

A Prayer for the First Day of School

Father, in your great grace you have provided me/us with the blessing of having our son/daughter, __________. You’ve shown unspeakable kindness to me/us through him/her. From my heart, I thank you for his/her life.

Today not just another day. It is a big day. In fact, it’s really our only day. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow isn’t promised. And on this day, this first day of school, I/we stop to think of and speak to you.

 

Thank you for the marvelous gift of education and educators. Would you bless, guide, and encourage Principal _______ and he/she leads [school] _________.

 

Would you give [teacher] Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. ________ the grace, strength, perseverance, and creativity that they need as they carry out their profession.

Please help our son/daughter to learn, to grow, to listen, and become whole human beings. 

Bless those working in administration, food service, janitorial services, transportation, and safety. 

Would you surround our son/daughter with friends that will speak life and encouragement into our child. Please help our son/daughter to do the same. 

 

Through Christ Jesus our Lord,

 

Amen.

 

 

 

Jesus: Friend of Sinners & Saints (4/4)

This is Mikey (Timothy Michael Law). Through thick and thin we are brothers to the very end.

This is Mikey (Timothy Michael Law). Through thick and thin we are brothers to the very end.

 

In rounding out our series this week on Friendship its only appropriate that we look to our Lord Jesus and the friends he kept and keeps. 

 

JESUS: FRIEND OF SINNERS

In two places in the gospels (Matt. 11:19 and Luke 11:34) we read that Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” Jesus introduced an upside down Kingdom and part of the upside down-ness is the fact that he befriended the last in line, the least of these, the not-good-enoughs, the throw-aways… the sinners. Of course, as God incarnate, he didnt have any options. If here were to befriend anyone, that person would be a sinner. And yet, when the gospels use the word sinner theyre communicating something more than a common blanket statement lumping the whole human race under the rubric of sinner. In the very religious society that Jesus found himself apart of there were the insiders and outsiders, the clean and unclean, the righteous and the sinners.

 

Keeping company with sinners said more about him than their sins. The religious folks took offense to the fact that this so-called Messiah would dare blur the lines between what is and isnt clean. You see, where Jesus came from, both the food you ate and the friends you had must be kosher. 

Calling Jesus a "friend of sinners" was intended to ruin his reputation. It was a slur used to demean his character in the eyes of others. However, Jesus cared more about the those who were clearly far from God than what the religious people thought of him. Being a "friend of sinners" wasn't something he hid or was embarrassed about. He came to seek and save the lost. And friendship is one way he went about doing just that.

 

Christian, are you a friend of sinners? And I don’t mean like are you a friend of unbelievers simply for the sake of trying to convert them. 

 

I mean, can you see another image bearer of God and not turn them into a project? I’m afraid that until we reach that place, we aren’t in a place of authentic friendship. You see, we don't use the medium friendship merely for the sake of converting the lost. We pour out our lives for the glory of God! That's an entirely different paradigm! Of course we share the gospel and dont hide our faith! Of course we want people to meet Jesus and experience the grace of God! Yes! But hear me  it is easy to buy into a a lopsided evangelicalism that is more concerned with numbers than love. More concerned with programs than actual broken lives. More concerned with being ‘right’ than being real. 

 

Please hear me I’m not downplaying evangelism. Im saying that true evangelism, true Christ-centered conversations and conversions bloom brighter in the soil of authentic friendship than anywhere else.

 

But heres the deal Jesus was and is way more than merely a friend of sinners.

 

JESUS: FRIEND OF SAINTS

Jesus also had his close, inner three disciples: Peter, James, and John whom he invited to pray with. You see, Jesus is the closest friend of the Church. In fact, Jesus is the eternal friend of saints.

 

Jesus transforms sinners into saints and he did so through entering our mess, taking our sins, brokenness, and failures upon himself.

On the night of his betrayal Jesus said, “there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends and that is exactly what he did. 

In his death we see Jesus lose the closeness and intimacy with the Father that he had enjoyed from eternity past. The nearness and friendly communion hed always known with the Father was cut off and he was left alone.

 

You see, Jesus was pushed out so that we could be brought in.

 

Jesus was put to death that we could have life.

 

Jesus went into the darkest place of saying My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? So that we can pray, My God, My God, you have never left me! 

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is not so concerned with conversions that he neglects growing saints deeply in discipleship. Jesus is not so concerned with the depth of growth in discipleship that he proves to be dispassionate about conversions.

At the end of the day, if we’re only a friend of sinners theres a problem. And if we're only a friend of saints, there’s a problem. If we really walk with Jesus, he will lead us to the grimmest of places. And if we walk with Jesus, he’ll lead us to the holiest place – the very presence of God. 

 

Im praying for us here at Redemption Church that God will call us deeper into these realities afforded to us in the gospel and that we may experience closer communion with God, deeper relationships in the church, and authentic friendships here in the city of Seattle where so many desperately need to know that they are loved, they matter, have dignity, value, and respect. 

 

 

 

Three Keys to Authentic Friendship (3/4)

This is my Papa Walt. I'll probably write a book about him one day. 

This is my Papa Walt. I'll probably write a book about him one day. 

 

Below are just three things that the Proverbs has to say about friendships

 

Love is the Ground

 

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

– Prov. 17:17

 

When Solomon speaks of friendship, he does not speak in terms of economics, contracts, or score-keeping. He doesn’t think of competition or nit-picking. He uses the language of love.

 

This is so counter-intuitive in a world that uses one another in order to get something. To have someone in your life that doesn’t want to use you but is there simply to love you is truly invaluable.

 

Catch that! Friends don’t define one another by their “usefulness.” Friends understand one another by their availability, depth of trust, and lovingkindness. That is, real friendship is not a tool used as a means to an end. The relationship itself is the end!

 

Relationally In-Tune

But for love to be expressed and felt between friends there are many things that have to be in play. One massive piece that keeps relationships in-tact is that both parties are relationally in-tune. Look at what Solomon has to say: 

 

Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda.

– Prov. 25:20

 

To be relationally in-tune is part of the real work of friendship. Your real friend knows you and knows what you really need in the moment. They how to listen to you, weep with you, and feel what you feel. Theyre not interested in just trying to cheer you up with a happy song so as to avoid the awkwardness that comes with sadness.  

 

We’ve all been there in the moment when someone is made so uncomfortable by our own pain that they can’t help but try to cheer us up or downplay our pain by trying to give offer a form of false comfort. “Well, lets just go play ball or get a beer.” Or even worse, give you some goofy theology that trivializes suffering and says “Let go and let God.” 

 

Your friend is the person who can’t fathom rejoicing when you’re mourning. 

They can’t party when you’re crying.

They can’t laugh when you’re racked in anxiety.

Your heartache is something that keeps THEM up at night, too. Your pain becomes their pain. Your friend absolutely cannot and will not will not keep a safe distance from the messiness of your life. They enter into it lovingly and whole-heartedly. 

 

A happy song sung to a sad heart does not heal; it compounds the fracture.

 

Tells You What You Need to Hear

Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

– Prov. 27:6

 

Your friend is not only the person who is there for you in the gutter. Theyre also the one who is willing to say true things to you things you dont want to hear things that they dont particularly want to say because of the fact that wounds accompany the words. Like Jesus, your friend gives you grace and truth. 

 

Your friend will go much further than surface level and will and run the risk of wounding you because the wounds will lead to healing. 

They’ll help break up the hard ground so that the seeds can grow. Theyll help cut down the branches so that light can get through. They really care about your well-being and maturity.

That’s because your friend loves you. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friendship: Escaping the Squirrel Cage (2/4)

My g, LBC II and I rocking our Darth Vader aprons. 

My g, LBC II and I rocking our Darth Vader aprons. 

Finding and maintaining healthy friendships really isn’t on the priority list for most Americans. Getting an education, a job, a home, and so on are the essentials while meaningful friendships (the ones that progress beyond happy hour) are quite rare. Far too often the friendships that we read about in books and watch in gut-wrenching nostalgic cinema are left studied from a distance in novels and scripts. The reality is that we’d rather not get our hands and lives dirty with tragedies, valleys, and tears that accompany real friendship.  

 

In March 2015, Time Magazine wrote an article entitled “You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?” Here’s an excerpt:

 

"According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades. “Zero” is also the most common response when people are asked how many confidants they have, the GSS data show. And adult men seem to be especially bad at keeping and cultivating friendships." 

 

We are designed by our God who dwells in perfect community as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and thus, because we are in his image, we can’t afford to go through life isolated. In fact, one of the greatest consequences of sin is that it drives us to places of loneliness, hiding, and withholding from others. And social media offers little to nothing when it it comes to real flesh and blood friendship. While having the appearance of friendliness, we deny it’s power. 

 

How Friendship is Born: Interests and Burdens

Many of you are probably familiar with the name C.S. Lewis and have likely read or will read one of his books along the way. As an Irishman who moved to England and had a profound conversion to following Christ he became a very influential Christian writer and thinker. In one of his books, “The Four Loves” he presents different kinds of intimate relationships and in it he makes the case that friendship is the most selfless and sacred of all. 

Probably the most famous paragraph in the book he speaks about how friendships come into being. 

“Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, "What? You too? I thought I was the only one."  ... It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision - it is then that Friendship is born. And instantly they stand together in an immense solitude.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 65.

 

You see, what he’s saying here? He’s saying that friendship is something that’s discovered. It’s that moment that when you move from being an acquaintance to the holy place of friendship out of common interests and passions. That person chooses you and it’s because there’s something about you that lights up something within them. You're enjoy something together and that leads to enjoying each other.

 

And yet, Lewis, one who had his fill of suffering in life, also mentions that burdens can unite two friends as well. 

 

So for me, my father passed away 7 years ago and the men that I’ve grown very close to over the last few years also are men my age who lost their dads along the way. And here’s what’s interesting:  even if we aren’t talking about the men we miss, there’s an unspoken understanding, respect, and honor that’s in the air. Friendship is born just as often in the valley as on the mountaintops. 

 

Your friend is the one who knows the real you and didn’t turn away. Your friend is the one who not only read the story of your life from afar but wept with you and even for you. Your friend is the one you have laughed with until late in the evening accompanied tears rolling down your cheeks, waking up the children only to keep the jokes coming. Your friend is in your memory. Your friend lives in your heart... not just your neighborhood.

 

Frederick Buechner says it this way:

 

“The best moments any of us have as human beings are those moments when for a little while it is possible to escape the squirrel-cage of being me into the landscape of being us.” 

– Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, 21.

 

 

 

Friendship: Real Wealth (1/4)

Over the summer at Redemption Church, we decided to take a focused look at a few selected Proverbs. This week we learned a few things about what Solomon has to say about the ever so important subject and experience of Friendship..

 

Friendship is a gift that God has given to humanity and obviously isnt something unique to the Church alone. Regardless of faith, age, race, gender, and so on – the gift of friendship is available to be had by all human beings. It is something so real, so beautiful, so powerful that we will sing our hearts out over it. Just notice these few songs about friendship. 

 

Friendship is Common Grace

"I Get By With a Little Help from my Friends" - The Beatles

"We Are gonna be Friends" by the White Stripes

"You’ve Got A Friend in Me" -Randy Newman

"Lean on Me" - Bill Withers

"That’s What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Night

"I’ll Be There" - Jackson Five

And on and on it goes… 

Earlier this year Kanye released the Life of Pablo record and has a track on it entitled “Real Friends” and even Chance the Rapper has a song right now that’s blowing up called “Summer Friends”.

 

The subject of friendship is especially precious to Jana and I as we spent the last year out of full time vocational ministry and became extremely focused on ourselves as individuals and as a couple. We needed to take a year out of the pastorate and push back from the world of serving Jesus frantically as Martha and find the space to sit down as Mary at his feet and simply learn from him (Luke 10:38-42).

 

 

“All of our wealth is in our relationships.”

 

So to get to the point of this post:  If you’re measuring your wealth strictly by your paycheck, your accomplishments, your accolades, your degrees, your looks, your vacations your 401k’s, your toys… I hate to break it to you but you’re actually using the wrong measuring stick for defining wealth.

 

You see, you were designed for far more than the mere accumulation of things and experiences. 

 

I’m not saying that having things is wrong. It isn’t. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be ambitious, take risks, and really push ourselves. We should. Those things are all important. However, you weren’t designed only for those things. 

 

You were designed to know others and be known. 

 

You were designed for friendship with God, friendship with yourself, and friendship with others. 

 

For Jana and I, we have resolved that all of our wealth is in our relationships.

 

You see, at the end our lives we aren’t going to be thinking about that corner office, how much money we had, or the square footage of our home.

 

We aren’t going to be thinking about that vacation, that car we drove, or that boat.

 

We’re not going to be thinking about the pool, the landscaping, or our GPA.

 

We’re not going to be thinking about the extra 5 pounds we just couldn’t lose, the wrinkled skin, or the designer jeans we could never afford. 

 

In the end, by God’s grace, we will have sober minds and...

 

We will be thinking of the people we shared our lives with. Those who took long walks with us and shared in our fears or pain.

 

We’ll be thinking of the people who were just as happy to have split pea soup and Sprite as to have a seared medium rare filet and a glass of Malbec with us.

 

Well be thinking about the people we shared our lives with.

 

 Chef Mario Batali said it as good as anyone:

My last meal? The food would be much less significant than the company.