Relationships… followers of Christ are called to relational living. This means that we continually strive to love one another the way God loves us. It means everyone is welcome at the table. It means there is no room for criticism and exclusion. No one is left out. Everyone is included, regardless of race, class, creed, faults, imperfections, social status, or income bracket.

Somewhere along the way, some people have missed the spirit of the One who embodies love and truth, and instead they have, like the Pharisees, taken up with the spirit of the Law. The spirit of legalism shows the world that rules matter more than relationships.

In rediscovering a proper biblical interpretation of Jesus’ message it’s important to remember that Jesus’ ministry was at odds with the religious establishment of his day. Those that were considered spiritually orthodox are the same ones that labeled Jesus a ‘blasphemer.’ Like many reformers throughout history, Jesus was declared a heretic and executed. Ironically, yesterday’s heresy, often becomes today’s orthodoxy.

All of us interpret scripture with certain prejudices. Be careful. We all view of life through various cultural lenses stemming from personal experiences, places of origin, and family value systems. Be careful. We all bring a blend of political ideas, personal discrimination, and religious perspectives to the table when interpreting and applying the scripture. Be careful.

We can’t forget… Scripture must be interpreted through the Spirit of Jesus. When you read any passage, you must ask yourself, How is this like God as he is reveled in Jesus? Jesus clarified the moral character of God and this is the same window through which we must interpret the Bible. The way of Jesus is a different way: different from anything we’ve ever seen before. God is like Jesus and always has been. His followers willfully choose life over condemnation.

After the woman was caught in the act of adultery, the Pharisees took her to Jesus and insisted she be given over to what the Law of Moses commanded. Let me ask, how many people has the church ‘stoned’ through the years in the name of Jesus? How often do people who call themselves Christians judge someone with the letter of the Law and not the spirit of the Word?

Don’t allow religion and rules to matter more than relationships. At the end of the day right orthodoxy does not equal being right with God if you don’t love your neighbor. Without relationships, rules are nothing more than sin management. God didn’t call us to management… He called us to relationships.

God With Suffering
The term “theodicy” comes from two Greek words: theos = “god” + dike = “justice.” This word commonly refers to an attempt to resolve the occurrence of evil in the world by reconciling God’s characteristics of being all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing. To find an answer, we essentially have to identify God in human suffering. Many people have a hard time watching human beings experience undeserved pain and tragedy, and then trying to reconcile that an all-powerful God really cares.

So where is God in the pain and suffering of life? In answering this question we must always start with Jesus. Everything starts with Jesus; he is the perfect reflection of an all-loving God. He came to earth to show us what God is like and to also show us what we should be like.

Unlike many evangelicals, Jesus never tells people who are suffering that it’s because they did something wrong or have unconfessed sin in their life. When Job lost everything and sat in sackcloth and ashes, the best thing his friends could have done was keep their mouths shut. When they started talking about “why” Job was suffering, they only showed their lack of understanding pertaining to the nature of God. What they failed to see in the midst of Job’s suffering was God’s.

Jesus always starts with compassion. He makes wrongs right and justifies suffering and pain with love and mercy. What we learn from Jesus is that God always sides with the one who is suffering. He’s not out in the distant universe somewhere picking at people and making them feel worse than they already do.

God is on the side of the sufferer, and we cannot find an exception to that in scripture. Notice the Disciples and the Pharisees demanded answers as to why bad things happen to some people and not others. Interestingly Jesus never spoke to the reasons “why.” Actually, Jesus always blew off the questions of “why” and instead focused on the response: “What can we do about it?”

When Hurricane Katrina blew into Louisiana, or when a massive earthquake devastated Haiti, unlike some evangelical voices that declared God’s judgment on the people in these areas, we should respond like Jesus by saying, “What can I do to help?” The scripture indicates that God grieves about human suffering even more than those who are experiencing loss.

Think about it, when Jesus responded to a widowed woman who had lost her son, when he ministered to a Roman soldier whose servant was sick, when he heals the blind, crippled, and diseased… He always, always, always extends compassion, not judgment. God sides with the suffering and his response is always marked with love and compassion.

“God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.” ~Brian Zahnd

(Sources: Brian Zahnd; Shane Claiborne; Jürgen Moltmann)

Our job is to make goodness fashionable. It doesn’t matter if someone’s life is ruined, degraded, or wrecked beyond comprehension, as God’s ambassadors we connect the world with the goodness of God in such a way that anyone has the potential to become a new creation. Then God will make of others what he is making of us: people unlike the world has ever seen.

When followers of Christ become God’s visual aid in the earth, they show others what heaven is really like. Missional is a code word for people who have learned to think properly about the kingdom of God. God calls them: “My Body,” and Christ’s Body is supposed to be distinguishable from all other bodies.

The church should understand itself as a redeemed community in a reconciled society. We see all created things as having the possibility of reconciliation with the Father. We reject the term “non-believer,” because everyone believes something. And what we believe about God is the most important thought we will ever have. What we need to call people who have yet to believe is “pre-Christian.” This helps us view them with potential to become part of the body, because the Father is not willing that any should perish.  Everyone is part way there in terms of being reconciled since Jesus died once for all.

“For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again… Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” ~2 Corinthians 5

God is not holding people’s transgressions against them (he is not like some evangelicals I know). The reason God’s not holding anything against anyone is because Jesus died once and for all. Therefore, since all are reconciled the way is open for all who will to come and stand before God and receive redemption through the blood of Jesus Christ.

In the body, we build the society of heaven where it’s safe for people to discover who they are: where they realize their dreams and learn to be more than they ever thought possible. As Christ’s Body we show the world what heaven is like and connect real people with God’s goodness and majesty. We make goodness fashionable. Ladies and gentlemen this is the church; anything else would not be the church.

(Sources: William Wilberforce; Graham Cooke)

We exist for one-another-ness. Our connectedness extends beyond ourselves. That’s why the church is so important: it connects people. The church is the only organization on earth that exists for the benefit of its non-members. It’s for everyone who needs God whether they are seeking him or not. That means everything we are becoming in our relationships with one another are not just to be spent upon ourselves. Christian community practices love and grace on each other so that it can offer them perfectly to a sinful world that desperately needs the love of Christ.

The test of our authenticity in God’s eyes is found in how we express our love for one another. How we represent God’s kingdom in the local context through service to others is vitally important. If we can’t do it well in the church, we don’t have a chance in the world. We must come to grips with the idea that the church is a contribution to society: we are created for others.

The gospel is the “Good News” of reconciliation for everyone. God wants to rescue people from darkness and to transfer them to the kingdom of light. We are called to the ministry of reconciliation and it includes everybody. As ambassadors of reconciliation our job involves opening up embassies in our homes, offices, schools, and neighborhoods that reaches out to everyone in the community. The authentic Christian mindset understands the church as a group of ambassadors who builds genuine relationships with people everywhere.

Reconciliation means that God has declared that there are no obstacles in Christ. In other words God is saying, “There is nothing standing in the way… I’m not mad at anybody.” God poured his wrath out on Jesus so that anyone can freely come and take a seat at the table.

Our calling consists of being authentic Christ-followers who offers the world a taste of what the kingdom is really like. If God has removed the barriers, then we too must remove anything standing in the way. There are no walls built around God’s kingdom. It’s an open door, not a protected fortress. There is an invitation for whosoever will come. If God has made the way, and we travel the way, and the way is open… Then it must be our job to extend the invitation to whosoever will.

The Father sends the church, the ekklesia, the body, a group of people, to teach the world to be like Jesus. The church teaches others to be disciples fashioned in the image of the invisible God. The church should be a place where people discover what it’s like to be connected to the kingdom: to be connected to a family, a group of friends, part of a body, and to belong to something where people are given a part and a purpose in which they learn to function and live. This is the call to one-another-ness.

(Sources: Various Lectures by Graham Cooke; Oneness Embraced by Tony Evans)

God is Good

We are who we are because of our choices (and because God allows us to make choices). If the fruit of the Spirit is self-control that means part of God’s nature is self-control. Have you ever thought about the idea that part of God’s sovereignty means that he has the ability to control, and even limit his interaction with us. That’s right, God is self-controlled. If I were him I would have smitten everyone a long time ago. It’s good for us that God has self-control. We are who we are because God has given us the freedom to make choices. He has already chosen us in Christ, but he waits for us to choose him.

Theologically, I am a Wesleyan-Arminian. We do not have a problem with God’s sovereignty. We believe God is in control. Within the boundaries of God’s permissive will, we believe God allows evil to exist because he created human beings as free moral agents. God is sovereign, however, he does not control things in such a way that he forces people to do anything out of necessity. That’s what you call self-controlled control. It’s how God rules the universe, not with an iron fist, but with a heart of love and compassion that allows us to make decisions.

God does not decree sin as some believe. If God controlled us in such an absolute way that forced us into evil, it would make him the author of sin. This would mean that freewill is non-existent, and that all things happen according to God’s perfect will. The scripture even negates this idea in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise… He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Question: Will everyone come to repentance even though it’s God’s will? No. In this, we can only conclude that God desires a relationship with all of creation, yet many refuse.

Bad theology declares sin and evil comes into the world through God’s sovereign rule. God has a perfect will, yet he also has a permissive will in which he allows us to make mistakes. Wesleyan-Arminians would not oppose the idea that God is in control of all things. The difference is that we believe he allows it, not that he causes it.

We trust that God works all things together for good for those who love him, yet allows people to live in the sinful reality that they create for themselves. It’s a very strange thing to think that an all-loving God would create a race of living beings, desire a legitimate love-based relationship, and then force some to love him and others not.

In the context of God’s permissive will, we believe God sets limitations on evil and the extent to which it impacts creation. In other words, it’s not as bad as it could be because God is on the throne. He’s a good king. He’s not a tyrant (he’s self-controlled). God rules over evil, and in no way does he force anyone to become evil. This is very different than saying that sin entered the world because of God’s decree. If sin and evil come by the hand of God, how can anyone resist what God sets into motion? This makes God a puppet master, not a loving father.

God did not create sin in order to make himself look good. In other words, God didn’t create sin so he could rescue sinners. He rescues sinners because he loves us. God did not invent evil, but he allows it in order to give us the ability to authentically embrace or reject his love. Therefore, in the process of life God turns bad to good. He redeems our choices when we love him. Even when we make bad choices, God is wise enough to make all things work together for good to those that love him (Romans 8:28).

God leads people in the direction that he knows is best, and even if they choose not to follow, he patiently continues to point the way. This means that through sinful choices God still seeks us out. He is so intelligent, clever, and well-meaning, that even the sinful choices of people cannot prevent his ultimate purposes being fulfilled. God uses our choices, good or bad, to accomplish his will in the earth. He’s that good!

Missio Dei starts with God, not with something we decide that we are going to do for God. Mission does not start by implementing a new program or starting a new class at church. God’s mission starts with God himself. We too often assume that it begins when we discover a felt need and respond by giving money or doing a service project.

The “sending” Jesus speaks of in John 17 is plural. This means that we do not merely send people and funds out of the church to solve problems in the world. In other words, the church is not just a “sending agent.” The church is “sent” itself: as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One, when we participate in God’s mission to the world we are one on mission with God.

The church has no mission apart from its participation in God’s mission. As God expands the kingdom we either participate in what he is doing or we do not. To be missional means that the church actively engages kingdom-expansion by identifying where God is working and joining him in his activity. God is always working, but we must have eyes to see and ears to hear.

God is not just working in the church. Instead, he is always working in every part of society and culture. God is at work in the margins, in the places where no one is looking. God never starts in the center and works his way out. It’s his nature to start on the fringes and work inward. “Participation” means that we intentionally look for ways to join God in his mission. When we share in the life of God for the sake of the world, by default, we participate in the mission of God.

In Philippians 2 Paul uses the Greek word kenosis. Literally, it indicates Christ participating in the act of “self-emptying.” It demonstrates the out-poured love of God for the world. Emptying oneself is what being incarnational looks like. If you really want to take on the mind of Christ, if you really want to follow him… it requires kenosis.

How is this relevant for the church? Missional means moving away from attractional models of ministry to incarnational ways of existing with God for the benefit of the world. Only as we identify with the suffering of humanity can we identify with the suffering of Jesus.

God lives on the fringes. That’s where the story of the mutilated Body of Christ begins. This is where we see redemption being established. When we enter the margins intentionally and incarnationally we become the hands and feet of Jesus. Through this participation the kingdom of heaven is revealed.

You cannot afford to live without joy. The culture of heaven is established in celebration. Scripture contains various commands for us to rejoice. Giving thanks is good for the soul. It creates an inner territory that isn’t easily affected by external circumstances. All of heaven rejoices in the presence of God. As kingdom heirs we should join in the celebration of heaven. Joy is the nature of the Father and the chief element of the atmosphere around his throne. Joy is a necessity.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoicing is the will of God for your life; it’s the desire of God for every believer. The power of joy cannot be overestimated. Delighting in the Lord is an infectious way to live. Joy spills over into others people’s lives when we allow it to be an authentic part of our own.

God is happy, and we live daily under his smile. Grace is favor, and favor means God is satisfied (Jesus did that, not us, we just benefit from it). God delights in us and we in him because of Jesus. As you learn to be thrilled by God your enjoyment in life increases; you cannot afford to be without joy.

The perspective that we develop through our rejoicing is our best aid to faith. It’s the joyless areas of our lives that must be submitted to fierce examination. Return to joy with the utmost urgency. Reclaim your inner being as a place of rejoicing. Joy is something that is unaffected by circumstances. It is an orientation of the heart.

Joy is a place of contentment, confidence, and hope. It’s a state of mind (we are what we think, but we’re not always what we think we are). If joy is the atmosphere of heaven then the environment that we reproduce must reflect that. If we really want to learn to reflect the culture of heaven then thanksgiving, gratitude, rejoicing, and celebration is part of the deal.

Elton Trueblood said, “I don’t trust the theology of any person who doesn’t laugh.” The reason is because they are claiming to understand something about the most joyous being in the universe, yet they don’t exhibit one of God’s primary qualities. How can a constant spirit of heaviness be trusted?

Return to joy all ye negative persons! Take off the spirit of heaviness. Put on the garment of praise. I think I’m going to blow my shofar now…

(Sources: Elton Trueblood; Graham Cooke)

Can something beautiful come from something desolate? Certainly. Beauty can be found in everything. The beauty that exists in the ugliness of life’s happenings is a great paradox. In understanding God we learn to find joy in suffering, fulfillment in denial, and life in death. In understanding faith for what it really is, one must conclude that it’s paradoxical. God created it this way so we would learn to live in the tension of “what is” and “what is to be.”

I’m a realist, which means I’m only interested in what works. I am so pragmatic that I often catch myself railing against idealism. Ideals don’t work in the real world, it’s too messy. God is too mysterious for us to figure everything out. Neat packaging and systematized concepts about God don’t work as it pertains to God. Besides we wouldn’t need faith if everything made sense.

What is a paradox? Jesus is the God-man. By losing our life we save it. God is sovereign, yet we are responsible. Confessing weakness as a source of strength. The Church is a house and a city, an army and a bride, and a building and a body. I believe God intends for these concepts to shape our thinking beyond the typical human experience.

God functions from a place of paradox because of the vastness of his nature. His ways are not our ways and his thoughts are radically different from our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). Therefore, he is not seeking a influential group of people to represent him. Instead he’s looking for people who are weak, despised, and written off. Only then does he inhabit them with strength.

One can only come to Jesus by realizing they are needy. In other words, we must come to grips with our vulnerability. This is where we discover that all of God’s dealings with us are to create maximum dependence on him. Times when things are functioning well, we often stop relying on God. It would be God’s nature to push us out of those comfortable places and into a bit of turbulence so that we will learn to trust him all the more.

God calls us to the impossible. Think about it. He demands that we see the invisible and calls it faith. He often thrusts us into overwhelming situations and expects us to trust him. Think about it: Noah built a mammoth ship when there was no body of water large enough for it to float. Moses rescued more than a million people from the bondage of the most cruel and oppressive government of the day. Joshua was ordered to seize the most fortified city of the world by ordering a week of silence followed by a single shout. These instances no doubt created insecurity in these great leaders. They saw the natural and didn’t understand how it would work. Their only option was to trust God.

God works in paradox by making vulnerability powerful. We don’t equate weakness with power, but God does. These leaders didn’t give in to insecurity, but they did give in to vulnerability. They were weak but willing. They were weary but faithful. They believed the unbelievable and it became so.

We too often see our own smallness rather than the magnificence of God. Like the Israelites before entering the Promised-Land said, “We are like grasshoppers…” Such people are prevented from achieving breakthroughs because they cannot translate their weakness into power. Insecurity cripples people, but vulnerability knows that God is happy to send us out as sheep among wolves because he is certain of his own ability to work in spite of our weakness.

When we are vulnerable we see our inadequacies in light of God’s sovereignty and in turn we discover faith and hope. The whole point of vulnerability is to bring us to a place of restful dependence in a God that is able to do anything… and I mean absolutely anything!

My prayer is to be more vulnerable, to stop trying to make sense of everything God wants to accomplish in my life. It’s not my place to make sense of it all; it’s my place to trust God. It may mean stepping out on a limb that looks like it’s going to break. It may look like running face first into a hurricane. It doesn’t matter. Discovering the will of God for my life and being vulnerable in my faith means not looking back, but only looking ahead and believing that God makes all things possible. In the tension of paradox is where we find God.

(Sources: Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton; Soren Kierkegaard)

youve heard it said

Some of what God said in the Old Testament he further established in the New Testament, but it was only to increase our blessing. In the NT God uses the power of the former to establish the blessing of the latter. There was a time in history when the Old Testament was not the “Old” Testament. It wasn’t until the “New” Testament came along that the other one became “Old.”

The OT is God’s established covenant for a relationship with his people. Anyone who lived during that time knew all the blessings and requirements of the covenant. Then comes Jesus. He takes everything to a new level, but it’s only because God was thinking about what’s best for us.

The most common phrase in Mathew 5 is “You have heard it said, but now I say…” Jesus fulfills every jot and tittle of the Old Covenant. He completes it and then reveals a new way of understanding it. Of course the main difference is that the Old Covenant was for people who had God coming “upon” them and the New is for people who have God living “within” them. Therefore, all the ideas of the Old have to be expanded upon in the New.

The OT now becomes a covenant of “types” and “symbols” that reveals the scope of the New Covenant. The New is built off the Old, except it reveals God in a more profound way. Now everything coming out of the Old Covenant has to actually pass through the teachings of the New Covenant in order to us to find application in an era of grace.

Things that don’t make it into the NT are curses and penalties. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’” Thank God no one gets rocks thrown at them behind the church for stealing. In the OT God said things like, “If you disobey cursed will be you, cursed will be the ground, and so on…” In the NT there are no curses for God’s people because Jesus became the curse for everyone. He paid the penalty for sin’s curse to be broken.

There is no judgment upon us because Jesus took away our judgment, but there are consequences for our actions. Curses and consequences, two very different things. Remember, you reap what you sow. The law of reaping and sowing makes it into the New Testament without any alterations. There is no judgment upon us, but you will reap what you sow. Example: If you say something unkind to someone, as sure as you are reading this someone is going to say something unkind to you. If you take something from someone that isn’t yours, you can count on someone taking something from you.

The idea of treating others as you would like to be treated teaches us to be sensible in our human interactions (a message many evangelicals need to consider). You want to make sure that the things you say and do come back to you in a good way. With this mindset we need to consider when someone is treating us poorly that it may be a consequence of something we’ve said or done. That’s not always the case, but it helps us examine ourselves nonetheless. Examination is beneficial, don’t run from it, embrace it. Remove consequences. Say something kind to someone today.

(Sources: Brennan Manning; Graham Cooke)

Whenever God says something for the first time he sets a precedent. By God’s precedent you know him forever. God doesn’t change toward us because his love is eternal. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. His love for us remains whether we choose to love him back or not. However, God does change the way he relates to us depending on where we are in our relationship with him, but he never changes his heart toward us. The heart of God is love.

I often explain this by using the relationship with my son as an example. I have a love for Jake that is ongoing. My love for him never changes. However, the way I relate to him does change. I don’t talk to him the same way today as I did when he was five years old. Our relationship has grown and now we understand each other on a different level.

The decisions I made concerning Jake when he was five was to benefit our relationship as he got older. I ordered my thinking so that my relationship with him would get better with time. God is ordered in his thinking. He is always considering what is best for his family.

As appropriate for a Creator, God thinks sequentially. Scripture is the perfect example of his thinking out from himself. In other words, God is very deliberate and extremely intentional. He is continually thinking about what is best for us now and in the future. This means there is significance in everything he does. This is how “all things work together for good…” God designs his relationship with us that way.

So again, any time God says something for the first time, he sets a precedent. By that standard you know him forever. As God reveals himself in scripture, he’s saying, “This is who I am for you, forever.” His love toward us never changes. What can separate us from the love of God?

As God speaks into your life through the Holy Spirit you can rest in what he is saying and doing. He is establishing himself in your life forever, and you can trust what he says and does. In Christ God displays his eternal love for creation, of which we are all a part. He reveals himself by becoming one of us… there is no greater love.

Accept who you are in Christ. Don’t run away from the story that is your life. Trust what God has done. Believe there is significance in everything. Look for God in the subtle things. God relates to you in all of life’s situations because he loves you deeply. And when he shows you the way, it’s always through a precedent of love.