sacrifice Posts

St Patrick’s Day Prayer

St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin's Church, Kilbennan, County Galway, Ireland

St. Patrick depicted with shamrock in detail of stained glass window in St. Benin’s Church, Kilbennan, County Galway, Ireland

“Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.”

~ St. Patrick




The Question

As we move into this new year, it’s good to remember that there are two mistakes we can make regarding the past. First we can stay in it, allowing past failures or past successes define us. This is why Paul said, “… but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.” Philippians 3:13  He’s saying, “Don’t live in the past”.  Don’t let it define you. Move on. But another mistake we make regarding the past is to disregard it altogether. And in our transient culture many tend to have no past, no connection with the past, and then feel that they live unto ourselves. We don’t know where we came from and so we live in the now and for the now. And when you live only in the present, you live only for yourself and not as a part of a community, a tribe, a family – a STORY.

As a pastor, one of the recurring questions I get (in varying forms) is essentially, “What is God’s will for my life?” We believe God has a specific plan and we want to know what it is. But the question itself betrays our misunderstanding. We’re asking the wrong question. The better question is, “What is God’s will?” Period. The first question centers on me; the second centers on God. He is the Source, Purpose, and Reason for life, not us. So what is God’s will? What is He up to? What is He doing that He wants me to join?

God is really about one thing: Himself.

Initially that sounds strange. Immediately we think that’s egotistical or self-centered. If we were to say that about ourselves it would be. But not God. He is already the Center of all things and because He is perfect, loving and good, anything- or anyone- who comes to Him experiences His perfection, love and goodness. So God wants everyone to come to Him to receive all that He has to give – for our good and to His glory. And what He has to give is always good and right for all things created because He created all things.

So, what God is up to primarily is bringing everything and everyone under His sovereign reign and perfect love. What He’s up to specifically is rescuing all of mankind from sin (from ourselves apart from Him) and renewing all things created. And all of this, “to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved..” Ephesians 1:6. He wants all people to come to Him through the Beloved, Jesus Christ, Who alone has made provision for us to do so. Christ alone came from God. Christ alone lived the perfect life and met the holy demands of God for us, when we could not. Christ alone has provided the sacrifice for our sin and He alone will lead us to new life in Him.

God has a mission and He has formed a Church (a called-out people) to bring all other people to Him. He’s calling us out. He’s calling us to Himself. He’s calling us together. He gives us power to accomplish what He;s called us out to do. Jesus said it this way:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Acts 1:8

That is God’s will. That’s what’s up.

Questions to ask at the beginning of a new year:

Are you in a rut? Are you slow to think about resolutions because you’ve made them (and tossed them) before? If you’re not intentional, momentary ruts can cost you greatly and you’ll end up squandering days, months, even years of this one and only life you’ve been given. The following diagnostic questions will help you dream again and, with God’s help, allow you to be all you can be in 2013.

  • What is your dream for your life?
  • What do you see as the vision/calling- or God-given picture- of your life?
  • If you had unlimited resources (of time, money, energy, people) what would you want to accomplish with the rest of your life?
  • What do you love to do more than anything else?  What makes you feel fully alive?  Why?
  • What do hate the most?  What makes you angry?  Why?
  • What do you do best?  What are your best gifts?  These are things you’ve heard others (not just mom) say mark you as being unique.
  • What is God’s unique mission for your life?
  • How will you fulfill this mission, starting TODAY?

You can begin by setting S.M.A.R.T. goals now. It’s critical that you write them down.

S pecific- Be as detailed as you can be about the goals you are stating. A specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. I heard years ago that, “If you shoot at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” To set a specific goal you must answer the six “W” questions: Who will be involved? What do I want to accomplish? Where will it happen? When will it happen? Which requirements and constraints will place on me? Why will I do this? (What will be the specific reasons, purpose or benefits of accomplishing this goal.

M easurable- Every goal must be measured. How will you know you’ve accomplished it? What will be success? At what point will you know you’ve achieved that goal?

A ttainable- An attainable goal will stretch you to achieve it, but it will not be extreme. Attainable goals will challenge your attitudes and abilities and help you develop skills you may not have in order to reach them. Attainable goals will help you identify previously overlooked opportunities and bring you closer to the achievement of goals you once thought impossible.

R ealisitic- A realistic goal represents something that you are both willing and able to work toward. A goal can be both very challenging (perhaps seemingly beyond your reach to start) and realistic.  You are the only one who can decide just how challenging your goal should be. But be sure that every goal represents major progress. Challenging goals are more often reached than lower, easier ones because a low goal exerts a much lower motivational force.

T imely- Your goals must have target dates. If you don’t set a timeline you will not be motivated and you will not reach your goals. A deadline too far in the future is too easily put off and a goal that’s set too close is unrealistic and then discouraging. Place times/dates on a calendar that will mark where you should (will!) be when you get to that date.

PRAY, DREAM again and then set S.M.A.R.T. goals in order to accomplish your dreams. Remember: If your dreams are not God’s dreams for your life you will fail, or even worse, you will succeed at the wrong things and squander your life. Go for it!

Happy 2013!

A Tribute to Dr. Brian Newman

I can’t stop thinking about him. I’m shocked, I’m sad, I’m confused, I’m challenged… I’m envious. Paul’s words from Philippians 1:21 come to mind. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” All of us who have been impacted by Brian have experienced an unbearable loss. Those who never knew him have missed out on an unspeakable blessing. I’m one of the blessed ones. I have lost a dear friend, brother, and partner in ministry. I will miss Brian in a million ways. A friend of mine says, “Grief is the price we pay for love” and I am certain, the greater the love, the greater the grief. This is why we are all grieving so much.

I’m often asked at a time like this, “How do people who do not know the Lord make it through something like this?” My answer is always the same: “They don’t.” Oh, they may live on; they may make it to the next day somehow. They may press on in some way and “make it through”. But God has not called us to just make it through life. Following Jesus means that we experience His abundant life in us through all things. The NIV says, we are “more than conquerors” through Him (Romans 8:37). The NLT says it this way: “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us”. Those of us who cling to the grace of Jesus and seek to live in step with the Spirit, live above and beyond whatever may come our way. We know that we are fully alive as we grieve with hope and weep through breaking loss. The Gospel is not that we receive Jesus and all of life will go well for us, or we’ll never get sick, or never walk through tragedy. The Gospel is this: Whatever we face in life (or death) we get Jesus and He is more than enough for us. We are called to live life to the full in Him. His love that defines us comes without condition, never changes, and will never fail us. The extraordinary life that Jesus envisions for us is one of reckless abandon and unrestrained joy because we have Him. We are defined by His love and that is enough for us.

I know Jesus better because I encountered Him in Brian. He lived like Jesus – for others. He has forever impacted my life for the better. In Galatians 5:22, Paul, this painter with words, presents a portrait he calls the “fruit of the Spirit”. Here is Paul’s list of qualities that are present in a life that is being transformed by His Spirit. You tell me (if you knew Brian), do these words not describe him? “Love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control..” This is the Brian I know and love. This is a portrait of Jesus.

Thank you God for the great gift you have been to me through Brian. I look forward to seeing him soon. By the time I do (and it could be today), he will have met every person in heaven and will be ready to joyfully introduce me to each one. I look forward to that. Until then, for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

What is the Gospel?

When Paul wrote his letter to the churches in Galatia, it was in response to one stark reality: the Gospel was in danger. Church leaders need to take a cue from Paul. He was frustrated and furious with anyone who would try to add to or take away from the Gospel of free grace. This Gospel is in danger again in our day. For most people in America, Christianity has become a form of “moralistic therapeutic Deism”. It’s “moralistic”, in that Christianity provides an avenue for moral living. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not the Gospel. It’s “therapeutic”, in that it feels good to live a moral life, in adherence to biblical principles. Again, this is not a bad thing, it’s just not the Gospel. And it’s clearly a form of “Deism”, in that God is certainly in the mix, though not the central focus much of the time. More often, the focus is on our works for God, not His work for us, and on our preferences as oppose to His. The Gospel that Paul defended is in danger and Christ (His heart, His mission, His Person) has been lost in a religion that bears His name.
We must join Paul and confront any altering of the Gospel in any way. He distinguishes between the Law and the Gospel. The Law tells us what God expects from us, the Gospel tells us what God has done for us. The Law is about what we do, the Gospel is about what Christ has done. The Law provides the diagnosis, the Gospel provides the cure. In order to defend the Gospel, we must be clear about what the Gospel is. Herein lies our problem. So, what is the Gospel?

The Absolute Gospel:

1. Christ lived the perfect life, fulfilling the requirements of the law. Just as central to our salvation is Christ’s death on the cross is the fact that He lived the perfect life. This is significant for two reasons: First, He could not have provided the perfect, “once and for all” sacrifice if He had not lived a sinless life. Secondly, He has done for us what we could not do ourselves. We cannot and now- need not- live the perfect life. The Gospel is one-way, descending love. We bring nothing to the Gospel expect our sin that makes it necessary. James reminds us how desperate we are. “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). Jesus did not come to “abolish” the Law but to fulfill the righteous demands of the Law and in so doing, we are set free from the demands of the Law placed on us.

2. He died for us on the cross, paying the price for our sins. We are justified before our Holy God because Christ, who lived the perfect life for us, took our sin upon the cross. The due penalty of our unrighteousness was placed upon Him and we have been set free from the judgment that comes upon sin. Through the Law God makes the demands for holiness and in Christ He fulfills them. Then miraculously, Christ takes on our sin and completely forgives us, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). His perfect life was imputed to us and therefore, God’s wrath was taken away from us. Only God acting on our part brings salvation.

3. He rose again, conquering death and hell. By overcoming death, Christ leads all of creation into a triumphant procession into eternity. And all people who receive His amazing grace through faith, join Him in this victorious life. This life begins in the here and now and continues in eternity.

4. He is coming again, to restore all things. The work of Christ and the purposes of God are bigger than our salvation. God does not make mistakes and nothing surprises Him. His purposes do not fail; He always wins. Though all of creation has been effected by the sin of mankind, all things will be restored to God’s original intent. God’s restorative agenda is in effect and will be completed as He comes again to make all things right. Ultimately, He will “make all things new” and a redeemed people will worship God on a redeemed “New Earth” for eternity.

It’s important to remember that the Gospel of the early church, of Paul, of the evangelists, was this: All of the promises of the Jewish Scriptures has come true in the Resurrection of Jesus. And this is the Gospel that we preach, teach, defend, and live out in our day. This is the Gospel.