Come Let Me Adore Him [Truly Celebrating Christmas]

Quite often I get fed up with my culture. I get fed up with the things it loves. I get fed up with the things it hates. I get fed up with the controversies and the arguments. I get fed up with it’s insatiable desire for “stirring the pot.”

I don’t care if atheists put a monument of their gods next to the Ten Commandments at a court house.
I don’t care if some humanist group makes a town put away their manger scene.
I don’t care about what someone said or didn’t say about Christianity on TV.
I don’t care about the Facebook controversies on the internet.

It’s Christmas.

This is the date which the saints celebrate the moment that God broke into this world. It’s the date where he came not to judge us but to save us. It’s the date which marked the beginning of this little child’s purposeful and determined march to die on a cross for his enemies. Oh how incredible this day is. What wonder fills my heart as I think upon the great lengths of love that my King and Savior made to rescue me. Who am I that God should be mindful of me? I am but a rebel and a glory stealing thief. A sinner who wouldn’t know riches of a life with God if it hit me in the face.

Yet with how great a love has he loved me? A love so unselfish. A love that meant he came as a baby instead of a King. A love that meant he grew up in Nazareth rather than Rome. A love so humble and meek that he his appearance was plain and common rather than attractive. Love that reached the marginalized and the outcasts rather than just the accepted and powerful. A love that meant he was despised and rejected by the ones he came to save. A love that saw him mocked, spat upon, and crucified as a common thief rather than treated like the Prince of Heaven. A love that on the third day saw him defeat sin and hold the keys to death in his hand.

This is the Christmas plan though, devised before he ever created to redeem the bride that he so loved. A bride whom he designed to marry in the greatest celebration of all time. For Christmas cannot be meditated upon without thinking about that great and glorious Day. The Day where Christ will return, not as a baby but as a King. A King arrayed in dazzling white robes, whose eyes are fire, and whose voice is like rushing waters. A Day when this world will melt away before him.

And there will be the consummation of Christmas on that Day. Someone will take up the call and lead the procession to the New Jerusalem, “Come let us adore him! Come let us adore the Lamb that was slain!” We the church will go up together. There will cheering greater than any sports arena. Music more beautiful then any concert hall. Light more radiant and glorious than any sunset. And we say to one another, “I was glad when they said to me let us go to the house of the Lord.” As the gates open we will see him there on his throne, and in an instant we will recall like a flood all of the ways in which he loved us.

And we will bow down, weeping with a joy we have never experienced and sing:

“Oh come let us adore Him!
Oh come let us adore Him!
Oh come let us adore Him!
Christ the Lord!”

Christian, this is Christmas. It’s so much more than anything our culture could make it to be and it’s so much more than our culture could ever steal away. No manger display controversy or Facebook post could ever substitute adoring Jesus with all of your heart. Celebrate him well this year. Treasure him. Meditate on him. Adore him. Allow his act of love to move you. For this is the practice for your eternity.

Merry Christmas.

-ND

Being like Jesus [Even the Hard Stuff]

The longer that I’ve been a Christian, the more and more I’ve noticed that I just need perspective. So often I lose my heavenly perspective and my eyes drop from Jesus to my circumstances. I look at the outcomes of my day and judge them based upon my own sinful expectations. What if those expectations don’t matter? What if I’m using the wrong ruler to measure my life? What if the way God sees me is different then the way I see myself? I have found that more often then not, it is my own view of myself that is bent.

Consider 1st John 2: 5b-6

By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.

John is very plain and to the point. You want to know if you are a true Christian? Then you should be walking the same way he walked. You should love like he loved. You should forgive like he forgave. You should give grace like he gave grace. Your heart should break for the things his heart broke for.

He went about healing, loving, restoring, and even bringing the dead back to life. He changed people’s lives and their eternities. He gave time to marginalized and the rejected. He turned the world upside down. I want that. I want to change my community with the powerful love of Jesus. I want to see the lives of young people changed. I want to see healing and restoration. I want to be a person who lives a ministry like Jesus did.

Yet there is another side of walking like Jesus that I usually neglect. It will be hard. It will cost me. I’ll be hated for it. It won’t be hip or cool. It will require patience and endurance, and it might even include betrayal and heartbreak.

Sometimes I get blindsided when my ministry isn’t going smooth and easy. I think something is wrong. I think that I’m missing something (and perhaps I am), but then I think about Jesus’ ministry.

- He had twelve committed followers who more often than not didn’t get it. They failed over and over again to understand who he was and why he had come.
- One of those twelve stole money from his ministry and eventually sold him out to be murdered.
- Another, who pledged complete loyalty unto death, would deny him three times in his greatest time of need.
- He had crowds of people who followed him and his heart broke for them. He taught them patiently and often gave up his meals and rest to make time for them. He preformed the miraculous before them and healed their infirmities. Yet, when he called them to follow him, they grumbled amongst each other and said, “His teaching is hard, who can listen to it?” and they left him.
- The religious leaders didn’t validate his ministry or celebrate it’s fruit, but rather they criticized him at every turn. The schemed and plotted to ruin him.
- In the end, he was falsely accused, falsely convicted, and falsely killed for a crime that he never committed.

Yet, it was all part of the plan. And Jesus wasn’t surprised by it for he knew why he had come.

To be clear I’ve faced a fraction of what Jesus faced, but to walk like him is to embrace this side of his life as well. I shouldn’t be surprised when things are difficult. I shouldn’t be surprised when ministry is just really hard. In fact, I should rejoice because it means that I’m doing it. I’m walking like Jesus and it’s all part of the plan. The plan to get my on knees and pray. The plan to force me trust him and rely upon him for everything. The plan that shows me that I too am a fickle disciple who needs the Messiah desperately. And that is right where Jesus wants me. Abiding in him.

Lord, to every disciple that reads this I pray that you would grant them perspective. I pray that you would bring the encouragement of your example that things aren’t always easy, but you’ve been there. You’ve walked where we have walked. You’ve dealt with what we’ve dealt with and you are there to strengthen and lift us by your Spirit. Strengthen us to endure. Give us a joy that isn’t based upon our circumstances but rather is based upon the riches of the gospel. May we give everything, even our very lives, to love like you have loved. Keep us until that glorious day when we see you face to face.

Amen.

ND

I’m Controlling [And Jesus is King]

I’m a controlling person. I like things a certain way. I like routine. I like to keep my DvDs in alphabetical order. I often feel calmed when I arrange the icons on my phone according to the color spectrum. When I want to watch the Lord of the Rings I HAVE to start it from the beginning, even though I know it will take 14 hours of my life to complete the trilogy. When my normal flow of life gets messed around I usually get messed around with it. I like to think that over the past 29 years I have developed coping mechanisms and a perspective that life isn’t all about me, but I know that deep down inside I want to be in control.

Sometimes I feel that this controlling nature creeps into my relationship with Jesus. I want Jesus to be a certain way. I have a box for Jesus. It’s a big box, but I have a box for him. My Jesus box can be described like this:

John 13:3-5
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

It’s an incredible picture. God, completely perfect and deserving of being treated as a king, got down and washed the poop, dust, and dirt off the feet of those he created. The servant whose job it was to wash the feet of guests was the lowliest of all. And here is Jesus, being counted as last even though he has every right to be counted as first. He is the Servant. The meek Lamb. He will not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering flax.

Everything about this picture of Jesus is true. It is 100% true. Yet, it’s not all of him. And this is where my Jesus box runs into trouble, for Jesus isn’t just the Servant. He is the Servant King. I can handle the Servant. I can be touched by the love shown to the underserving. I can even be moved to want to emulate such an example, but I desperately don’t want a King. For a King requires lordship.

Lordship freaks me out.

I’m really comfortable doing my very best to marry being the “captain of my fate and master of my soul” with loving like Jesus loved. But the Servant King isn’t looking for followers who want his principles and not his Lordship.

For Jesus is as much of a King as he is a Servant. In many ways his holiness and his righteousness as a King are terrifying. When I read throughout the Bible I see that every time people see Jesus in his glory, they are absolutely terrified of him: Moses in cleft of the rock; Joshua before Jericho; Isaiah beholding the throne room; Peter, James, and John on the mountain; Saul on the road to Damascus. Even when we read through Revelation we get this picture of King Jesus:

Revelation 19:11-16
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.

Whoa.

How can it possibly be that the Jesus from John and the Jesus from Revelation are the same? I think that my box just broke. And yet while it’s terrifying to read the Jesus of Revelation, there is a part of me that doesn’t want Jesus that way. That’s too much. Because if Jesus is that way then he has some massive authority over my life that I don’t want him to have. So what does this mean for my controlling, lordship hating part of me? The King is quite clear:

Mark 8:34
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

He says deny, die, and follow. Give up control. Die to your old, controlling way of life. And follow me. Notice it’s not “and I’ll follow you.” I don’t even get to decide where we are going. He says follow me. It’s total surrender to the terms of the King.

And if Jesus was just a King, I’d hate it. Like a defeated country being conquered by an invading army, I’d hate it. But Jesus isn’t just a King. He is the Servant King who gets down and washes my feet. He calls me friend. He won’t break me or blow me out. He’ll never leave me or forsake me.

And it’s this Jesus: Servant and King, Lamb and Lord, that actually defies any god that I could possibly make up. He is outside of my control. And because of that he is worthy of my life and my worship.

Amen.

ND.

Prayer Instead of Posting [We Don't Need to Defend God]

One of most infuriating things about my personality is that I like to be right. I know for a fact that the way I think is the most logical and sound way to think. I know for a fact that my ideas are the best ideas. I know for a fact that I am amazing at doing a thorough job of deconstructing your argument to show you how your underlying presuppositions are wrong.

And while I am awesome at all of that, I’m not very awesome to be around when I want to be right. Just ask my wife.

Enter Facebook, Twitter, Google +, etc. Here I am minding my own business. I am just checking the news, looking at hipster pictures of coffee and food, and realizing that you just invited me to play Farmville with you (please stop inviting me!). Then that post comes.

You know the kind of post I’m talking about. They all follow a simple mathematical equation.

A + B = C

Where “A” is a religious, political, cultural, or nonreligious group. “B” is the terrible things that they are doing, believing, voting, or supporting. “C” is the outcome which always equals outrage in the “we are right” sort of way.

For the most part I can by pass these land mine posts in my feed, except when they touch on God. Then I struggle. I feel the urge rising up within me to defend the glorious Name of Jesus. And it really is glorious! My brain swings in to high gear. I deconstruct. I counterpoint. I bring to bear the full breadth of my apologetic arsenal. Then I post believing that my comment in all of is awesomeness has just closed the case on this argument.

The truth is that when I post like that, I fail.

Let’s switch gears for a moment.

King Hezekiah reigned in Judah as the Assyrian army was quickly trying to conquer Mesopotamia. At the time, no nation could stand up the power of Sennacherib and his mighty armies. Quickly the nations to the north of Judah fell including Israel, and Hezekiah found himself surrounded in Jerusalem.

Fielding an army 185,000 strong, Sennacherib sent his Rabshekah (general) to taunt King Hezekiah and the people of Judah. The taunting is pretty awesome and includes the people of Judah eating their dung and drinking their urine. But most importantly, the Rabshekah focused on trashing the Lord. How can the Lord save Hezekiah if none of the other nation’s gods came to their rescue?

Isaiah 36:18-20

Beware lest Hezekiah mislead you by saying, “The Lord will deliver us.” Has any of the gods of the nations delivered his land out of the hand of the king of Assyria? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they delivered Samaria out of my hand? Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the Lord should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand? ’”

Here is the kicker. How did Hezekiah respond? Did he yell back? Did he shake his fist at the general? Did he deconstruct his argument? No. Hezekiah responded with prayer.

Isaiah 37:1

As soon as King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes and covered himself with sackcloth and went into the house of the Lord.

Hezekiah went into the house of the Lord. To worship. To pray. To seek the will of God.

And when Hezekiah received the Rabshekah’s harsh words toward the Lord in writting what did he do?

Isaiah 37:14

Hezekiah received the letter from the hand of the messengers, and read it; and Hezekiah went up to the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord.

He literally gave it to the Lord. And God was faithful to defend his name. Overnight the angel of The Lord utterly destroyed Sennacherib’s army send the king back to Assyria. Not only that, but just as Isaiah prophesied, Sennacherib was killed in a coupe by his own sons while worshipping his false gods.

What’s the point? As Christians we are not called to defend the name of The Lord. That is not why he has saved us. It’s not our job. And it’s a good thing because we are terrible at doing it. God will defend his own name.

What has he called us to do? Pray. Have a broken heart for the lost. Love our enemies. Do good to those who persecute us… even on Facebook. If we spent the same amount of time in prayer that we do crafting the best comeback, maybe we would see something more amazing than winning the argument. Maybe we would see God move in the hearts of the broken and bring more people into his family.

ND.

Defining Faith [More Than Wishful Thinking]

There are times when I stop and think, “Am I really doing this? I am really walking with God Almighty? Has this stuff I read in Scripture actually happened to me? Can I read these promises and trust that God with be faithful to me in them?”

I feel like these are healthy questions. Because if I really am bought by the blood of Christ then it should alter my life. I am not in this “Christian” thing for anything less then knowing the Living God. And boy is it so encouraging that neither was the early church.

Paul says this:

1 Corinthians 15:16-20
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Paul is so clear. If Christ hasn’t been raised from the dead then there is no point in going on. There is no reason to be religious nor is there any hope in this world. But, as he says, Christ is risen.

Yet, it is here where this idea of faith comes in. It’s a word that is actually very clear in it’s definition but through our culture it has been muddied up. In fact, faith is a word that has the ability to morph into whatever a person really wants it to be. Our dictionary gives only two choices though:

1. Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
2. Strong belief in God or the doctrines of religion based upon spiritual apprehension rather than proof.

These two definitions floor me. They completely contradict each other.

One expresses complete trust in something. That is in our right minds, with sound evidence, we trust someone or something completely. We practice this kind of faith everyday. Have you used a chair today? Did you run rigorous scientific trials on that chair to make sure it would hold you before you sat down? Of course not. You had faith that it would hold you. You had faith that the manufacturer had run those trials already and found that the chair was structurally sound. Or in other words, the chair they were producing was faithful. It would deliver on their promise to hold you.

The second definition is anything but trust or confidence. It is belief in God or religion based upon apprehension rather than proof. Cutting the dictionary jargon, it’s belief in someone or something by which you have no evidence or proof whatsoever. It’s as if I believed with all my might that there was an invisible chair for me to sit in. I believed, yet when I sat down I found myself on the floor. Needless to say, I shouldn’t have any confidence in my invisible chair. Or I think one could say that I shouldn’t have any faith in my invisible chair.

Thankfully, the Bible has nothing to do with that second definition. Let’s look at the classic definition of faith in the Bible:

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

On the surface, it looks like it might fit the second of definition of faith more than the first, but things become clearer when we look at the original greek. Let’s take a look at three words and their definitions: faith, assurance, and conviction.

1. Faith (pistis). Conviction of truthfulness. In the New Testament’s case it is in reference to the gospel and ones relationship with God.
2. Assurance (hypostasis) To set something under. For instance, if you set your chair under you, you have assurance that it will hold.
3. Conviction (elegchos) Proof or evidence. Something has proven itself and you have evidence for it.

When we put all these together we a clear view of the Bible’s definition of faith. It’s not wishful thinking or a hope in some made up guy in the sky. Faith is the assurance that you can climb up in to Jesus and he will hold you. It is that which gives you confidence that God will hold you in the things that you cannot see. It is confidence of his future faithfulness based upon the evidence on what he has already done in your life and the content of his character.

A great example of this Abraham. Abraham wanted a child but it was going to take a miracle for it happen. God promised Abraham it would happen. Abraham believed. God delivered. Abraham and Sarah had their promised son Isaac. Yet a crazy day came where the same God who gave Isaac to Abraham asked him to take his son and sacrifice him on a mountain. What was Abraham’s reaction? Doubt? Fear? Disobedience? No, his reaction was faith. He had assurance that God was going to hold him. He could not see why God would ask him to do such a thing but based on his relationship and God’s past works in his life he had faith. He was confident that God would not allow Isaac, the son of the promise, to perish. God was faithful and a ram was sacrificed rather than Isaac.

That is biblical faith.

Walking with Jesus is anything but wishful thinking. For instance if I were to wish a god in the sky it most certainly not be one who says to me, “Pick up your cross and follow me.” That’s hard. That pushes me out of my comfort zone. That causes me to deny myself. It forces me to trust him. And I have found that this Jesus true. He can be trusted. My life is in fact a long list of evidence of his faithfulness toward me.

Christian. You’re faith is not a weak, fragile, hope in a made up being in the sky. It isn’t an invisible chair. It is a strong and powerful assurance that has been proven through thousands of years. Crack open that Bible and drink deeply. Know that God is writing the same story of his faithfulness toward you and through you.

Amen.

ND.

Forgive Me For Asking [Rap Collides With World Views]

I just recently started listening to the Christian rapper Propaganda.  His album “Excellent” is actually really excellent.  Not because the beats sound good (they do), but because of his real, challenging, and brutally honest lyrics.  So brutal are they that you can’t help but go back and listen to them again, because you can’t believe that someone has so poetically cut through all of the cultural fat. (Just listen to the first song of the album and you’ll get an espresso shot of where he is going.)

It seems that he is swimming in the same pool I’ve been in for the past few months.  Namely trying to reconcile cultural hypocrisy, world views and their philosophical short comings, the limits of my ministry safe zone, and most importantly the incredible power of the gospel.

The song that is resonating the most with me right now is called, “Forgive Me For Asking.”  At it’s core it discribes how really small we humans are.  Christians, Muslims, scientific atheists, and the undeniable human affection with “good out weighing the bad” paganism, and how all of us think we have it all together.  Instead we refuse to ask the real honest questions of our world views in our own hearts.  It’s the kind of honesty that only goes on in our heads.

It’s also the kind honesty that makes my heart realize once more of how much I desperately need a Savior.

Check out the song.

ND

Insta-comparison

I’m not sure if there is more comparison driven part of the church than youth ministry. Invariably when a group of youth pastors get together the next question after introductions is, “So how many students do you have coming?”. It’s a gut wrenching question if the answer is ten and a pride inducing stumbling block if it is two hundred. More often than not, numbers drive worry, doubt, and all manor of Hail Mary attempts to get more students in chairs on a Wednesday night. These attempts usually subvert the real thing that attracts students in the first place, the gospel. Why? Because comparison is a self-centered exercise. It’s not about what God is doing in my youth ministry, it’s about what I am doing in my youth ministry. Hence the pride when things are going well and the despair when things are not. And I will declare here that I am guilty of all of it.

Enter Instagram. I love Instagram. It’s a fun way to share photos and it does a cool job of making my crappy cellphone camera look good. But as I have begun following more and more youth pastors, I have notice that is has become a new source of comparison. There are two scenarios I’m guilty of:

1. I use Instagram to validate my ministry.

I post pictures of everything that I do. Bible study at the coffee shop. Worship band in mid-performance. Wide shot of all my students raising their hands. Pictures of myself, “Bringing the Word hard!”. Pictures of my devos (and my coffee/apple product). And on and on…

Now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with sharing pictures of youth ministry. There are positives and students love to see themselves and their friends. But I have notice in my own heart a weed, in that I started to take pictures to validate my ministry. If I could show other youth pastors that good things were going on, then it would mean that I’m a good youth pastor. It no longer became about celebrating students or God, it became about celebrating me.

2. I use Instagram to beat myself up.

The source of this begins with point number one. Youth pastors post pictures of all the awesome stuff that is going on in their ministries (whether for good or for selfish purposes). Then I see it and I become jealous.

“God, why can’t that happen in my ministry.” ” Look at how many students came to that event, I can barely get students to come on Wednesdays.” “Look how amazing those graphics are, I need better graphics.” “Wow, they have an amazing youth room. If I only had a room like that…” And on and on.

This jealousy leads to doubt and discouragement because I see my ministry as inferior. This inferiority leads to my attempts to copy what I see in other’s ministry in the hope that God will bless it and use it.

In both scenarios, the point of youth ministry has been replaced with selfishness. I begin with the premise that youth ministry is about me. It’s not, it’s about Jesus. That is why Paul said:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2nd Corinthians 9b-10

Paul, who was a better pastor then I’ll ever be boasted more gladly in his weakness because it made much of Christ. Not just that, but Paul was content with his weakness for it means that he must rely even more on Jesus for everything. Paul knew apart from Jesus his ministry was nothing.

Oh praise God it is not about me! Praise God that when I am weak I ought to be glad and content. I know that I have struggled with comparison and a need to be accepted my whole life, but the great thing about the gospel is that it liberates those needs and replaces them with Jesus.

Youth pastor: youth ministry is about the gospel.

Youth pastor: be content in your weakness and rely on the all sufficient Messiah.

Youth pastor: God loves you and your ministry, trust him.

ND