God’s checklist

I’ve been thinking a lot about checklists since David’s sermon on Sunday.  He did a great job of describing the way we imagine God constantly standing over our shoulder, monitoring our every thought and action and marking down all of our failures on some sort of divine checklist.  The result?  A profound sense of condemnation–the unshakable feeling that God is perpetually disappointed in us, the conviction that God wishes we would get our acts together so he wouldn’t have to keep on doling out so much grace.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course.  God isn’t stingy with his grace; he’s more lavishly generous than we will ever understand (check out Psalm 103, especially verses 11-14). And God doesn’t keep a running tally of how many times we’ve committed the same sin, his disappointment increasing with the frequency of our failings; when we seek his forgiveness, he wipes the slate clean (see 1 Corinthians 13:6 — “Love keeps no record of wrongs”).  Yet it can be so, so hard to really believe that — to live in the day-to-day conviction that there really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I think part of the reason is that we still keep those checklists in our head, even if we know that God will forgive us when we mess up.  And not just that: I think that those checklists are often ours more than they are God’s.  They’re what we think God wants from us, what we imagine he demands of us.  But the problem is that our idea of what God’s checklist looks like can be incredibly skewed.   And so we find ourselves condemning ourselves for not living up to a standard that may not be God’s standard to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong: Scripture is plenty clear in lots of ways about how we’re supposed to live, and it’s also clear that God cares how we live.  But somewhere between “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “What do I do about this coworker who is driving me absolutely insane?” things can get kind of messed up.  We know we’re supposed to love, but we don’t necessarily know what it looks like to love.  And whether it’s because of our own sin or our brokenness or the woundedness we carry from others, we can end up with a pretty warped understanding of how we ought to love people.   We confuse humility with self-negation.  We mistake servanthood for doormat-hood.  And we end up condemning ourselves for not living up to a standard that doesn’t reflect God’s desires for us in the first place.  (We also end up condemning others for not living up to our ideas of God’s checklist… but that’s another blog post.)

The point is this: we don’t just need Jesus to wipe clean God’s checklist for us; we need the power of the Holy Spirit to give us new eyes to see what God’s checklist really says in the first place.  Or, for those of us who tend toward the perfectionistic, maybe it’s better to think of it not as a checklist, but as a goals statement.  Not as some list of criteria that God hopes we’ll one day live up to, but as a description of the kind of life and heart that God wants to help us grow into. Not a checklist for our lives, but a guidebook — from a God who is as lavish with his grace when we falls short as he is with his praise when we flourish.

According to whose checklist are you evaluating yourself?  What would happen if you asked the Holy Spirit to give you new eyes — God’s own eyes — by which to see it?

Experiencing Life

On April 25, we thought about being Spiritually dead… this week we took off after life. Experiencing life! How does the Holy Spirit bring those who are dead to life, wake ’em up?

To get after that, I talked about the process of moving from death to life from three vantage points: the mechanical, the volitional, the experiential. For each category there was a prayer response and an image. Here they are:

  1. Mechanical:  It is the Holy Spirit that brings people to life so they can respond to the claims of Christ and His call on their life.  It is like a computer coming out of sleep mode–  the screen just goes from dark to an image, but lots of things are going on in the background that get it ready for input and instruction.  That’s what it is like when spiritually dead people wake up…  prayer point:  put a list of people next to your computer monitor and every time your computer ‘wakes’ up, pray that God would wake somebody up.  “God, please wake up____ to your goodness and love.”
  2. Volitional:  The Holy Spirit wakes us up, makes us alive, so that when the opportunity comes for us to hear words and see signs that point us to our need for a Savior in Jesus, we will respond.  It’s like turning on a light switch.  prayer poing:  ‘Name’ your light switches.  Every time you flip one on, pray that God connects the dots for someone who is curious and seeking.  Put the right words, the right signs at the right moment.
  3. Experiential:  2 NT images of coming into a relationship with God:  The Holy Spirit washes us and the Holy Spirit adopts us into God’s family.  prayer point:  random idea–  every time you brush your teeth, pray that you would ‘experience’ being spiritually washed:  forgiven, without guilt or shame, at peace with God.

One of the primary Holy Spirit gifts for those who are following Jesus is that we would EXPERIENCE Him–  that a relationship with God would not just be cognitive, or disciplined, but an experience of life.  We’ll talk a lot more about life in the Spirit in the weeks to come.

And for those who are over-achievers…  in the past 2 weeks, I have gone back to one of my favorite and most influenced by books:  Redemption Accomplished and Applied. Probably the most succinct and careful treatment of the process/order of salvation.  You should read it at some point in this lifetime.

April 25 Reflections

Restoration is taking the post-Easter, ‘getting ready for Pentecost’ season to study, explore, and engage the person of the Holy Spirit.  In order to provide a benchmark and introduction, I talked about what life WITHOUT the Spirit is like.  Here are my thoughts on what it means to be  Spiritually Dead.  (BTW, special thanks to Corrin Chambers who helped me with spanish…)

Here’s the point:

Spiritually dead people are only the product of their environment and sensibilities.  They are facing pain, trying to cope, coming up with life strategies, and using whatever behavior they can get away with.  Sometimes they are very successful.  Sometimes they are harmfully destructive.  Spiritually Dead People are completely blind [2Cor 4.4], unaware, clueless, and even hostile [John 10.31-33] towards spiritual things because the Spirit is not in them [1 Cor 2. 11,14]  This is so important because if we are spiritually alive, we often mistakenly expect people who are spiritually dead to behave, or think, or act the way we do.
And Here’s a Controversial Thought:
As your pastor, I want us to tread cautiously when we try to legislate or control people’s coping strategies…  We treat people like they are spiritually alive, when they are spiritually dead.  I’m not saying don’t work for justice.  I’m saying there is a reason there is a raging culture war about behavior:  it’s because Christians expect people who are dead to the things of God to understand or embrace the freedom, purity, wholeness that can ONLY come from the presence of the Spirit of God.  Attacking with scorn and derision the coping strategy that lets spiritually dead people face the pain of life will be fruitless…  Or maybe just bear the fruit of self-righteousness. May I humbly suggest that you pray? Ask the Holy Spirit to come on them and make them alive.
I got several really good questions (thanks @ajgibbs and @dg_rad) after the service.  Specifically, how should Spirit-filled people respond to the choices and coping strategies of spiritually-dead people?  What if their coping strategy affects my life?  These are extremely complex and I would love to hear your thoughts.  Listen to the sermon, talk about it with friends, push back in the comments below.  We’re wrestling with this together.

Say no to ignorance

Picture 1

Ignorance is overcome by information.  Information comes from the community of people and ideas whom we give access to our brains.  Your mind is being shaped by the community you let in.  In our worship yesterday, I noticed that Paul exhorts his little church to ‘no longer walk as the Gentiles do.’  Because of ignorance and hardness of heart they are futile, darkened, and alienated.

Ignorance is overcome by information.  I submit that we need to have a community of authors who regularly stretch our worldview.  How many minutes a week/month do you give to thinking deeply about who God is and your relationship to Him?  Here are 10 suggestions to deepen your thinking:

not the way its supposed to be Cornelius Plantinga
The mission of God Chris Wright
Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God Gordon Fee
The Unity of the Bible Daniel Fuller
The Gospel of the Kingdom by George Ladd
The Incomparable Christ by John Stott
Creation Regained by Albert Wolters
Liturgical Theology by Simon Chan
Renewal as a way of life by Richard Lovelace
In My Place Condemned He Stood by J.I. Packer and Mark Dever

Put one on your Christmas list.  Find a friend and read it together.  Gather a group of people to talk about it for 4 weeks.  Take a deeper step into your Christian worldview and redeemed mind.  ‘so that you may no longer walk as the Gentiles do.”

I’d love to hear about what you like.

Confirmation: Is it for me?

More than a few folks have asked me, “Do I need to be confirmed?”

The short answer is no.  You don’t need to be confirmed. Jesus never said a word about confirmation. Confirmation doesn’t accomplish, secure, guarantee, or otherwise bolster your salvation. As far as I know, no one’s ever depicted St. Peter standing at the pearly gates with the churches’ confirmation rosters to determine who’s in and who’s out.

But here’s why you might want to be confirmed. Confirmation is a chance for you, as a mature, cognizant, decision-making person, to make a public profession of your faith in Jesus Christ and your decision to live out that faith in the context of this church community. For those of us who were baptized as infants or young children, our parents made promises on our behalf at our baptism—promises to renounce evil, to accept Christ as their savior, and to follow and obey him. Confirmation is our opportunity to take on those promises, and the responsibilities they entail, for ourselves. For those who were baptized as adults (or older children), confirmation is a time to reaffirm your faith and the commitment to the promises you made at your baptism.

And for all of us, through confirmation we are strengthened and empowered by the Holy Spirit to use our gifts for the building of God’s Kingdom. As part of confirmation, the bishop lays hands on you and prays for you. (You can read the prayers that he’ll use on page 418 in the Book of Common Prayer.) There’s nothing magic about this act. But it is one of the mysterious ways that God chooses to fill us with his grace. While confirmation isn’t mentioned explicitly in Scripture, it does have its roots there. For example, in Acts 8:14-17, the apostles Peter and John go to a group of newly baptized converts and lay hands on them, and they receive the Holy Spirit for the first time.

So, if you have never been confirmed in any denomination, but you are a baptized Christian and you feel like you might want to take this next step in your faith journey, pray about it. Ask God if he is calling you to this step of declaring your faith and to being strengthened to live out that faith as a part of Restoration Anglican Church.

What if you have been confirmed in another denomination? The answer is a little complicated. If you were confirmed in a denomination that has confirmation by bishops (in addition to Anglican, this usually means Lutheran and Catholic), then your confirmation transfers to the Anglican church; you don’t need to be confirmed again, and you will be “received” by the bishop into the Anglican church. If you were confirmed in another denomination, you do need to be confirmed by our bishop. (This was the case with me: I’d been confirmed in the Methodist church as a teenager, but then was confirmed by Bishop Bena as part of my commitment to the Anglican church.)

And if you’ve been confirmed in The Episcopal Church, or CANA, or another Anglican body, you don’t need to be confirmed or received… but the bishop will be happy to pray a prayer of “reaffirmation” for you when he is here!

Thoroughly confused? Feel free to ask questions and comment below; I’ll do my best to answer. And take a look at the service of confirmation in the BCP (pp. 412-419)—you’ll learn a lot about what confirmation is and why we do it!

Confirmation 101

So there’s been a lot of talk at Restoration recently about confirmation. That’s because our bishop, David Bena, will be visiting Restoration on Palm Sunday (April 5), and he’ll be confirming people at that time. This brings up a lot of questions: What is confirmation? Is it for me? Why do I need it? Why would I want it? What am I being confirmed into? If I was confirmed somewhere else, isn’t that good enough? Why does the bishop need to do it? (What’s a bishop?)

Lots of good questions, all worth asking. I’m going to explore some of them here on the blog in the next few days. I hope this will open up thoughts and questions and conversations and prayers about what it means to be on this journey of faith together at Restoration.

So, what is confirmation? One way to answer that question is to say that confirmation is a sacrament in the Anglican church. A sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” In other words, something that we can do, say, see, feel, or touch that signals the invisible work that God does by imparting his grace to our hearts. In Anglicanism, we have two main sacraments (the “Sacraments of the Gospel”), which are baptism and the Eucharist; they’re the two that Christ expressly mandated his disciples to follow. There are also five other sacraments, including confirmation. These aren’t necessary for everyone to experience, but they are ways that God communicates his grace to us. (Check out p. 857-861 in the BCP for more on this.)

That’s kind of a general answer. A more specific answer is that confirmation is the rite through which we make a public declaration of our faith in Jesus Christ and are strengthened by the Holy Spirit to live out that faith in our lives and in the context of our church community. When the bishop confirms you, he asks you to reaffirm the covenant of your baptism; then he lays hands on you and prays that the Holy Spirit would strengthen, empower, and sustain you. In many ways it’s pretty simple. It’s also very powerful.

At its heart, then, confirmation is a gift and a grace—yet one more way that God provides for us to deepen and strengthen and grow our relationship with our Lord, our savior, our redeemer and friend.

Up next: I’d like to be confirmed, I think I’ve already been confirmed, I’m not sure I want to be confirmed… Figuring out whether confirmation is for you.

In the meantime, please comment and question below!

‘my weapons’

I just saw ironman again last week.  RDjr’s character is really winsome.  He makes the movie.  This time, a particular line completely grabbed me.  After his ‘conversion’ in the cave, RDjr commits himself to finding ‘my weapons’ and destroying them.  Several times he uses the phrase ‘my weapons’.  Normally we use ‘my weapons’ to describe weapons that we own, that we will use.  What struck me is his sense of culpability and ownership of ‘my weapons’ that were never discharged by him.  Whereas before, ‘my weapons’ were a means to a lifestyle that centered on and glorified himself, after his conversion, ‘my weapons’ are a reminder of how he has used the pain of others for his own advancement.

I want to have that much ownership of my shortcomings.  RDjr wasn’t using ‘my weapons’ to destroy people, he was just selling them.  Yet he began to feel the result of each weapon like he had pulled the trigger himself.  Consequently, he needed to track down ‘my weapons’ and stop them.  He was not directly responsible for the damage they did, but because he made them and benefited from them, he was carrying the guilt of their use.

Could we all have such a corporate, humble, teachable view of our wrong-doing?  For example, as I think about the work of IJM, we might not ever directly own a slave, but if we benefit from products made by modern slaves or an economy propped up by slave labor, could we say ‘my slaves’?  We might not ever traffic a person for sex, but if one gives their money to pornographic web sites or to an industry that promotes the objectification of women, might that person say ‘my sex trafficking’?  We might not directly discriminate against another person in the workplace, but if there are structures and practices that prevent the advancement of some and the promotion of others based on race or gender, might we say ‘my discrimination’?

For those who follow Christ, the one who never directly sinned, yet went to the cross saying ‘my sins’, what is our corporate and personal culpability for ‘my weapons’?

Why Restoration?

The Biblical promise that gives me the most hope is that Jesus is coming back as King to restore all things and to reconcile all things to God.  He is bringing a new heavens and a new earth.  In those last days, there will be a judgment and a separation.  Truth will be vindicated.  We will receive beauty for ashes.  The broken will be bound up.  The devastations of many generations shall be repaired.  Tears will go away.  All of the scents and tastes we get of this coming Kingdom (seen in beauty, truth, kindness, grace) will be fully consummated in the fully-disclosed reign of our Sovereign King.  It is a day that demands our lives.  It is a day that is worth our lives.

It is a day to come that instructs our conduct in the present.  In technical words, our eschatology determines our ethics.  What we believe about Jesus’ coming reign determines how we live in this present time.  It affects our materialism, our generosity, our priorities, our relationships, everything.  We are people who live between 2 days (the day of atonement, when Jesus forgave us, set us free, and provided his spirit and the day of consummated restoration, when He comes back).  We are people who live in the constant tension of the already and the not yet.  This tension makes it hard for those on the outside to understand why we live the way we do.  This tension pleads with us to use every ounce of our creativity and drive to implore ‘outside people’ to be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20).  This tension is why we are planting a new church.

In restoration, we capture our core value–  the Gospel changes everything.  Grace wins, Truth wins.  Love wins.  The sweeping biblical narrative can be summarized by: creation, fall, exile, restoration.  This is the big picture story from Genesis to Revelation.  It is seen in smaller vignettes throughout the Scriptures.  We are a church compelled by God’s project of restoration.

Saints for sinners

Nov 1 is historically the day the church remembers those whom have died in the previous calendar year:  All Saints Day.  ‘Saint’ is quite a loaded term in our culture.  It is used throughout the New Testament to refer to those who have been ‘set apart’ or made holy by their relationship with God through Jesus Christ.  All who follow Jesus are biblically known as ‘saints’.

But there are some common saint-beliefs that we need to de-bunk.  We don’t pray TO the saints.

1Timothy 2:5 (ESV) For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

We have do not need extra mediators, extra saints to go between us and God.  Our relationship with God is based exclusively on the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  He is our only ‘go-between’.  We don’t need help from saint so-and-so to get ahead.

Secondly, we don’t pray FOR the saints.

Hebrews 9:27 (ESV) And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,

We all get one shot, one life, to decide who we will follow.  Once that life is over, our decision is made.  We cannot pray people into heaven once they have died.  We cannot wish them out of some purgatory-esque after-life.  One shot.  So, decide who you will follow while you walk this earth.  Will you be a saint?

Thumbs up? Thumbs down

One of my favorite games to play with Bennett happens on the way to school each morning. We put my ipod on shuffle and listen to the songs that come up. He is allowed to vote on each song with a Caesar-like thumbs-up or thumbs-down. He usually makes the call within 10 seconds. What is remarkable to me is how consistent he is based almost completely on 10 second intros. I confess his penchant runs towards the 80s– specifically big hair and great guitar riffs: Van Halen, Def Leppard, U2. He also bleeds into the 90s: Smashing Pumpkins. He consistently rejects Peter Gabriel, Bruce Hornsby, and anything that smells like sap. Look for us rocking out on Lee Highway around 8:55am on MWF.

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