When you must create something.

Christians are called to be “salt and light” in our culture, which is to say we must create culture, not just critique it. We have special resources to renew, restore, and create godly culture embodying the life of Jesus. He told us not just to believe the things He said; He taught us to also do whatever we saw Him doing. Since He is the one Creator, we get to borrow His creativity as co-creators.

Many today are “culture warriors,” which is to say they want to go to war against any and all anti-Christian sentiments. They battle against evil worldviews with the force of their far superior “Christian worldview.” I think a biblical worldview is important (and am convinced you cannot attain one without meditating on the Scriptures constantly), but what I find lacking among these “culture warriors” is an awareness of the true enemy. Paul said we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but rather an hidden, wicked enemy, that (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Are other people the real enemy, whatever their category or label? Are these our enemies: liberals (or conservatives), those for (or against) gun control, politicians, public schools, taxes? Our enemies become our prime targets in an election year like 2012. (Maybe you’ve seen the expensive propaganda mailers in your mailbox already.)

Let me ask you: is this really making things better? Can someone be salt and light, known for the message of Jesus, if they’re whole platform in life is what they are AGAINST?

How about we fight the real enemies that war against our souls: pride and greed.

How about we rail against those?

Pride and greed are daily on display in our foolishness, where we resist following God’s ways and choose to run our own lives. When we try to be the hero of our tiny stories, and be sure to “get ours,” we become everything we ardently criticize. Yet we remain blind to our real problem, thinking it is “out there.”

 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me. —Philippians 2:14-18

When we resist the urge to grumble and complain, we give ourselves opportunities to cultivate a culture of grace and peace, right where we live. As we follow Christ (who never complained or played the ‘victim’ card), we become like Him, borrowing powerful light from the Light of the World. As His light shines, we become co-creators of new, attractive opportunities for righteousness, peace, justice, mercy, and grace to live.

One day the whole world will be just as He designed it to be. Until them, we’re invited to live like we are as He designed us to be — loving God and loving people. We’ll be imitating Jesus who created the world, and then stepped into our fallen mess to re-create it again in His image.

Go create something good.

In the meantime, if you have a hard time knowing what to create in the darkness, trying some of these:

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Top photo credit: “Go on creating” by fotologic

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Getting #Linsanity: waiting for your big shot.

20120221-031836.jpgWhat do you think of Jeremy Lin’s story? Are you caught up in #Linsanity?

The power of his story has almost single-handedly saved the lockout-shortened NBA season, and reminded us of the pure joy we find watching players who make everyone around them better, lead by being generous more than prideful, and the team becomes a more powerful force than they could be as a random assortment of stars.

“The Lin story has broken out into the general culture because it is aspirational in the extreme, fulfilling notions that have nothing to do with basketball or race. Most of us are not superstars, but we believe we could be if only given the opportunity.”

David Carr (via New York Times), adding:

“We are, as a matter of practicality, a nation of supporting players, but who among us has not secretly thought we could be at the top of our business, company or team if the skies parted and we had our shot?”

Do you secretly have those same thoughts? Are you patiently waiting for your ‘big shot,’ toiling away in obscurity while embodying faithfulness and perseverance, on the path toward gaining godly wisdom?

Source: Getty Images

Romans: the more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.

On Romans:

“This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”

—Martin Luther, The Letter of St. Paul to Romans, written 1546

Chart source: Mark Barry, Visual Unit

Trouble: the rush and pressure of modern life.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence… activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence… It kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

—Thomas Merton, via Chad Lewis of the Sojourn Network, who adds:

“If you are not doing the hard work of sitting at Jesus’ feet daily, you are in trouble.”

So true.

My 7 Daily Sins (& yours too).

“Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” —Mark 7:15

Perhaps you’ve heard of the Seven Deadly Sins:

  1. Lust
  2. Pride
  3. Greed
  4. Gluttony
  5. Envy
  6. Sloth
  7. Wrath

These are seven categories of sin; ways we creatively disobey God. But they don’t just reside “out there” in the world. They live in us.

The seven deadly sins aren’t just things we do—they’re who we are every day. Author Jared C. Wilson’s study Seven Daily Sins examines the good news that Christ offers a way to deal with these sins once and for all.

The bad news is we carry around sin inside of us every day.

The good news is, through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can not only identify our daily sins … but kill them.

Let’s stop managing our sin and start experiencing freedom in Christ.

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” —Romans 7:24-25

How to not give up.

There are no quick fixes. While it is tempting to find a drive-thru, feel good solution and “just do it,” we know life is far more complex for using simple methods to get a new you by Friday.

“Christian life does not arise spontaneously in us. The truth of the gospel cannot always be reached through a process of reasoning. We need to meditate long on the words of Jesus. It is only through familiarity and association with the Gospels that we begin slowly to learn to live like him.”

—José A. Pagola, Following in the Footsteps of Jesus. Meditations on the Gospels for Year A. Translated by Valentine de Souza, S.J. Miami: Convivium, 2010, page 23.

How do we not give up?

By staring at the one who never gave up, who was joyfully obedient to God His Father until the very end. And then follow in His steps.

If I invite Jesus into my life — which is a mess — I will become discouraged when He doesn’t change me as quickly as I want, or provide the comfortable life I envisioned. (Many “try” Jesus and conclude He doesn’t work. Because Jesus spoke mostly about the Kingdom of God and invited us to flee from the kingdom of self, He offers a better way than this.)

But if I respond to Jesus, who invites me into His life, I will place Someone at the center who can effectively navigate the twists and turns of life. Know this: out of His great strength, He can make you and me whole. Will you surrender?

I can think of no greater ambition this year than studying the life of Jesus and being changed into His image. Of course not everyone will be changed as they read, for not all have faith. To really know God, we must really know Jesus.

An invitation: Pick up one of the Gospels this month, reading it through five times. With each thoughtful time through your mind will be awakened to the sheer awesomeness of this man. He will surprise, invite, confront, challenge, and inspire you. (And so much more. Like Aslan, Jesus is very good, but He is far from safe.)

  • Mark is the shortest, looking at the pattern and purpose of His life, for those on the go. You can read it through in one sitting. (The clear outline: Who is Jesus » why did He come » What does it mean to follow Him?)
  • Matthew gives us a healthy does of Jesus’ words, confronting our half-baked ideas about God, self and others. He fulfills the longings of the people around Him, but never in the way they assumed He would.
  • Luke examines the evidence for Jesus and brings us accounts from numerous eye witnesses.
  • John helps the right-brained (visual, artistic) learner envision Jesus as God come in the flesh. God in a Bod is better than we imagined.

Of course, those are not exactly the groups to which the Gospel writers made their arguments, but a simple way to approach which one to start with, based on how you’re wired.

Each writer was making an argument about Jesus, not just collecting the facts about Him.

  • To the Romans » Mark portrays Jesus the Servant
  • To the Jews » Matthew sets forth Jesus the King, promised for centuries to the rescue His people and the world
  • To the Gentiles » Luke (the only Gentile writer of a NT book) portrays Jesus the Man
  • To the Greeks » John shows what ultimately reality looks like as Jesus is the Son of God

If you’re curious why there are four Gospel accounts, Ray Stedman gives us a helpful reminder why:

“There is a reason for this, designed deliberately by the Holy Spirit. We make a mistake if we think these four Gospels are four biographies of the Lord. They are not biographies at all, they are character sketches, intended to be different, intended to present different points of view. Therefore, they constitute four distinct views of our Lord and of his work.

The Gospel of Matthew is written to present Christ as the King. The Gospel of Mark presents His character as a servant. The Gospel of Luke presents Him as the Son of Man — as man in His essential humanity. The Gospel of John presents Him as the Son of God, that is, His deity, and there you find the greatest claims for Jesus being God.”

—Ray C. Stedman, introduction to Mark, Adventuring Through the Bible

Who’s with me?

I’ll be reading through Luke five times in January. How about you?

Let’s meditate long on the words of Jesus.

[in]complete love: the ruts where we get stuck.

“I will heal their backsliding.”
—Hosea 14:4

I talk with backsliders all the time. Most don’t notice their rut or direction, and almost as many don’t really care. It usually their closest loved ones who seek out a pastor for advice and encouragement.

I also find that when people strongly desire change (circumstantially), but are not willing to change themselves, they are in the throngs of many dangers. At least one of those is how we creatively find ways to meet our heart longings in ways that can slowly (or quickly) destroy us. Our poor decision-making accumulates over time, for very few people wake up one day and say “I want to run from God and make a mess of my life.” Little by little we get stuck in a rut of our own choosing, not recognizing the warning signs, and sometimes ignoring them. When confronted by loved ones, we minimize, deny, deflect, distract or minimize our issues, numbing the pain while making it worse.

Consider the analogy of a muddy road:

God’s people let themselves drift. We fall into backsliding gradually, a process unfolding over time. This is no surprise, for apart from the grace of God we remain children of Adam our entire lives. We can never shake off our old nature completely; it clings to us with the tendrils of countless sinful tendencies.

The life of God’s child is illustrated in a frequent scene in rural Michigan [or Central Oregon, where I grew up] during the winter weeks of heavy snow. The lanes and smaller roads, many of them unpaved, become muddy and nearly impassable. Looking down these after a snow, at first only one set of tracks appears. As each subsequent vehicle follows the same tracks, the ruts grow increasingly deeper, until someone finally becomes stuck and can go no further.

Similarly, God’s children are prone to follow the tracks of their muddy human nature, following those tracks wherever they lead. The further they go, the deeper they sink into the ruts, step by step, one thing leading to another until they get stuck. What are these ruts believers are so inclined to fall into? I can enumerate at least these six:

  1. Coldness in prayer
  2. Indifference under the Word
  3. Growing inner corruptions
  4. The love of the world
  5. Declining love for believers
  6. Man-centered hopes

—Joel R. Beeke, Getting Back in the Race: the cure for backsliding

Backsliding is always an issue of love. Our heart longs for something, usually a legitimate need, yet we somehow invent illegitimate ways to meet those needs. (Such as when a teenage girl desires affection from her father but goes with a vastly incomplete substitute: a boyfriend.) When we’re bored with God and His good will for us, we seek out alternative routes to travel. Killing sin isn’t about never getting in a rut; it’s about finding the desire to run to God, and seek help, when we get stuck.

For more on backsliding see:

Every day I talk to a potential backslider. Myself. (You do too.) Preach the Gospel to yourself each and every day. Teach yourself to love God and His good news.

Image credit: “Bad Road” by National Library of Scotland