Thursday, June 14, 2018

1-year ago

1-year ago today, I flew into Sea-Tac for a 2-day stay and an interview. I was so relieved that my waiting was close to over, and my family and I would soon be moving to Seattle...

I met Stuart Bell for breakfast, we shared testimonies together, we walked the market, we prayed throughout the downtown. 

I felt I had come home.

But then that job didn’t happen. And neither did any other. For nearly another 7 months...

Those were hard months. It became a burden when people told me they were praying for us, or asked us when we’d be going... we became homesick for a place that we’d never lived in. We knew no one in this city, yet we missed them dearly. We began to feel like Paul in his letter to the Romans:

For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you. For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you- that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles. I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, "The righteous shall live by faith." - Romans 1:9-17

Brothers and Sisters... I can’t tell you that I understand better now why we were prevented from coming to Seattle sooner. I can’t tell you anecdotally the mystery of God having us wait. I can’t tell you with any true certainty what the purpose behind some of the hardest 7 months of my life was... I have some ideas, and I can see how God used that time... 

 What I can tell you is that God told us to go to Seattle. 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Joy and Pleasure in the body of Christ

Weekly, a group of us gathers at a local coffee house and we read scripture together and discuss it. This week was my turn to lead in the discussion. I thought I would share here some of the thoughts and observations I had in studying the text, as well as some of the insights offered through our discussion.

Col 3:1-17

As we have been seeing throughout this letter, Paul is writing to the believers, in the church at Colassae. A relatively new gathering, of relatively young Christians. Paul, having never met this church, is writing a letter exhorting their faith, holding up the preeminence of Christ, warning against false teachings from spiritual mystics, Judiazers, and others who would add to the addition of anything to the salvation they have in Christ. In particular in chapter 2, Paul issues an admonition against (specifically) the practice of asceticism, self-mutilation, and other ritualistic cleansings in an attempt to make oneself holy. It is a warning against trying to undo the destruction of our spirit by our sin through our own physical ability and worldly powers. Paul rails against teachings that seem to promote that the life of following Christ is to be a road without joy, pleasure, and satisfaction. Leading to the unspoken question Paul is addressing in Chapter 3.
"If in the path of the Christian life, we are not to indulge the desires of the flesh to our own satisfaction, yet we are likewise not to abandon all joy and pleasure, how in the world is the Christian supposed to live?"
So, how does a Christian not seek the pleasures of the flesh, and yet pursue the "fullness of joy" and "pleasure forevermore" we find in Psalm 16?

One important observation of this text is right at the beginning, Paul qualifies every instruction he is going to give as pertaining only to those who have been raised with Christ. Therefore this is not instruction for those outside the church. The antidote to lostness is not found in these verses... this is instruction on how to live as one who has died, whose life is hid with Christ, to be raised as he was raised, to those who have died to the elemental spirits of this world.
If, then, this describes us, then these words from Paul are to be instructive for how the Christian can deny the false teachings of our world, and rather seek our greatest joy in God, as well as how we are to pursue that holiness without which none will see the Father.

In verses 5-10 Paul lays out a list of deprivations, sins in which we all have once lived. Afflictions common to all, creating an atmosphere whereby there is universal guilt among the congregation. Wrath was due on all those receiving Paul's words. Therefore, none within the family can hold shame or guilt over another member of the family. In the same way that none can boast in the grace through faith by which they were saved, neither are we to utilize shame and guilt to create a hierarchy of righteousness within the church. We do not chastise our brothers, questioning their salvation, heaping shame on them when they struggle. I see this in how Paul speaks against lying about who they now are in Christ. If we affirm that a brother has put on the new self, and we affirm that we likewise have put on this new self, then we recognize and encourage each other when we struggle. We speak truth to one another through the process of being renewed, as we are being made into the image of our Creator. This is among the essence of sanctification.
In verse 11 we get a free reminder from Paul that as new creations we are not to judge or be judged by traditional, ritualistic measures, but by Christ and the process by which he has, is, and will be cleansing us.
From 12-17: "Sure, that's great Paul, but seriously, how?"
"Put on then, as God's chosen ones..."
- Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness... above all else, love.
-Love binds all things together, creating harmony
- Let peace rule your hearts
- Be thankful
- Let the Word dwell in you, teaching each other.
- Admonish one another in all wisdom
- Sing together
- Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

So, that instruction, if the context of instruction given to the church, not to individuals, we start to see things in concert. "By this will all men know you are my followers, if you love one another." Love is what binds us together as a church, using the many individual members, and the unique notes each of our lives produces, love brings them together to create a harmony. You cannot harmonize alone. The call is to teach one another from the Word, to admonish one another in wisdom, to sing together... to live in community with one another seeking to do all things in the name of Christ.

So then, how do we put to death the deeds of the flesh, without the Christian life becoming a life devoid of pleasure, joy, and satisfaction?
It is not through:
- Ritualistic, masochistic efforts to mortify our flesh
- Open shaming of those whom we see as "lesser" Christians because they struggle with different sins than we do.
- Going it alone, seeking to try harder, to be better, to sin less, and appear holy

Rather, it is through the realization that Christ has defeated sin in my own heart, that it is no longer I, but He who lives in me, to will and to work to His good pleasure. To realize that Christ has done this same miraculous work in the lives of the others in the church as well. To then realize that it is Christ who called you out of your collective bondage, beginning in each of you a good work that He will bring to completion, and the ministry of the church is a means by which He will accomplish this work. He accomplished this work through individual sanctification, done in a corporate setting, giving us the responsibility of "acting the miracle" of our sanctification, through keeping our eyes on the things above... doing this together through:
- Loving one another, with kindness, patience, and compassion
- Reading the Word together, filling each other's minds, and admonishing one another with the wisdom and truth found within.
- We sing together. We raise our voices together in corporate acknowledgement of the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ.

In this, we can find joy, pleasure, and satisfaction in the Christian life. Through the submission of all we do as individuals to the worship of Him by whom was everything made that has been made. We, as a church, must refuse to allow joy and pleasure to be removed from a life following Christ.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Childish understanding

We're trying to get back into the swing of "normal" since our move. Its been difficult, but there are glimmers of normalcy amongst the crazy. One area that is still far away from normal, is our church... though I should say our local gathering of like-minded people with a common vision to covenant together and become a church. But, in the name of brevity, our church.

To try to start feeling some sense of that normal church experience again, we have slowly been transitioning our kids back to their normal Sunday morning tasks. We are staunch believers and supporters of kids (once they have the ability to sit relatively calmly) being a part of the corporate gathering of the church. We want them to be with us to sing worship, to pray, and to hear the Word preached. To this end, our kids have previously been instructed on focused listening during church, with the intention of being able to discuss what was taught. We let them engage by allowing them to draw/color pictures pertaining to the sermon, and other such tasks. Now that they have gotten a little older, we decided that this Sunday, they would be tasked with answering 2 questions, with words instead of pictures:

What words from the songs, scriptures, prayers, or sermon are new to you, or you don't know what they mean?

What was something new you learned today, or a question you have about today?

Here is the point of my writing this today, to those who disagree with children being present in the corporate services of the church, or who think it is unfair to immerse children in teaching that is so far above their understanding, this simple exercise led directly to the following conversations over dinner last night:

Lydia, who is soon to be 8 years old, and has been sitting in "big church" for 4-5 years at this point, wrote down three words that she didn't understand as well as she wanted to: Mortal, Chronological, and a third one that we couldn't decide what it actually said. These words led us to a discussion on the temporal nature of our flesh, and the infinite nature of God. It led to the image-bearing immortal part of each individual. We talked about what it means in Romans 6:12 (she remembered the scripture reference that caused her to write down the word), what Paul meant about letting sin reign in our mortal body. It was a good conversation. Our look into Chronology, which netted a more practical discussion about the way the Bible is organized, and different ways we can go about studying God's Word, and the benefits of that.

Ben, who just turned 6 and has been sitting with us for 3 years now, wrote down no words. I teased him by asking what transubstantiation meant (a word used in the service). He of course didn't know, and actually didn't recall the word being used. But, even that allowed us the chance to talk about really cool words that he didn't get to learn about because he was struggling to pay attention.

But even cooler than any of that, when asked about new things that they both learned:

Lydia, a discerning Berean in her little body, picked up on something the pastor had said about Jesus' baptism, and how Jesus looked up into Heaven and saw the sky open up and view the Spirit. She was concerned because none of her experience with that story ever mentioned Jesus looking up. She was concerned about the validity of what she was being taught because it rang a different bell in her mind. We went through the New Testament accounts of Jesus' baptism, and she is right, none of the accounts actually say that Jesus looked up to see the Heavens open... simply that the heavens were open to Him. I explained that our pastor looked at those passages, and knowing that Jesus was here on Earth, and the Heavens are somewhere else (up from where Jesus was), that when they were opened to Him, he likely would have had to look up to see them. Ben had questions about this process too, questions of how God could open the heavens, what if God poked a hole in heaven so Jesus could see in, but then God accidentally fell into the hole? Such questions are, of course, silly to our adult minds... but it was a real concern for Ben, and allowed for deeper discussion of God's sovereignty.

Ben, for his part, picked up on hearing that none of Jesus' bones were broken. He wanted to know if that was really true. What a wonderful conversation about Old Testament prophecies, and Jesus' fulfillment of those prophecies. We talked about the likely search for Jesus' body by the Romans following the resurrection, and how no body was found without broken legs. We were able to relate that Jesus' body was never broken outside of the plan and will of God. In fact, the first reference we really see to Jesus being broken is at the institution of the Lord's Supper, when Jesus Himself broke the bread, declaring it to be as his body, broken for us. No one breaks the Son of God, but the Son of God who Himself breaks it. No one takes His life, only the Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.

Don't sell your kids short on what they will pick up from a normal Sunday morning in the church. Don't shy away from allowing them to engage with God in a way that is challenging to their little brains. They won't understand everything, but they don't need to... God has ordained that He makes Himself visible and known to His children through the preaching of the Word. He will reveal Himself to our kids as they are prepared to receive Him, and it is very, very good.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Planted by the Stream

When I find myself needing encouragement, I like to read the Psalms. When things in the faith start to feel a little too brainy, and my heart is lacking, the writings of the Psalmists provide reality. They screw up, they doubt, they fear, they ask the same questions I find myself asking... they're real life. Tonight, we were talking about struggling. I know that I am feeling some dryness in my faith right now. The culture we've been transplanted into manages to suck life out of you pretty quick, turns me into a cynic even faster.

I'm not feeling useful, not feeling that whatever God's purpose for bringing my family out here is being touched. Momentary blips to the contrary wither and blow away quickly, leaving behind an uneasy, underlying disquiet... I've known deep discontent, and it's insidious assault, suffocating joy. I have neither the time, nor the desire to trod that path. We have the utter resolve that there is no denying that God brought us here, and that His purpose for doing so serves both the purpose of His everlasting glory, and our everlasting joy. So, with that battle raging in my heart tonight, I return to Psalm 1, seeking joy in the Word, comfort in the presence of my King, and rest for my soul.

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." 

Not feeling fruitful? Feeling dry, weak, short on delight? What is the answer?

The Word! The man who is like a tree, planted by streams of water... water which yields fruit in its season, with leafs that do not wither, that is the man I desire to be tonight. He is the man who delights in the law of the Lord, who loves to Word of God. He gives his mind to the business of knowing the law. He is the man whose roots grow deep in the streams of living water, he is imbibed by this water, this word, this Jesus. He is a man who seeks after Jesus's promise that "whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. The water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14-15)

The Psalmist knew that the Word of God was the well-spring of living water, and only by rooting oneself in the fertile soil of the stream can a man hope to prosper, to bear fruit. And God desires for us to know that as well. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

2 months in

Two months ago today was the first morning we woke up as a family in Seattle. Two months (and a couple days) since last seeing our friends, celebrating and ringing in the New Year. What was strange at the time was that we had a sense that we weren't leaving home, but rather going home. We couldn't explain it outside of a heart shift, a working of the Spirit within us, shaking the dirt off our roots, preparing us for this new adventure. We were far from certain of what things would look like as we headed out for our 4-day voyage, what "home" would be.

So, two months in, two months of a new job, two months of a new city, two months of apartment life, two months of gathering with our new family. Two months of prayerfully seeking God's will for a gathering of people, seeking to covenant together to become a church. Two months of singing hymns A Capella, two months of meeting in a conference room on the 33rd floor... two months of eternally significant, small moments.

I am not one who is eager to love other people. I do not naturally find enjoyment in being with others. It is Spirit-wrought fruit in my life, evidence of the power of God at work to conform me into the image of Christ that I desire to put to death that fleshly want of solitude. It is by His grace alone that I find myself craving time with this gathering, craving corporate prayer, and by extension wanting to be among the darkness of our city. That last part ebbs and flows with greater regularity than the tides, but it is real. I want to be present among the debauched throngs of men that can be found throughout the streets. I want to hold up the precious jewel of the Gospel before them, allowing the light of the glory of God to shine through it's many facets, striking the hearts of men. I want to witness the resurrecting power call dead men to life. I desire to be an instrument, like Ezekiel, through whom God can breathe life into dry bones.

I want to not allow the stress and demands of my job to be used by Satan to pull me away from the purpose to which God brought my family to this city. I want to stand firm in the practices of daily Bible study and prayer, even though my eyes and brain are often tired. I want to invest into my fellow believers, time, prayers, fellowship.

Lord, help me to love. Help me to love my wife as Christ loves His church. Help me to love my kids and raise them up in You. Help me to love my brothers and sisters, to bear their burdens, and lessen their loads. Help me to love the least of these, your children, for by this will all men know that I am yours, that I would love them. Lord, help me trust your plan. Help me keep your mission, and your purpose as the priority of my life. Allow me the privilege of vulnerability and transparency that others may know my heart and my needs, that I would seek their support, help, and prayers. Lord, help me seek satisfaction in You, glorify yourself in my satisfaction. Lord, cause me to lie down and rest in your green pastures. Lord, I readily acknowledge your word that unless I abide in you, and you abide in me, I am only a fruitless branch, that I can do nothing apart from you. I cannot love as you command, I cannot bear other's burdens, I can not cherish my wife, or raise my kids, I cannot trust, rest, rejoice, not even breathe apart from you. To abide without you is to have myself cast off and thrown to the fire. But Lord, you also promise that if I abide in you, and your words abide in me, that whatever I ask will be done for me. You, Lord, are glorified in the asking of your children for your mercies, for by asking we will bear fruit, and thus prove to be your disciples. This promise is made for the joy of your people, to the full. Lord, I seek and ask for that fullness of joy that is found in your presence, and at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. --Amen

Thursday, December 21, 2017


God scatters His people.
He does so for the sake of His glory, and the building/advancement of His Kingdom.

These may not be the only reasons for the dispersement of His church, but they are two that are opening my eyes this morning. 

The last couple of days have been spent looking in Acts 8, and the persecution and scattering of the Jerusalem church. As I was reading, another act of dispersement cane to mind, one not carried on the hands of human oppressors, but by the direct act of God. 

In Genesis 11 we find what appears to be the totality of the people of God, settler together in one place. In a short time together, the people devise a plan to construct the great human city. In the midst of this city will be a mighty tower, reaching into the heavens, a monument to their own greatness. It would be a place of such grandeur that all people would be able to see it from far off, a beacon drawing them all together, to preserve their greatness. “Lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” Their desire was insulation, and protection of self. They desired the ability to worship their own glory and might. 

God, ever zealous for His own glory, unwilling to share it with any other, descends upon His people, speaking in Triune power, “This is only the beginning of what they will do... Let Us go down there and confuse their language, so they may not understand one another’s speech.”
This God disperses His people, scattering them from this place in order that:
1) They do not delve further together into self-gratifying, self-worshiping destruction.
2) To protect and proclaim His power and glory among His people.

So that’s one dispersion, but what about Acts 8?

We don’t read of plans of the Apostles to build monuments of themselves. Rather, we see faithful men, working heartily as for God. We see fruitful ministry among the people. So why does God bring about the persecution of Saul, and the subsequent scattering of the church?

I think it comes down to a few things:
1) The protection of the Glory of God (the humbling of His people):
While the Apostles are keeping to a humble, low self-understanding service, their works often cause marveling among the people. They work diligently to point to the power of the resurrected Christ when people speak of their awe. But, with each passing work, and every glorious act done in the midst of the people, many will begin to be deafened to the words of the Apostles, and blinded to the Glory of God. If left unchecked, it is likely that soon the people will no longer hear the Apostles’ claim that the works done are not of their power, but are of the power of Christ alone. For this reason, it is better to persecute and strike at the church. Better to scatter the brothers than have the Glory of God defamed among the nations.

2) The sending of bold men to preach the Good News, and father the sheep:
From this scattering, we are told that those who went out did so preaching the Word. We are given the example of Philip, who went out and preached boldly, and the Spirit worked effectually in the land of Samaria. Philip went south and taught many, culminating in the salvation of the Ethiopian eunuch. By this example, we can assume that other brothers went to other places, preaching Christ to the nations. God needed to scatter His people to find men to carry through the mission of Acts 1:8, taking the message out of Jerusalem, into Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. To echo Paul later, God scatters His people because: 
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” 
We usually read this passage from Romans 10:14-15a when it’s time for a mission trip, a church sending people out. But, in the scattering of His church, God was sending His men out to preach to those who needed to hear, that on gearing they might believe, and in believing they will call. In doing so, they fulfill the mission given by Jesus that there are other sheep who are not of this fold, and they must be gathered.

3) To lay the groundwork for the most powerful display of redeeming grace in the New Testament:

In Ezekiel 36, God speaks through His prophet a vivid series of imagery concerning the lengths and depths He will go to save to the uttermost His children. He goes on to declare that he does this redemptive work, not merely for the sake of the saved, but for the sake of His glory. (For more on this passage: )

I think, I’m light of this, and many other passages, we can infer that in some respects, the greater the redemption, the more magnified is God’s glory. God is infinitely glorified in the redemption of everyone who believes, and that redemption is bought with the same blood of Christ. But he is forgiven much, forgives much. In saying this, we can see that Saul’s ravenous persecution of the church, and the subsequent scattering of the church, was instrumental in setting the stage for the penultimate display of the applied redemption of God through Christ. In reconciling the self-named chief of sinners, God called to Himself, of Himself, by Himself the praise of His own glory and might.

With these thoughts, I take solace as I prepare for my family to soon be one scattered. I can trust from the Scriptures that God has a mighty purpose in what He has planned. And go now, I rest knowing that God is seeking to keep me, or make me:
1) humbled by His will and mercy in my life
2) bold, prepared to speak His word among the people
3) excited, ready to see the mighty works of redemption He has planned.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sacrifice nothing

Lord, incline my heart to savor and desire your Word, open my eyes and my heart to your Glory displayed, unite my soul to your Holy Spirit in Your truth, satisfy me in you. Lord, do these things out of your zealous desire that your Glory and Beauty be made known among your people.
In Christ’s name,

As the months of prayer and preparation have gone by, waiting on God’s timing for our move to Seattle, many verses have stuck out in my mind. Verses that provide encouragement, verses that humble my haughty mind, verses that sharpen my desires, and so on... but one that has been utilized for all of these has been Mark 10:29-30:

Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.”

These last few days, I’ve been reading through Acts 7, looking at Stephen’s life and martyrdom. And I can’t help looking at this through the lens of Jesus’ words in Mark. What we find in this glance is the satisfied promise of God to a man who sacrificed all, yet could (and I believe would) say he never truly sacrificed a day in his life.

We know little of Stephen’s life before meeting him as a sharp-tongued proclaimer straight from the mold of the Apostles he sat under. We only know him briefly in his bold and accurate, incisive words spoken to the hypocritical religious leaders of the day. His surgical flaying of their hearts leads straight to his being rushed, thrown down, and stoned.

But how can we know that Stephen would say that he had never sacrificed a thing?

The inference from scripture is that we most often see the kind of boldness we see in Stephen, boldness for the sake and Glory of Jesus, borne out of great personal cost of following. I’m willing to assume that because we don’t hear about Stephen’s family or home that he qualifies as one who “left mother, father, sisters, brothers, and lands” for the sake of the Gospel. The immediate promise from Jesus is that “in this time” Stephen should receive 100x his sacrifice in blessing. So what did he gain? An immense brotherhood, one that sought to have no wants in and among themselves. A group that loved one another unconditionally, a family of thousands, held together by the incorruptible love of God. He gained the teaching of the great truths of the sufficiency of Christ and the preciously priceless Glory of God. Realities well worth greater than 100x what he left behind.

Next, Stephen gave up anonymity within this immense family. Anonymity is safe, and comfortable. I’m assuming here, again, that the church had already begun to develop a striata of those who are willing to stay in the unknown ranks. I think we can assume that there are many who came, gave up what they had, but then remained insulated and relatively quiet (especially compared to the boldness of some), and this safer. I assume this because among the thousands upon thousands of people added to the church, we really see few who are leading, serving the many. This is not a knock on the many, the church is built upon the reality of a multitude of individuals with different gifting and callings. But Stephen was called out and he took up that calling to leave an anonymous presence in the church to be recognized as one who was full of the Spirit, and of faith. His is the first name given among those established in the office of Deacon. He sacrificed a life in the church of provision and safety provided by anonymity for a life of bold service. 
What did Stephen gain for this sacrifice?
According to Paul in 1 Timothy 3:13, those who serve the office of Deacon well gain a good standing for themselves and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Anyone who struggles with the assurance of their faith will tell you that great confidence in assurance would be worth well over 100x the cost.

Then comes the ultimate sacrifice of Stephen, his physical life. Emboldened by his great assurance, and assured of the blessings to those who sacrifice for the sake of Jesus, Stephen was unwilling to keep quiet, unrelenting in his work. He boldly spoke truth to all, not stopping when encircled by the throng of leaders who came upon him. He refused to deny his teachings. He chose, rather, to stand fast in the truth, at the cost of his life. He went so far as to trade the last of his energy, not to fight, but to speak. He spoke of a vision of Jesus, ascended to the right hand of God. When he was knocked down and began to be stoned, he spoke, resigning his spirit to the presence of Christ. Exchanging temporal life on earth for eternal joy in the presence of God. Then, in his last breath, he sacrificed any desire for vengeance on his murders for grace: “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them.”

What did Stephen gain for the sacrifice of his life?

He gained the sure promise Jesus made in Mark 10, eternal life; eternal perfection in the presence of God. The immense value of a human life, exchanged for the incalculable value of eternal Glory. The exchange of vengeance desired for love. An act that seals the persevering faith of this brother, bearing witness for all of us who have come after to the completed sanctification of the transformed life. A sheep called home by its Great Shepherd.

Though he gave up everything, Stephen sacrificed nothing.