Resurrection and Fear

After Jesus rose from the grave, the Apostle John records four meetings Jesus has with people. The first of these that I want to look at today is Jesus’ appearance in the locked room to His disciples. We read about it in this way:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After He said this, He showed them His hands and side. (John 20:19-20)

There are three major things happening as Jesus enters this story bringing resurrection power in the midst of fear.

Jesus Comes Into and Stands Within Our Fears

It seemed like the locked room would not be penetrated by anything good or evil. The disciples were holding the door closed out of fear from others and fears circulating in their own minds and hearts. But Jesus came through the locked door and entered into their midst. No lock could hold Him out – neither could any fear hold Him out – because of His resurrection power.Read More »

What Are You Thankful For?

thankful

Giving thanks and showing gratitude to God is an act of worship. This is why we read in Psalm 106:1, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

But it is not just for the material goods or obvious blessings that we are to be thankful for. In fact, the Apostle Paul, writing to a fledgling church in Philippi while he is imprisoned, urges believers toward gratitude in the face of worry. He writes, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).

Even more strongly, in another letter, Paul calls Christians to give thanks as part of fulfilling the will of God: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

This year may be a tough one for us to practice gratitude, but there is always something somewhere to be thankful for, even in the most difficult of circumstances. So, as part of your worship this Thanksgiving holiday, what are some things you thankful for?

The Divine Dance and Christian Unity

This past weekend in my message at Eastbrook, I mentioned that we have to learn to live in the dance of the Triune God if we want to walk in unity as believers. Let me explain. One of the great theological descriptions of the Trinity is the Greek word perichoresis, which conveys the sense of both differentiation and interpenetration of the three persons of the One God. Perichoresis means that the Triune God sits together and shares one with another without losing their differentiation nor shedding their utter unity.

In his book, The Reason for God, Tim Keller describes this aspect of God as follows:

Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight, and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to, and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love.

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Penguin Books, 2009), 224.

The created universe is a dance with the inner life of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—written through every incandescent atom and far-flung galaxy. Human beings were made to live within the divine dance from the moment of their creation. However, we lost the dance in the refusal to serve God and participate in his community through sin since the time of Adam and Eve.

As we reach out to God by faith through the complete work of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we dwell in God and God dwells in us. We are brought back into the dance of God through God’s gracious, forgiving, restoring, and reconciling work in us.

The people of God, in a sense, live by entering into the dance of the Triune God. We are in God and God is in us through faith in Jesus Christ. It is this divine dance that brings unity to us individually and as a community, not our efforts or our abilities. Certainly, as in all good dancing, there must be a partner who leads and a partner who follows. When that relationships exists well, the dance is beautiful but when the follower resists the leader, the dance ends in chaos. The Triune God leads us in the divine dance, and true unity arrives as we yield to His divine life in us.

Stoking the Fire of Our Passion for God

There are times when we falter in our pursuit of God. The wind and rain of life’s pressure comes against us to put out the fire of our passion for the Lord.

Jesus’ parable of the seed and the soils is fitting for times like that. In that parable Jesus describes how we receive God’s word into our life similarly to how different soil types receive seeds. Different types of soil bring about varying types of fruitfulness. As with certain soils that choke out growth, the stress, fear, and confusion of daily life may crowd out the possibility of fruitfulness for God’s kingdom in our lives.  We decrease in passion for Him and, as a result, we lose our fruitfulness in Him.

Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Apostle was urging this young church to continually stoke the fires of their passion for God.Read More »

Patience and Personal Discipleship

Good things come to those who wait, I’ve been told, but, honestly, I have a really hard time with that.

Let me give you three situations many of us face. Number one: music tries to calm me down as I anxiously wait behind unending lines of traffic, hoping I arrive reasonably on-time to my next appointment. Number two: I carefully choose which check-out line at the store I will head to with my items. I evaluate whether it might make the most sense to go for self-check-out and skip dealing with people altogether. Number three: I head to the DMV, knowing that the actual business I have there does not necessarily need to take more than a few moments but anticipating the reality that I will wait agonizingly long to simply get this taken care of.

“Good things come to those who wait,” but wouldn’t we all prefer to have good things come precisely when we want them? I know that we have heard patience is a virtue, but deep down we all want instant gratification. Now, more than ever, the possibility of instant gratification is within reach as technology married with enterprise has brought us the possibility of getting what we want immediately while never leaving the comfort of our homes. Don’t misunderstand me, I am as prone to enjoy Netflix and Amazon Prime as the next person, but our culture of instant gratification is doing something to us that is not nearly all helpful. The eight-second attention span[1] and inability to delay gratification are making us more anxious and impatient,[2] affecting more than our pace of life and consumption of goods. Now we say, “good things come to those who wait…but let my waiting be short (e.g., eight seconds for information, sixty seconds for music and movie downloads, and twenty-four hours for my online shopping)!”

This anxious impatience is eroding our spiritual lives as well. Spiritual transformation only comes via “a long obedience in the right direction.”[3] Paul the Apostle describes our growth as Christians as a process of growth and maturing, moving from spiritual infancy to nature adulthood, “so that the body of Christ may be built up…and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). We understand this physically, expecting babies to grow to toddlers and on to teenagers before becoming adults. Yet, somehow, we forget that this same process of growth applies to the spiritual life of discipleship. It is not something that comes quickly, but must go through a similar process of growth and maturing over time. Spiritual growth does not happen overnight, let alone in sixty seconds, but must happen over a lifetime.

There is no more valuable, nor more difficult, character trait necessary in the Christian life in this regard than patience.  The Scripture shows both that patience is invaluable in our own lives (Proverbs 19:11; Ecclesiastes 7:8; James 5:7) and in our relationships with others (Colossians 3:12; 2 Timothy 3:10). Our discipleship, as a matter of fact, is a growth in which God shows forth His patience with us from start to finish (Romans 2:4; 1 Timothy 1:16). If we want to grow with God, following Jesus as our Leader and Savior, then we must commit to the patient journey of discipleship over the long haul.

Within the Bible, one of the clearest pictures of this is seen in the Psalms of Ascent. This little collection of psalms was utilized for prayer and worship on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Groups of believers would journey together, caring for one another and building one another up, as they prepared to meet with God and His people in worship. The pilgrimage journey of the Psalms of Ascent provides us with a soundtrack for the patient journey of discipleship. We need songs in our mouths and hearts, we need others to journey with, and we need lives that move steadily closer to God. 

This patient journey of discipleship, and the place that patience begins to have in our lives, is often seen as a key to seeing change in the life of others (Proverbs 25:15; 2 Timothy 4:2). In a culture of anxious impatience where many have misplaced hopes of relief, a patient, peaceful community of people living daily life with God speaks louder than all sorts of religious activity.

Maybe now is a time to disconnect from the impatient pulse of a technologized angst in order to reconnect with the patient journey of discipleship with God. Our very lives, both in word and in deed, may become a living witness to an eternal God who is unhurried in His life and purposes.


[1] Timothy Egan, “The Eight-Second Attention Span,” New York Times, January 22, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/22/opinion/the-eight-second-attention-span.html.

[2] Emma Taubenfeld, “The Culture of Impatience and Instant Gratificaiton,” Study Breaks, March 23, 2017, https://studybreaks.com/2017/03/23/instant-gratification/.

[3] With a nod to both Eugene Peterson and Friedrich Nietszche.

[This post originally appeared as part of the Gospel in Life blog.]