Incarnation the “greatest of all”?

We skip over a lot of material when we go from creation to incarnation. Suffice it to say that the pre-existent Creator, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, by whom and for whom all things were created, and in whom they are sustained, became a man. This was planned, before the foundation of this universe, as we purport to know it (but couldn’t possibly), and executed in the fullness of time…in Bethlehem. How do we rank miracles? How do we suggest lesser or greater import of each of these indispensable portions of the wonder of our salvation? But it is the INCARNATION of Christ that seems to me the greatest miracle of all. That God, in spirit, infinite, uncontained, could be, much less would be encased in human form is simply beyond comprehension. Never mind the anonymity of it, the humility of it, the total lack of presumption or assertion or ambition of it. It is the fleshy-ness of it that I am today inviting you to consider for its sheer magnificence. There is no other more contrasting condition than this. It would seem impossible, but not just in the matter of an unlikely arranging of matter. Or in the inappropriate, even blasphemous nature of being reduced to so inglorious of conditions. Or the mystery of the setting aside that inherent glory (whatever that actually means). But it is the salvific component that amazes. The perfection of the gospel in its entirety. This isn’t a story we believe and receive only. This isn’t “accepting baby Jesus into our baby hearts.” The full requirement of a virgin conception (to avoid imputation of Adam’s sin) and thereby (and exclusively by the way) qualify him for “perfect lamb” status is (forgive the earthly measure) genius. Beyond that, only a human (yes a sinless one, not in behavior, but in nature), could be the only qualified substitute. Who thinks of this? I keep returning to the idea that humankind has attempted to create religious/spiritualist systems of all varieties, and that none covers the necessary qualifiers to actually save. If the creation narrative (last post) established that we are not God and that we are in need of God (a Savior) then here (incarnation of God) begins the incredible drama, one act after another, that leads compellingly and irresistibly toward our salvation. We beheld Him in His glory, as He dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

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Gospel Distinction #2–Creation

20100727115554-7cb94082Living in the city of San Francisco has alerted my heart to something: not everyone believes in God. That people are able, willing, even desirous of creating their own gods is clear. While “spirituality” is a value, pluralism or, to coin a term, “self-ism” is most common. While my friends are uncomfortable with being created in God’s image, they race to the idea of creating a god in their image. Irony. In either case, creation is the issue.

Allow me to do a dangerous reach-back to my seminary days: The ontological argument for God’s existence is relevant here (and by “here” I mean for the city, but I also refer to a cultural/generational dynamic experienced by all in today’s political/educational climate). If we can imagine a concept of “God,” even enough to form the word in our mouth, then it must at least be possible that He exists. If it’s even possible, then it may be most probable, and perhaps the easiest explanation for the existence of all things in a complex universe. 

When it comes to faith, in general, but saving faith in particular, a faith that eventually and actually finds its completion in Christ, the idea of “Creator” is where this all begins. Good news of being saved from imputed sin only makes sense in the context of intelligent/personal design. A Creator is inherently omnipotent, sustaining, and authoritative by virtue of His being the source of all life…all things. When we launch into the particulars of our existence and relationship with Him, the demands of the gospel come screaming into play. But if a person is able to dismiss God, generally, and the one and only, living and triune God (of the Bible) in particular, then nothing of the gospel makes sense. We have no reasonable bounds for universally applicable laws, values, justice, morality, or what we’ve come to understand (even in the political realm) as inalienable rights endowed by…who?

So, our Father canonized His story beginning with the words, “In the beginning, God…”

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Gospel Distinction…

Christmastime, and the incarnation of Christ, has prompted my thinking on the gospel. I’ve decided that the truly distinct nature of our message, in contrast to all man-made religious systems, sets itself apart only when viewed in its fulness:

1. Creation

2. Incarnation

3. Crucifixion

4. Resurrection

5. Commission

6. Ascension

For the next six offerings, I’ll speak to the significance of each. In the meantime, I invite you to join the conversation in answer to the question: Why do these six realities reveal the only reasonable pathway to God?

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The Honor of Pastoral Ministry

Perhaps you hear it often. Most likely not. It is a good thing you have chosen to do brothers.

After pastoring local churches for 28 years, I began my ministry of “pastoring pastors.” Some of you have allowed me the privilege of being there for you in a wide variety of contexts, and I am grateful for it. Many have allowed me to hold forth the word of God from your pulpits. This additional layer of pastoring has been my honor. It has afforded me several opportunities. I am able to vicariously celebrate in a ministry I once had as my own. Most of you know that to preach the word, in season and out of season, the whole counsel of God, is a call I share with you. I have, in more recent years, honed that calling to what the Bible calls “the furtherance of the gospel.” What I miss, and you enjoy, I now commend to you as a calling high and honorable: “Feed my sheep.” Keep pressing on in your faithfulness. In this Christmastime, I wish you rich and happy ministry, the love of family and friends, and a gospel fruitfulness like never before.

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Grateful for What Can Not be Taken Away

Give_Thanks_std_tIt’s Thanksgiving week, and one might consider the fact that Christian leaders all over America are encouraging people to give thanks; count blessings; take no thing for granted.

Instead, I’m going to share what has become the most gratitude-provoking-revolutionary-practice in my short life: Giving thanks for the invisible and eternal.

I’m tempted to invite you to cease giving thanks for anything, or anyone, tangible this year. One year. One Thanksgiving Day. if I was to invite you to only verbalize your thanks, from a contemplative heart of deep appreciation, for only those things that are invisible and eternal, and therefore CAN NOT BE TAKEN AWAY, would you take the challenge? Go ahead, make a list. It’s long. It’s biblical. And it will be the most profound, theologically deep, Christ-honoring, and soul-altering experience you’ve ever had at a Thanksgiving. Teach this practice to your loved ones and you will have maximized your disciplemaking influence on this most wondrous of all American holidays!

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Loving Before Winning

601223_10150854339017723_717198441_n_0Many of us enjoyed the Fall DLD last Saturday in Walnut Creek. I am grateful for all the work and generosity so beautifully demonstrated! Of the many insights I gleaned from this day, one stood out as it rolled from the lips of Dr. D. A. Carson:

“We cannot win people unless we first love people.”

Now, this is obvious to us. Biblically, culturally, relationally, this is nothing new. Love is very, very important. We’ve all preached that sermon more than once. So where is the profundity for my own heart here?

I guess it’s experiential. I have seen people love to be loved where I am living. They are surprised by it, humanly. They are confused by it, when they find out we’re evangelicals. They are even a bit frightened of it, since it invites vulnerability. In the end, though, they are compelled by it, because love of this variety is pretty rare.

Here’s the catch: loving people doesn’t guarantee we’ll “win” them. The gospel is so deep and demanding, so heart-level, that no amount of almost perfect love from any of us will do. God must save. My hope is that I will have postured myself into the heart of my friend, while aligning myself with the loving heart of God, and living in the same stream as Jesus who loved so well. Perhaps then I won’t be a detriment to His saving plan. Perhaps then I will see, one day, the awakening we prayed for this weekend.

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I had a brother, a colleague, mention something that took me back. I suppose its because it is a rare thought in our circles. Especially in an organization with the word central to its mission and vision. It’s almost assumed in our culture.

And maybe that’s the problem.

He said that all we’ve ever done is “add” and that “multiplication” is neither biblical nor an option. It has never been done, and never will be.

So, we could plunge into that discussion on a theoretical level, or we could refuse that and refocus on real life. 

I use 1 Timothy 2:2 as a model for multiplication. 4 generations are depicted here: Paul came to faith, and God used him in Timothy’s life. Then Paul called Timothy to do the same with “faithful men.” And then Paul casted vision for Timothy when he added: “…who will reach others also.”

The first “discussion community” we enjoyed with our friends in the city was centered around “A life well-lived.” I’ve decided that 4th generational multiplied faith is a good description.

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logoI made the statement, recently, that perhaps what denominations (if not all, then perhaps ours) have to offer , is relationship.

It is an age when specialty, creativity, and connectedness abound in a combination of accessibility, and pragmatism that makes it very nearly foolish for the EFCA to compete. What are the few values we have to offer, since the answer to that offers both viability of, and direction for our future. Let’s be honest, many are asking, “What, really, is the value of denominations? Have they outlived their helpfulness?”

I am unafraid to face this question, even as a very recent addition to the roles of denominational employ. So, here is my first solicitation of conversation. Tell me, what would you say are the few, if any, offerings the Western District of the EFCA must supply?

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Broken Bridges

Peter told us we are “…a royal priesthood.”
The Latin for “priest” is the same word (pontus) used for “bridge.” It occurred to me, during the construction of the new Oakland Bay Bridge, with the old and the new, the beaten and the gleaming, the aged and the fresh standing side by side, that if I am a priest, a bridge from man to God, then I am the old bridge. Both are functional (or were, before they started the dismantling of the old — another metaphor altogether!). But I, for one, have wearied of living up to the expectations for appearance and performance the new one represents. I am now ready to boast in my weakness, with Paul, so that the glory is for Jesus, and grace takes its place of true amazement. It is out of this spirit that any of our dialogues on this blog, carry on from this day forward.
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