Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stiff Neck?



Hard Headed

Strong Willed




These are words that are used to describe an attitude that refuses to bend to the power of another. There are  times when being defiant or immovable is good and there are times that it is bad. Early Christians refusing to bow before the Emperor - Good. Followers of God refusing to listen to scripture - bad.

One is seen as strength the other as weakness. One makes you feel weak when you are not and the other makes you feel strong while you are weak. It is a condition that every human being on the face of the earth will have to deal with at one time or another. We can (and often do) become extremely willful in our lives and  turn off all reason in the process.

God often referred to the stubborness of his people as being "stiff-necked" when they would desert their commitment to Him and chase after phantoms of pleasure or power. It was something that would draw the ire of the Most High more than just about any other attitude.

In Psalm 32:8-9 God tells us this:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you. (ESV)

God understands us and thus, knows that we are going to become willful as He leads us. He warns us against it. Notice the imagery. 

Don't be like an unthinking horse or mule. This is what I meant when I said being stubborn and refusing to listen to God's voice in the scriptures can make you feel strong when you are in truth being incredibly weak. For God, (Creator of Everything!) being willful against Him means we have reduced ourselves to the level of creature rather than the pinnacle of creation that displays God's image. When we think we are exercising strength we are really disengaging from what really matters. 


Because apart from God, man has no reason for existence. Humanity was created to bring Glory to God by revealing His nature, His love, His wisdom, and His Holiness. When we are defiant, we are refusing the very things that are meant to define us. Without them, Humanity becomes something less than it was intended to be by its Creator. 

God does not want to force us to listen or obey. That's what we have to do with mules and horses. We have to force them. God created us for more. Notice the promise of these verses. "I will instruct you and teach yo in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my eye upon you." 

God has told you that you aren't in this alone. He wants to walk your journey with you and He promises to equip you for what you need and for where you are going. He says He will keep His eye on you like a father watching carefully as his son learns to handle a power saw or shoot a gun for the first time. His eye is there for protection and guidance into becoming more than you were before. 

It is a promise from your Father. 

Yet, this is the tragedy of becoming stubborn, hard-hearted, or stiff-necked. We are refusing the help of the Father who loves us. We are refusing the One and ONLY One who can lead us where we need to go. Instead, we tell Him "I got this." 


Every time man has said this to God, something very bad has resulted, which leads us to the conclusion of Psalm 32. Verses 10-11 lay it out for us:

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

It isn't that God decided to make your life miserable because you didn't do what he wanted. Rather, it is the natural state of affairs. When we become stiff-necked, we rebel against all sound judgment. We refuse the hand of the Loving Father and we hurt ourselves, again, and again, and again. 


For those who will listen to the Father, bend their will to Him and seek Him, the steadfast, protecting, guiding, watchful love of the Father will be in your life. Its not that you won't make mistakes. It is that the Father will be there to keep you from hurting yourself and stop you before you really do something foolish. His love will protect you from yourself. When we become stubborn we refuse his help. When we are willing to listen, His Love surrounds us and will not need to fear the valley of the shadow of death.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Little Christs?

What is a Christian? It is surprising how many people who claim to be a Christian have a hard time answering this question. Is it a difficult question?

How a person answers this question reveals more about their true believe than many realize. Some talk more about the community of faith, or serving others, helping people, political causes, or making the world a better place than they do about the bedrock foundation of Christianity: Jesus Christ himself.

The word "Christian" was originally a derogatory term used against those who followed the Messiah that was crucified and was said to have risen from the dead in the 1st century. The term "Christian" literally meant "little Christ."

So, rather than being identified by a set of beliefs, a political stance, a community, a creed or a station within society, the first Christian believers were known by their identification with the man Jesus Christ. Sure, they were a close knit group that loved each other ferociously, but that was not their identity. Who there were was evident to all. They identified themselves with Jesus and Jesus alone.

So let me ask you? Are you a "little Christ?" Would someone look at you and say that ultimately your very identity is so connected to this ONE MAN that people would deride you for making his identity your own? Because that is what happened to the earliest believers.

In his book "Dissident Discipleship" David Augsburger defines a Christian as someone who is Radically Attached to Jesus.

I Like that.

A lot.

A radical attachment to the man Jesus and EVERYTHING that He taught. Augsburger put it this way:

Attachment to Jesus, we must first clarify, is neither admiration (though Jesus fully deserves admiration) nor adulation (although that may result from attachment), nor assimilation into a culture and lifestyle (although that is inevitable). Attachment is actual encounter with the Jesus of the Gospels and engagement with his utterly radical claims on us and on creation. To state this in concise propositions: 

  • To be a Christian is to be absolutely convinced that Jesus is the Christ and that Christ is the Lord of creation. 
  • To acknowledge that Christ is Lord is to admit that human life can be understood only in terms of Christ's intentions for creation. 
  • To understand human life in terms of Christ's intentions for creation is to perceive that Jesus's activity for the world is totally pervaded by nonviolent agape love and by renunciation of power, of justice for oneself, and of purpose-driven effectiveness. 
  • To participate in Christ's activity is to shoulder the weight of restoring love toward offenders, of forgiving the guilty, of responding nonresistantly when attacked, of acting on behalf of justice for others in loving, nonviolent ways. 
  • To follow Jesus is to willingly accept his way of unlimited love (agape), to accept the call to self-renunciation (the cross), to accept self-relinquishment through giving up sin and its defenses (the way of discipleship), and to accept inner self-transformation in repentance and a new life (resurrection) 

David Augsburger. Dissident Discipleship: A Spirituality of Self-Surrender, Love of God, and Love of Neighbor (p. 50). Kindle Edition. 

To be a Christian means Jesus tells us who we are and that by radically attaching ourselves to him we are renouncing who we think we are for His definition of who we are. The early Church believers did this and were ridiculed for it by being called "Little Christs." Today, many have chosen the title "Christ follower" instead of Christian, but I am not sure Christ follower is enough. There were many who followed Christ, but it was only those who allowed themselves to be fully transformed and overtaken by Christ himself that were considered a part of His Kingdom.

Those who accepted this total abandonment of self found themselves in ways never imagined. Strength where weakness once resided. Dignity in humiliation. Love in the midst of hate, and hope in despair. This is what Jesus meant when he said that we must die to ourselves, take up our cross daily and follow him. To follow him is to abandon ourselves to Him. Everything we think we are is gone.

"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation. Behold, the old has gone, ALL THINGS have been made new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If your commitment to Christ is merely one part of your life, then you are not radically attached to Jesus and cannot be described as a "little Christ." Jesus must be your life.

Jesus is your life.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Excellence in Holiness

I love music. Wait, let me rephrase that, I love GOOD music. When I say good, I mean the skillful excellence of a musician who has spent hours honing his skills, abilities, and talents. For me, the ability to create new music that moves the soul is part of being created in the image of God.

This leads me to another thought: Excellence in everything is what God requires of us everyday. Excellence. I am not sure many people really understand that concept any more. In an age of fast food and gimmicks we are losing the ability to focus ourselves and discipline ourselves for years to hone a craft into something truly excellent.

We Christians have been particularly horrible in this field. We often think, "its Christian so it is automatically good." Often times this thinking is more a revelation of laziness than true spiritual conviction. Some of the worst music, movies, sermons, and books have been written under the guise of "Christian."

Colossians 3:23-24 says "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ."

Paul wrote these words to those who were slaves in the ancient world. His instructions were for them to give their duties, however mundane they may be their full attention and glorify God in their product.

You get that? God wants excellence even if it is going to go for the benefit of someone else. Even if you have an unreasonable boss, even if nobody is going to notice, God is watching and He expects excellence from His people. This is much, much deeper than simply saying God wants us to do well or try hard. God wants more than our best. He wants us to reveal His glory in what we do.

In 1 Peter 1:15-16 God tells us this "but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” God's Holiness demands excellence. If we are his people we must demand Holiness of ourselves and thus be a people of excellence in all things.

Excellence is an inseparable part of Holiness. God doesn't cut corners or settle for less than what brings Himself the most Glory. He didn't stop halfway through creating the double helix of the DNA strand and decide it was good enough. He didn't tell Adam to deal with being alone. He didn't settle for letting his people rot in sin but gave His Son as the sacrifice for their failures. God is a God of Excellence.

The above video is an example of excellence at work. I can't imagine how many years of practice and work it took for those gentleman to play that well and that creatively. However, some will look at it and be put out because the drummer has a mohawk, or it isn't a style of music they like, or it isn't "Christian" and therefore it is evil. It is a shame when the unbelieving world shows more creativity and more discipline than those who are supposed to be connected to THE CREATOR.

See, laziness often cloaks itself in tradition and style. These men are attending the Berklee College of music. 60 years ago it might have been unheard of for this style of music to be played in a music school. However, in true wisdom, the instructors at Berklee College of Music were not willing to sacrifice creativity in order to continue a certain tradition. Instead of demanding a style, they obviously demand excellence. Their commitment is to excellence and they let creativity flow.

We must do the same. Excellence in all things no matter how small or big. A Christ follower is called to glorify God in everything. Do you bring excellence to your life? Is your marriage, parenting, job, worship, discipleship, and fellowship evidence that you bring an attitude of excellence to everything?

Do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We work for Him who is Above Reality.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dependent Choices

"So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise." John 5:19

In these verses Jesus tells us something remarkable: He did not make decisions for himself independently. He did only what the Father told him to do.

Again in John 12:49-50 Jesus said "For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”

Because Jesus was fully God and fully Man, we can say that Jesus is the only pure human to ever live. What I mean by this is that Jesus knew better than anyone what it meant to be a man, or to be human at every level. And what was it that made him different? He did not attempt to exist for his own benefit. He did not live an independent life and He certainly didn't come to earth to live His "Best Life Now." He came doing and saying only what the Father told him to do and to say. He was completely and utterly dependent upon the Father for everything in his life.

This is why Jesus could truthfully and faithfully quote Deuteronomy 8:3 when he was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness when he said "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Jesus actually defined his life purely by what God the Father told him to do and to say, he made no decision for himself.

This is what it means to be completely human.

Completely dependent in every way upon God.

You see, man was never meant to make moral decisions for himself. This is why God forbade him from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man was intended to be completely dependent upon God in this area of his life so that he would never even know that there was a difference between good and evil and that he could choose between them. His very existence was to be so linked to God that where he saw God he saw good things and where God was not, he did not want to be. God was his life.

We know how the story turned out. Adam chose for himself. To choose for yourself means you are rebelling against God because it assumes that we know better than God himself when God is the choice. It means we think we have found some source of life other than God, and then we die.

This isn't some stupid set of rules. It is about being connected to our life giving and life sustaining God. To make an independent choice is to reject God from the outset which will then affect everything following it.

Jesus would have none of this. He refused to choose when to eat even though he was desperately hungry. He refused to choose for himself even though people literally hated him to his core. He refused to choose for himself even though he knew the cross was waiting for him. He remained dependent upon the Father in every way for every thing.

Today, we have twisted this into an unrecognizable tragedy. We teach men and women that they only have value if they are independent, self-made, individuals. Jesus tells us to love one another and obey just as he obeyed. We are not called to independence. We are called to be completely dependent upon God for everything in every way.

The mark of true humanity is that we glorify God. It is our purpose. Romans 3:23 - all have sinned and fallen short of the GLORY OF GOD. Our purpose in life is Glorify Him. How can we do that if we are making decisions and living independently of Him?

Following Christ isn't about deciding to follow his "will for your life." It is seeing him as your life. It isn't about choice A or B and God is behind A and Satan is behind B. It is about giving up your perceived right to a choice and letting God choose for you. It is only in this that you become truly human and rise Above Reality.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Following the Scene...

Have you ever watched or been a part of good improvisation? Whether it is music, theater, cooking, sports, engineering, true improvisation is a thing of beauty. Why? Because it involves creating. Creating from the heart with passion, precision, skill, and talent.

However, for improvisation to work, there has to be a lead, a goal, a scene and cooperation. If two musicians start to improvise but play in different keys, it will sound terrible. If a wide-receiver starts to improvise his route but doesn't tell his quarterback, an interception is likely forthcoming. Improvisation takes the scene that has been set and creates within it. It doesn't redefine the scene, but simply adds to it. When it is done well, it can really bring music, acting, or anything else to life.

But, good improvisation is hard. It is really hard, because it requires loads of talent and skill to keep it from degenerating into madness. There has to be a commitment to the art and the scene that drives your improvisational technique. Most musicians, actors, athletes or anyone else that know improv is likely to become a part of their trade find that they must practice more, understand the scene/play/score better than anyone else so that what they add actually fits. The wide receiver must know his quarterback's tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses. The musician must not only know the style of the song, but the feel, emotion, drive and purpose for the music as well as know the place his or her instrument has in that piece before they just start randomly playing notes.

In essence, improve requires a person to internalize their craft a much higher level than those who simply stick to the script. It is a high risk, high reward endeavor. When it goes right, it can blow the roof of the place. When it goes bad, well, you just look like an idiot that wasn't prepared.

And this is what Jesus has called us to. Yet, God has called us all to improv in life. He has set the stage, the props, the lights, and he has described the scene in great detail. He has told us our character must line up and serve to highlight the lead character Jesus Christ. But, in the end, God has told us to improv our lives into the scene that He has set.

I know this may sound odd, but think about it. How many places in the Bible did God command us to write songs using 4/4 time? Did God tell us that our works of art had to be cut from marble? How about our hymns? Was it God that told us to skip the third verse? Or to tune our guitars down 1/2 step? Or to worship in the morning, or evening or afternoon? No, He simply said worship, glorify Him, lift up the name of Jesus, love one another and preach the Gospel to all nations.

God didn't tell us how. He left it for us to figure out. So we have to improvise our lives according to the scene that God has set.

Here are the rules for the scene, there are only two:

1. Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Here is the goal of the scene -
Make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Your method of performance is this:
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ - basically, everything you say and do needs to agree in spirit and in truth with the scene already set by Jesus in the four Gospels.

Repeat the scene until Jesus comes back or your die.

That's it. There is life.

Now, many people, most people want a word by word script because it is easier and less dangerous to memorize a script and mindlessly repeat it. It is also easier to critique the performance of others when there is a script and I don't have to take the chance that people might find out I am not fully prepared to improvise the scene, so just tell me what I need to say and do.


God didn't give us a script. Life is not scripted. He set the scene and told us to follow him. In Hebrews 12:2 the author tells us to "fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..." So Jesus is the beginning and end of our faith, or our inclusion in the scene of God.

What about the middle?

That is where improv enters. Start with Jesus and the salvation he offers, then learn as much about the scene as you can. Learn about how those before you pleased or displeased God. LEARN THE SCENE. (The scene is found throughout the entire Bible) Then, start living your life improving it every day to the Glory of God understanding that He will be the judge of your performance, not the other performers. Hebrews told us that Jesus would perfect our faith in the end so it is a matter of getting better day by day. Growing in your role as a Christ follower and imitator.

We also must guard against ANYTHING that is not true to the scene. This includes anything that takes the focus off of the lead in the scene, Jesus Christ. It is ANYTHING that destroys one of your fellow performers, ANYTHING that attempts to redefine the scene that is set through scripture and ANYTHING that keeps you from understanding and accepting the scene better. This includes distractions from the scene, false interpretations of the scene or leaving out part of the scene. We must be true to what God has given us.

So, no, you do not get a script, because a script often will not involve the heart. God wants your touch, your personality, your uniqueness included in the scene of life, so He is commanding us to improvise. And it is through this improvisation that you will truly find freedom in the Christian life as your life becomes a life of beauty, art, discipline, and ultimately love. For, if you honor the scene that God has set you will find that God is calling you to something beautiful that is certainly Above Reality.

(I am indebted to Kevin VanHoozer's The Drama of Doctrine and Donald Miller's Blue Like Jazz for inspiring this blog post.)