Faith is confidence in the ability of some external power, namely God, to bend all things toward some better end than what naturally occurs. It is openness to—and ultimately, dependence upon—the ways and wisdom of God as a new power for daily living. It is the vital connection to life and reality itself while all things within and without would drift toward wreckage and ruin.

My confession is that Jesus is the one who satisfies faith as I described it. I confess that the purpose of life is not to forestall death, prolong life, pursue pleasure, or find myself, as it were. In every effort to find myself, I have found myself more mystified and alone, more helpless and undone. I have needed some trustworthy word from an outside source to find me under the heap of ill-fitting clothes I’ve worn. I have needed a new source of power for daily living and the healing of relationships. Even suffering and loss and terrible disappointment can push me toward the satisfaction of my faith, which is a tree rooted in my chest somewhere safe from storm and fire. Because Jesus is Lord over all such forces, in the great and terrible and awesome wisdom of God, they are at times permitted to pass into our lives for the express purpose of getting us closer to the unending and overflowing life that is accessed in Jesus. They are given just enough power to be rendered powerless in achieving their own intended ends. Faith in Jesus is the great subversive conspiracy against the march of sin and death. This is a mystery I don’t claim to fully understand, but I have lived with Jesus long enough to trust Him.

I have faith that Jesus does such things better than all rivals, and that Jesus alone responds to this universal problem with the healing we seek. Amen.


Victor Hugo on the greatest happiness

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved—loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves.

-Victor Hugo

So, would our happiness be greatest when the one who loves us is the greatest being? This greatest being would have the most thorough knowledge of who we really are, in all our pettiness, fragility, and folly. Also, this sort of love “in spite of ourselves” implies that the greatest happiness only comes when we are brave enough to admit our un-loveliness in the first place. Look at the love of God—if we were so lovely in and of ourselves, why, when God became vulnerable to us in Jesus Christ, did we kill him? Don’t we rather perceive that the love of God comes to us not because we are lovely, but precisely because we are not?

Hugo knew that. His penitent hero, Valjean, lived it when he prays at the moment of his death, “Forgive me all my trespasses, and take me to your glory.”

Valjean knew that God loved him not because he had come to lead a life of integrity and self-sacrifice, but because God had taken the ever-prior position of love and forgiveness toward him, precisely in spite of his failures and folly. What if Valjean had prayed, “I’m pretty sure I’ve lived a good enough life, so take me to your glory”? What a very sad thought—yet this is how we often bend toward self-salvation. This is the bent of all other religious and spiritual volition across time other than what we see in the heart of the one true God, revealed in the redemptive history of Biblical scripture. Here is this God, who makes covenant with unlovely people, makes Himself vulnerable to them only to be killed by them, and makes lovers out of forgiven sinners. Empirically speaking, as we look around at our very shambled humanity, isn’t this the path to our greatest happiness? Isn’t this an honest assessment of who we are and how we need love to come and find us?

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Why call Christmas “the Advent”?

We make a habit of calling this season “the Advent,” not just “Christmas,” to re-center us on God’s mission to rescue us through grace. God’s grace is not a sweet thought or nice idea, much like a docile babe in a manger—it is His means of liberating the world (that’s us) from our inability to love God and others. Categories get smashed; paradigms get reversed. Formerly “good, nice people” come undone when they perceive their self-righteousness and anxious toil; formerly “bad, mean people” cry with joy that there is forgiveness to the uttermost and a new life ready to remake them.

If you’re looking to dignify your humanity and recover the holiness of this holiday, grasp that you were created to worship a God of matchless grace. See that all of our seasonal songs, nostalgic traditions, and aspirations for a “happy new year” are but shaded and partial notions. Among these, here is God, born to die, “born to give us second birth,” born into a world dark with injustice, ruined beauty, and destructive patterns at every level of human relationship. God, save us.

I really do believe that the whole sweep of human existence and the cosmos intersects profoundly and uniquely with a 1st century Nazarene. I believe in a God who, if He were going to pursue us, had to choose some context to be known in and through, for we’re contextually-bound beings. We didn’t receive a technicolor spirit-being as the savior of mankind. We got a baby born to refugee parents, an itinerant teacher who made the “thoughts from many hearts [to be] revealed”, and a savior who submissively receives a cruel death in the stead of the unequivocally evil thief and the socially decent sinner alike. We got a man who receives worship like He’s God. We got a God who demonstrates His glory and power through silent suffering for enemies. We got a God who pleads for a way out of dying for rebellious people, concedes that there is no greater joy set before him, and bleeds, and bleeds. We got a God who rose up, never to die again, with a body that could be touched and could ingest and enjoy a piece of broiled fish. We got a God who dignifies our material existence and restores the wholeness and beauty we know we’ve lost and cannot recover on our own. We got a mediator of forgiveness forever. We got God, coming for us. That’s the Advent.

Eugene Peterson on parables

I’m reading through The Contemplative Pastor by brother Eugene Person. Have you ever read something that articulates a concept for the first time that you have sensed to be true for a long time? This book affords many of these moments. Here’s one:

Jesus continually threw odd stories down alongside ordinary lives (para, “alongside”; bole, “thrown”) and walked away without explanation or altar call…Parables subversively slip past our defenses. Once they’re inside the citadel of self, we might expect…a sudden…palace coup.

But it doesn’t happen. Our integrity is honored and preserved. God does not impose his reality from without; he grows flowers and fruit from within.

God’s truth is not an alien invasion but a loving courtship in which the details of our common lives are treated as seeds in our conception, growth, and maturity in the kingdom.

A dozen 20-somethings gather around 2,700 year-old Isaiah. Normal?

As we do most every Tuesday night, Jennifer and I welcomed a less-than-a-dozen-but-sometimes-more friends over to share time in the Bible, prayer, and (hopefully) loving community together. I was surrounded by friends, some of whom are nearly kin, and some of whom I don’t know quite as well yet. As I sat among a bunch of twenty-somethings discussing a nearly 2,700 year old text (Isaiah 46-47) with honesty and humility, I felt great gratitude and love for these folks. We weren’t just examining the text–we were allowing it to examine us (as our very own Ray Sikes has put it).

We feel most connected, I think, when we gather around something outside ourselves that bears upon us all… Continue reading A dozen 20-somethings gather around 2,700 year-old Isaiah. Normal?