How’s Your Walk with Jesus?


If you’ve been around the Church for any length of time you’ve most certainly heard or been asked the question…the dreaded question, the one we secretly hope no one will take the time to ask.

“How’s your walk with Jesus?”

When asked, we typically stammer and stutter our way through some balancing act of not wanting to sound like we have it all together while not admitting we’re actually pooping our spiritual pants on a regular basis. So we just talk about how “good” God is while throwing in a few innocuous sins. If the truth be told, our “walk with Jesus” sucks, at least if we’re defining it by how well we’re living and behaving.

Oh but there’s good news! That’s not how we define our walk with Jesus. The quality of our walk with Jesus is not predicated on anything we do, for the only thing we bring to our salvation is the sin that makes it necessary. This truth never changes for who we are in and of ourselves (our flesh or our old man) is 100% a sinner and no amount of Christian activity will change that. The only thing that changes is the presence of Christ. The one who puts our old man to death and gifts his perfect life to us. He comes into our life as Savior and friend; the One who walks with us despite how we look (terrible), how we smell (like death) and how much we ruin his reputation.

“How’s your walk with Jesus?” It’s actually fantastic, you’re walking with Jesus! We fall, he picks us up. We run off, he chases us down. We take him to places he should never have to go but he never leaves us alone. We’re company that he shouldn’t be seen with, but he proudly walks with us and never acts embarrassed of us in front of his other friends.

Our walk with Jesus isn’t dependent upon us, because in every way we fall, get sidetracked, roll around in the mud, head into dirty seedy places Jesus has already walked in perfection with us, and for us.

“And he walks with me and he talks with me
And he tells me I am his own
And the joy we share as we tarry there
None other has ever known” — Merle Haggard



Sanctified by Faith


As sinful humans we are adept at taking what God gives as gift and making it into a work. Nowhere is this made more evident than in the universally misunderstood doctrine of sanctification.

Scripture teaches that faith is not something we do but something that is created within us as the promise of Christ is heard, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Furthermore we know that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). Herein, the things of faith are those things that we cannot wrap our minds around or place our hands upon. Things we cannot see. Our old Adam (the flesh) is never content with this truth, we want the very opposite, things we can see and control.

We understand the importance of this when it comes to justification…we are justified by faith not by any of our own works. However, when it comes to sanctification we quickly take it out of the realm of faith into the realm of works. This stems from a wrong theology around sanctification, a theology that believes sanctification is something we do in partnership with God instead of seeing it (like justification) as a work of Christ alone. The preponderance of biblical texts around sanctification give evidence that sanctification is not a subjective activity that we progress into, but an objective declaration that we receive by faith.

And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30). 

A full explanation of this truth is not the purpose of this post. My point here is to build off this idea. If we agree that sanctification (a way to describe salvation not move away from it) is by faith then sanctification by its very definition is not something we should be able to “see” but something that we believe in, hope in Christ for, and place outside of the realm of the tangible. This, I believe, has tremendous implications when it comes to the Christian life. For instead of looking to earn or work our way into sanctification we are free to simply rest in its already finished work. This does not mean that there is no use for fruit or good works, for we know that the Christian is indeed known by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-20). However, this fruit is not the result of human effort but the natural byproduct of an ontological reorientation — a bad tree being transformed into a good tree. Herein good trees quite naturally bear good fruit.

Sanctification is not a work of the law it is the result of God’s promise to us in Christ, the gospel. Regarding sanctification as an activity we partner with God on, is at its root a failure to understand law and gospel. It relegates law to a manageable list of “to dos” instead of what it is, God’s word of condemnation that puts us to death. For God alone knows how to handle the law, it’s his word and is never meant to be wielded by humans as they see fit. The law, which serves to magnify our sin (Rom. 3:20) does not aid us in our sanctification, it simply reveals our need for it. Here we must rest in the reality that the gospel alone can sanctify us, anything less pushes us away from Christ into ourselves; the very opposite of what it means to be holy.


Billy Graham — Good and Faithful Servant


The great evangelist and Christian leader Billy Graham passed from this life today. I don’t need to recount the tremendous things Rev. Graham and his ministry have accomplished for the Kingdom of Christ. He was a man for whom I greatly admire and respect.

Unfortunately some are using this time as an opportunity to take apart his theology or question his methods around evangelism. That is not my desire. In fact I think that is altogether inappropriate on the day of his death. However I would like to say something about a common reaction I’m reading and encountering around his death.  My Facebook feed and the Internet in general are abuzz with all things Billy. A common thread I’m observing is that when Mr. Graham died he was met by Jesus hearing “Well done my good and faithful servant” (Matt. 25:23).


Now, I don’t question that Jesus met Billy Graham with these words. I believe this. But what about those who have screwed their life up? What of those who are convinced they will never hear such a wonderful welcome from God?

I don’t believe this message is reserved for such obvious servants of the Church, as Billy Graham. I think it’s also the greeting that the drunk, the adulterer, and the morally bankrupt will hear. Because that’s all there is in the Church. The Church by its very nature is a group of people who have been called away from trusting in their own righteousness and have put all their chips on Jesus…his sacrificial death, his perfect life. We are “good and faithful” by faith…by trusting in the imputed goodness and faithfulness of Christ. We are good and faithful servants because Jesus was those things for us and gifts them to those who don’t deserve it but gladly receive it by faith.

Let’s keep celebrating the life and legacy of William Franklin Graham Jr. But may we not lose sight of the message he spent his life preaching. A message that declares that the kingdom of Christ is for losers, for those who have given up on themselves, for those who have failed miserably and recognize that there is no one righteous, no one good, and no one who is worthy to hear “well done” (Rom. 3:10). May this be the message we preach to others and the one we believe for ourselves.



Spreadsheets and the Cross

Profit Or Loss Keys Showing Returns For Internet Business

I own a retail produce and Christmas tree business. During the Spring and Summer months we run 3 produce markets and during the holidays we operate 4 tree lots. It’s an extremely demanding, albeit seasonal business.

As a businessman I have to emphasize measurable progress, profits, and metrics. Forward movement is paramount…if not we’ll go out of business. As I tell my employees, “there is always someone who would be happy to take our business and see us disappear.” The constant number crunching and counting of metrics gets old, it can be exhausting. This is how life on earth works, no matter the pursuit, it involves measured progress and tangible results. Everywhere we turn in this life we’re being asked to produce, to accomplish something, to get er’ done. As Aristotle rightly surmised, we are what we do, we do to become. This is life under the sun.

But there’s good news…there is life beyond the sun. Life outside of Plato’s cave where we’re fed more than shadows and penultimate dreams. This is the abundant life that Jesus speaks about (John 10:10).

The Church of Jesus Christ has a very different message than we see and hear anywhere else. The Church is the one place we can go where metrics, spreadsheets, and measured progress are not the gold standard. The Church is (or should be) unique in that it’s the only place where we can go and instead of hearing “do” we can actually hear “done”. Jesus’ last words before his death were, “It is finished” (John 19:30). But is that the most notable message of the Church? Is that what people outside the Church know us to be about? Is that the primary thing Christians are hearing from our pulpits? Unfortunately no, we are known for what do, and more often, what we don’t do. The Church has bought the lie that you can measure the progress of the Christian life. That with enough effort, and help from the Holy Spirit, you can bootstrap your way into abundant life. We’ve turned the cross, and Jesus’ call to die to self, into three steps to victorious Christian living. We’ve become experts at turning the letter of the law into a profit and loss sheet that has us living in the black when in fact anything of any profit for the Christian is covered in red, the blood of Christ. The letter kills but the final word from God (Jesus) brings life (2 Cor. 3:6).

How do you measure progress as a Christian? Death and life. This is where Paul sends his readers in Romans 6 when he anticipated the ubiquitous question, “should we go on sinning that grace might abound?” Of course not, you’ve been put to death and given new life in Christ (Rom. 6:1-5). Paul doesn’t give the Christian who is flirting with lawlessness a double dose of the law, he doubles down on the gospel. He points them to the only place where real results happen, the finished work of Christ. Where we are not only absolved of all our sin but we are actually given his perfectly righteous life as if it were our own!

When we rightly look at God’s standard, the law, it should reveal how bankrupt we are and cause us to run to Jesus as our only hope. This is the message of the Church. A death and life proclamation that turns the attention away from ourselves and toward a righteousness that exists outside of us. This is so foreign to us because we live in this world that demands our effort, that measures our value by what we produce. The Church must fight against this proclivity when it comes to how we talk about the Christian life. This isn’t to say that the follower of Jesus doesn’t produce fruit or good works, but those results too are gifts from God for the good of our neighbor, not line items we use to measure our success (Eph. 2:10).

When the Church turns toward an emphasis on personal measured progress (no matter how much Bible is used to justify it) rather than the finished work of Christ we end up heaping burdens on an already exhausted world.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)


An Unhealthy Preoccupation with Sin

I’ve often said that the Church has this weird preoccupation with sin. I don’t mean that the Church should ignore sin or be afraid to talk about it. What I mean is that the Church treats sin like the boogie man. Desperately trying to find where it’s lurking, attempting to uncover it’s mysterious presence. Frantically wracking our brains to decipher if this activity is sinful or if this endeavor is holy. What we create by doing so is not a people who are set apart from the world, but neurotic saints who are afraid to do anything so they remain stunted unsure of who they really are. Martin Luther called us “cows staring at a new gate.” Our inner dialogue goes something like, “Can I really go through it? Is this really open? Am I really free? No it can’t be…this must be a trap.”
For all of our focus on sin, we’ve left people powerless to find victory over it and without any assurance that they’re actually forgiven for it. There is very little absolution in the Church…sure there is plenty of talk about forgiveness of sins in general but there remains a serious vacuum of the specific promise given to the sinner, “you are forgiven”…or “I forgive you on account of Christ.”
Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Paul told the Romans that it was impossible for the regenerated, baptized saint to go on sinning that grace might abound (Romans 6:1-4). Too often these passages are used as a weapon to guilt Christians into “repentance” and “obedience”…to shape up or ship out. But I don’t think that what’s being communicated here. The Christian has been given the very life and nature of Christ…his victory, his obedience, his righteousness. It’s this nature that becomes, for the Christian, a new reality, the truest thing about us…”if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17). Our old sin nature (the old Adam) no longer defines us…it still has a presence but he’s dead. Any preoccupation with sin (whether it’s giving into it’s demands or focusing on it instead of Christ), is an affront to the cross and a failure to recognize who we truly are in Christ. Like people who suffer with Stockholm’s Syndrome we can easily fall victim to the deception that we’re still under sin’s power, and that we’re not really free(1). But Jesus says something very different…”whom the Son sets free is free indeed” (John 8:36). We’re no longer slaves (to sin) we’re blood bought, adopted sons and daughters who no longer have to live under sin’s tyranny, which frees us to live our lives with confident joy, not an unhealthy fear that has us looking over a shoulder wondering if the boogie man is going to pounce. We needn’t fear my friends, for Jesus pounced first and drove a spike right through his heart. Herein, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us (Rom. 8:37), for the battle was won before it even started.
(1) – Steve Paulson, Lutheran Theology, T&T Clark, 2011
Photo Credit  – Martin Yee

God in a Box

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “You can’t put God in a box”

It usually means, “don’t limit God” or “God can do whatever he wants”, which in premise I absolutely agree with.

I have been thinking about this ubiquitous statement of late. I’ve been thinking about it in light of what Martin Luther calls, the hidden and revealed God. The hidden God is the mysterious God for whom Moses only saw his backside. The hidden God is the God who smote Uzzah for touching the ark of the covenant, the hidden God is the God who is, “holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty.”(Rev. 4:8) Because we are sinners, we are constantly trying to relate to God on our terms; meeting God in places where he’s chosen to remain hidden. We are, to quote Luther, “always trying to look up God’s skirt.”

“You can’t put God in a box”..except when God puts himself in a box. Which is exactly how he comes to us, by clothing himself, hiding himself behind his humanity so that we can know him without being destroyed by him.

God puts limits upon himself so that we can relate to him. Jesus, the NT tells us, set aside some of his divine privileges (Phil. 2:7) as he walked the dusty streets of Galilee. God hides himself so that he can reveal himself. That means, however, the way in which we know and experience God is limited. It means that we don’t get to reinvent ways to hear from him. Jesus is the revealed God, he is the hidden God (in all of his majesty) come to us in a way in which we can know him.

We come to God through Word (Jesus) and sacrament (gospel). The written word of God, albeit large and difficult to understand at times, is all about Jesus, everything points to him. The sacraments — baptism and communion are physical demonstrations of God’s grace given to us in and through Jesus Christ. He baptizes us into his death and life and he speaks his word of forgiveness (I forgive you) to us over and over again through communion. There are no other ways to approach God. Some want to find God in creation; but the God you find in creation is the naked God in all of his holiness and perfection. Others attempt to know God by their good works; wrongly thinking that they can earn God’s favor and blessing by their piety. This too is a futile attempt, a fly pooping on the ocean of God’s holiness hoping to make an impression.

This isn’t to say that knowing God is impossible, it’s to say that knowing God is limited…it’s limited to the way in which he designed. Throughout the OT we find God revealing himself in very limited ways: through a specific nation (which he created), in very specific locale (the Tabernacle or Temple), in a specific manner (through blood sacrifice). When you read through this section of the Bible it can seem like an overwhelming amount of detail is being given. But it’s all pointing to something greater, to someone who would come through Israel but create a better nation (the Church), someone who would be the better Temple, and would offer himself as a sacrifice once for all — Jesus. Jesus is God in human flesh, the naked God clothed for all humanity to see. Yes, God can be put into a box. A box that looks a lot like a manger, or carpenter’s hammer, or a cross.

This is Christianity…it’s beautifully simply and yet extremely complex.


Law/Gospel by Forde

I saw this posted on Facebook by one of my virtual friends, Martin Yee.

Gerhard Forde drops some gospel bombs as he distinguishes law and gospel in a series of theses:

Thesis I. 

The Gospel does not tell me what to do to be saved. It tells me that I do not need to do anything to be saved. The Gospel doesn’t tell me what to do to get God to accept me. It tells me that God accepts me as I am.

The Law does not just make me try harder. It reveals the futility of my trying at all.

Thesis II. 
The Gospel does not demand a response of faith. It creates a response of faith. The Gospel does not demand anything. It is not a demand but an offer.

The Law is not just scolding. It is knocking the props out from under all my idols, especially the “god” of self.

Thesis III. 
The Gospel does not command me to be active for God. It invites me to be passive toward God.

The Law does not strengthen my defenses. It cracks them open and exposes my need of grace.

Thesis IV. 
The Gospel does not demand that I decide for Christ. It invites me to live in the decision God in Christ has made for me.

The Law does not impose some morality on me. It exposes the immorality and mortality within me.

Thesis V. 
The Gospel does not tell me that God will love me if I repent and have faith. It tells me that I can repent and have faith because God loves me.

The preaching of the law is not just talking about the law. It is thrusting a sword through the proud defender within me.

Thesis VI. 
The Gospel does not just lead me into self-examination or self-assertion. It leads me out of myself into self-forgetfulness and self-surrender. The Gospel does not cause me to look more at myself. It directs my attention to Christ and frees me to see my neighbor.

The Law does not show the way from me to God. It declares that there is no way from me to God.

Thesis VII. 
The Gospel does not offer grace on certain conditions to be met. Grace is received when I quit trying to meet conditions and start trusting God’s promises.

The Law does more than reveal that I’m sinful. It also reveals my inability to be anything else.

Thesis VIII. 
The Gospel does not offer cheap grace. Cheap grace is no grace. It is only conditional grace offered at low price. Grace is so precious it cannot be bought at any price. It can only be received as a free gift.

The Law not only reveals that I’m a sinful creature, it confronts me with the sin, and the stupidity of “playing creator” when I’m only a creature.

Thesis IX. 
The preaching of the Gospel is not only to convert pagans once-and-for-all into Christians. It is also to reconvert pagans again and again into Christians.

The preaching of the Law is not just for pagan non-Christians. It is also for non-Christian pagans within all Christians.

Thesis X. 
The preaching of the Gospel is always necessary. Whatever else I need, including the Law, I also need assurance of God’s love.

The preaching of the Law is not always necessary. There is no need to kill the dead; they need to be raised to new life.