Who am I?

ImageWho am I?

Is this not, at times, one of life’s hardest questions to answer? Naively I thought that by the time I was in my thirties I wouldn’t wrestle with it anymore.

But occasionally I do.

Thankfully I have come to realize that I am not alone. The other night I was reading Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. Apparently, Dietrich Bonhoeffer  wrestled with the same question.   In prison, at age 39, he wrote the following poem, just one month before his execution.

Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equally, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

I take great comfort in his words.

What’s something that speaks to your identity?

God’s not so big plans for your life…

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I remember the chapel like it was yesterday.  In a college gymnasium, surrounded by thousands of students, I sat on what was usually an uncomfortably hard wooden bench.  But on that day, my body did not squirm for comfort, because on that day my complete attention was on the charismatic Christian speaker in front of me.  His sermon was well-crafted, his stories were funny, and all his applications of scripture were convincing.  And with the Bible in his hand and deep conviction in his heart, he proclaimed with prophetic boldness words that spoke to my soul….”God,” he said, “has big plans for your life!”  But his sermon did not end there.  No, he then went on to give us the really good news: “God has bigger plans for your life than you could ever imagine.”

And thus began my season of despair…

Looking back, the problem was two-fold. One, at the time I could imagine some pretty big plans for my life. Once, when reading an article about a Billy Graham crusade, I saw a black and white photo of Dr. Graham preaching to a crowd of a million people.  At the time it was the largest evangelistic crusade in history.  With complete seriousness, I looked at that picture and prayed, “God would you use me to preach to two million people?”  And, truth be told, at that time I could have imagined myself preaching to three million— if God needed me to.

Of course some will respond that I misinterpreted the speaker’s use of the phrase “big plans”.   And I could not agree more.  But this only illuminates the second of the two problems. Often, when well-meaning Christian teachers and preachers say these kinds of things, they never think to define what they mean by the term “big”.   And so students, or chapel listeners (and, let’s be honest, even pastors) are left to define the term on their own. The problem is when most American Christians begin to imagine and dream about what it could mean for God to have “big plans” for their lives, their dreams often start to look like a Christian version of the American Dream.  Tell a college student today that God has “big plans” for their life, and they’ll think God is going to use them to save the world, or at least “their” world—whatever that might be.

There was another chapel speaker that year who talked about God’s plans for your life. His sermon was also well-crafted, his jokes funny, and his scriptural applications convincing.  But there, before a gymnasium full of college students, referencing Tolkien’s famous “The Lord of The Rings” trilogy, he spoke (what I now consider to be) truly prophetic words: “You are not the hero of the story. You are not Frodo. Rather, in the great battle of life, you are more like elf #351. But that is significant, because you are in the story.”

I have come to believe that God’s pleasure is often not in creating “big plans” for our lives (at least not the American kind), but rather in giving significance to the sometimes seemingly small plans He has for us.

Often there is nothing glamorous, nothing inspirational, and nothing “news-worthy” about the work Christ calls us to. Often we are simply called to be obedient and to follow wherever Christ leads.  Most of the time these actions do not seem big at all— but they are significant.  In Christ we are free to give up fantasies of American grandeur and instead rest in the knowledge that our lives are significant, no matter what we do, because it is Christ who gives significance to all of our life. The good news is that our stories are forever intertwined with His story.  And so whatever we do, whether it seems big or small, it is a part of His grand eternal story, and that is significant.

In heaven I imagine we will meet missionaries who gave their lives to the work of the gospel while living in total obscurity.  We will meet pastors who never published a book, never spoke at a conference, and never started a network, but did quietly and faithfully fulfill their calling to shepherd a flock. We will meet businessmen and women who never climbed the corporate ladder, but did live simple lives of kindness, and integrity.  And there in heaven, I imagine we will see for the first time how Christ used every one of these lives and their actions to magnify His presence on earth.  And there, before the throne of God, I imagine we will stand in awe of those once obscure and un-glorious people, and together with all the saints, we will praise God for their significant lives.

Have you ever heard someone tell you God has big plans for your life? What did you think when you heard that? Does the difference between “significant plans” vs. “big plans” resonate with you at all?

Five Crazy Things You’ll Likely Do In Heaven

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The notion of eternity has always scared me to death. As a pastor, that is not exactly easy to admit, but it’s true. If I think too long about the idea of living forever I will literally start to freak out. I know I am not alone in this. Many times students in our church have shared with me that they don’t like thinking about heaven because when they think about eternity it scares them.

Eternity is scary, but only when our picture of heaven is vague.  So to help us overcome the fear, here are five crazy things I think followers of Jesus will likely do in heaven.[1]

1.       Flying (Acts 1:3-10)

After His resurrection Jesus met with his disciples to give them final instructions. After He had finished, the Bible says “ he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They [the disciples] were looking intently up into the sky as he was going…” Like a scene out of Iron Man, Jesus flew up into the clouds. If His resurrected body could fly, then there is good reason to believe that when we receive resurrected bodies we will be able to fly also.  

 2.       Walking Through Walls (John 20:19-20, 26-27)

Before they knew Jesus was alive again, the disciples were in a home “with the doors locked” and yet Jesus “came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’” Locked doors and solid walls could not stop the resurrected Jesus from appearing to his disciples inside the home. And we know that this appearance of Jesus was not just a vision or even just spiritual. Jesus talked to his disciples, he ate with them, and he even let Thomas touch his wounds. These are all signs that he was very physically present. By the power of the Spirit his new resurrected physical body was able to pass through material objects. I think our future resurrected bodies will, in reflection of Jesus, do the same thing.

3.       Running Faster Than A Horse (1 Kings 18:45-46)

“Meanwhile, the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, a heavy rain started falling and Ahab rode off to Jezreel. The power of the LORD came on Elijah and, tucking his cloak into his belt, he ran ahead of Ahab all the way to Jezreel” (1 Kings 18:45-46). God gave Elijah the power to run so fast that even though Ahab had left before him on a horse, Elijah was able run faster than Ahab’s horse, and arrived first. If the Spirit of God gave Elijah that power on earth, why would he withhold it from us in heaven?

4.       Walking on Water (Matthew 14:22-29)

It is a famous story that we all know. In the midst of a storm, Jesus walks on water, and then Peter wants to do the same thing. Sure enough, Jesus calls him out of the boat, and together they stand on water. Sure, Peter started to sink, but it was only because of his lack of faith. If Jesus allowed Peter do such a thing on Earth how much more when we too have resurrected bodies and unhindered faith in Jesus will we, like Peter, be able to walk on water with Jesus.

5.       Teleporting (Acts 8:38-40)

Philip was on his way down to Gaza. On the way he comes across an Ethiopian official with questions about the words from the prophet Isaiah. Philip explains how Isaiah was talking about Jesus, the official puts his trust in Jesus, and then he asks to be baptized. Philip baptizes the official, but then the Bible says the Spirit of the Lord “suddenly took Philip away…” and “… Philip appeared at Azotus.”  Azotus was roughly 19 miles away from Philip’s intended destination of Gaza. It’s therefore safe to say the Spirit of the Lord teleported Philip at least 19 miles in order to move him to Azotus. No matter what the distance was, what is clear is that the same Spirit, who lives in every believer, supernaturally moved Philip.  If the Spirit was able to move Philip on Earth how much more should we expect the Spirit of God to freely empower us to move in heaven?

I don’t know about you but when I think about flying, walking through buildings, running super-fast, walking on water, and teleporting all by the power of the Holy Spirit, as a reflection of Jesus, to the glory and enjoyment of the Father… well, now eternity just sounds fun.


[1] These activities are based on the following lines of thought:

After Jesus’s resurrection he was given a new body. When we are resurrected we will be given a new body like the body of Jesus. Therefore, what he was able to do with his glorious body, we will be able to do with ours in the New Heavens and New Earth.

-and-

All miracles are the result of the power of the Holy Spirit. In heaven we will be completely full of the Spirit (without sin to hinder His presence). Therefore whatever the Holy Spirit empowered people to do on Earth, He will empower them to do in Heaven.

Evil and Grace

Jesus on cross black and white

Why did God let a madman shoot up a school? Better yet, why did He let Adam sin? Better yet, why did He let Satan into the garden? Better yet, why did He let evil into Satan’s heart?

Why is there evil at all?

Sure it’s true that God Himself through Jesus Christ came to rescue sinners from evil and to redeem the world. But why should the world and the people in it need rescuing in the first place? Is God like a man who built a house, rented it out to tenants and then set it on fire so that He could later rescue them? And even if we say that, in God’s case, He did not actively set the house on fire, He just allowed it to happen, He is still the one that had the power to stop it and chose not to. Why?

Some say God did not stop evil because He could not; others say He did not stop evil because He chose not to. Among those who say He chose not to stop evil, there are those who say it is because God is evil, and then there are others who say it is because God wants to work good from the evil.  In either case, God still appears evil. Because even a God who allows the ends to justify the means appears to be a God who is simply a manipulator of creation, like someone just doing the best He can with what He has to work with.

But the God of the Bible is none of these things. So why then did YHWH allow evil into the world?

Imagine evil never existed. Imagine Adam and Eve never sinned. And not only did they never sin they never had the option to sin, because evil was nowhere in existence. What then could we know of God? We could know His power.  We could know His intelligence. But we could never know His Grace.

Grace–unmerited favor–cannot be known in a world without evil.  Grace does not exist in a perfect world because in a perfect world everything is merited.  Every reward is the natural consequence of the perfect action that preceded it. But in a world where there is evil, there are many actions that merit condemnation, judgment, and even wrath. And in that world there is now space for Grace.

In an evil world there is now an open place for favor to be poured out where it should not be. In an evil world Grace shines brightly against the just consequence of condemnation.

Grace…an unknowable quality of God in a world without evil. Could it be that the great I AM is interested in displaying all of who He IS?

In Grace we see a characteristic of God that is wholly unlike any other conceived divine being. In Grace we see the holiness of God (His otherness). In Grace we see the beauty of God. In Grace we see the love of God in a way that otherwise would not be possible.

The Cross, the great symbol of Grace, is not just about salvation from evil, nor is it just about Jesus conquering evil. It is even more: it is a glorious beacon brightly shining in the darkness of night, displaying who God IS.

Evil is necessary for Grace. Grace is an essential attribute of God. God desires to fully display His attributes. Therefore evil exists.

What are your thoughts?

God is Reality

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Think about the last time you sinned. Why did you do it?

When I sin it is because in that moment my experience seems to run contrary to God’s truth. Or to put it another way, the reality I am experiencing is running contrary to the truth I have been told to accept.  Sometimes, in that moment of temptation, I don’t believe that my soon-to-be experience of sin will in reality actually be sin. Other times, I don’t believe that the “sinful” experience will in fact lead to any “real” death, “real” destruction or “real” consequence.  Because in that moment of temptation,  I don’t accept that God’s truth will in fact correspond to my reality.

Recently in a time of confession I told God this. I told Him that there are times when I don’t believe Him, I told Him there are times I do not accept that His truth corresponded to my reality. And do you know what His first words of response were to me:

“I Am Reality”

Then the Bible verses came to my mind…God’s revealed name to Moses, of “I AM” …Jesus’ use of “I AM”

Is not this identity statement of “I AM” the most succinct and profound way to communicate, “I am existence”, “I am the essence of being”, and “I am Reality “

Why does this matter?

If God is Reality, and if Jesus is God in human flesh, then to know God through Jesus is to know Reality.  Reality therefore cannot be based on your’s or mine’s experiences. Because our experience is at best only our perception of reality. Thus when our experiences of God’s truth do not correspond to what we perceived to be reality we should not look to condemn God’s truth but rather to condemn our perceived reality. God truth could no more be separated from reality then light could be separated from the sun. Because just as the sun is the source of light, so too God as Reality is the source of Truth.

Thus the next time you or I are having the experience of temptation, we can cling to the truth that God is Reality, which will in turn serve as good reason to distrust our distrust of God.  And  then in that moment of distrust of our distrust of God, we will be able to run to God, trusting that as “I AM”, He will shine his Truth upon us.

What’s your nut?

What’s your nut? What is the thing in your life that you try to protect or hold onto at all cost? What is the thing in your life that you are most of afraid of losing?

The good news of Jesus is that you are his “nut”:) I know that sounds weird, but the truth is, Jesus has taken great pains to hold on to you, to protect you and ensure that you are with him always. He is not afraid to lose you because, because if you belong to him then no one and nothing can take you away from him (Romans 8:39)

So relax and know, that no matter what craziness comes, Jesus will never lose his nut.

Jesus is not fragile

Sometimes I think we approach Jesus as if we could break Him.  As if we could vent too much to Him, to the point where He would respond, “no more, that’s too much…quit it, you’re stressing me out.”

Of course we think that, because we have those moments…those moments when someone’s confession of pain or trouble starts to overwhelm us.  Sure we listen and sympathetically nod, but inside we’re thinking “no more, that’s too much…”

But thank God, Jesus is not like us. He is never stressed out by other people’s stress. Rather, He tells us to give Him all we’ve got.  Jesus says, “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.” (Mathew 11:28-30)

Only Jesus is able to turn stress into rest. We cannot break Him, because He has already been broken for us. On the cross He felt the weight of all our pain, but now He has overcome. So now we can come to Jesus-the Mighty One, our Refuge, and our Rock. And now we who are fragile can lead others to the One who will not cower and will not break.

Thank God, Jesus is not fragile.