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Life Theology

I’m not sure Jesus is God! What do I do?

“I’m not sure Jesus is God! What do I do?” Perhaps you have heard this from a friend, or even said it yourself. It’s a legitimate concern and question that deserves a legitimate answer. It does no good to answer, “Well, the Bible says so, so you better believe it.”

If we’re honest, there are a lot more people inside our churches who deal with this than we want to believe. How can we help others (or ourselves!) when this issue comes up?

This past week, I preached from Luke 22:66-71. The passage centers on the beginning of Jesus’ trial with the Jews. Is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God (and consequently God in the flesh)? That’s what the Jews want to know. But they weren’t looking for information. They wanted incriminating evidence. The Jews didn’t want to acknowledge Jesus’ divinity and messiahship because he wasn’t the kind of God and Messiah they wanted. Jesus flips the table and turns the Jews’ accusation into an unwitting confession. So, what’s really going on is that Luke (and ultimately the Holy Spirit) wants us to see that it’s the Jews who are on trial, not Jesus. And it’s Jesus who is the Judge, not the Jews.

After the sermon, a visiting college student came up to me and asked what he can do in his struggle to figure out whether or not Jesus is God. He said he’s been a Christian for a long time. He goes to a Christian college. Yet he identified with the Jews and said he feels like he’s been putting Jesus on trial. It was difficult for him, I’m sure, to come up to a pastor he had never met who is convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is God. But I’m happy he did. It showed me that 1) God is working in his life; 2) he is humble enough to ask for help; and 3) he has a soft heart and wants to figure this out rather than take the easy road and dismiss Jesus’ divinity altogether.

So I told him to do four things (they’re a bit more refined here):

  • Acknowledge and embrace your doubts, but don’t settle there. Wrestle with them; work through them. It does you no good to suppress and ignore them. Anyone who says you should never have doubts is crazy. That’s not possible. You’re a sinful human! Use these doubts to get to the bottom of what’s going on in your heart in order to move closer to God. Doubts, like all trials, are meant to refine faith, not stifle it. Suppressing doubts, hiding behind them, or cradling them will only move you further from God.
  • Continually open up the Bible, read, and simply pray, “God help me see!” Ultimately, these answers are going to come from God. You have to have an open heart and plead with God to reveal reality through his word. Be honest with him, he knows your need.
  • Wrestle through the affectual aspect of this issue, not only the intellectual aspect. By that, I mean, look at what this has to do with your heart, not just your mind. It is one thing to cognitively grasp that Jesus is God. It’s another thing to grasp it with your heart (i.e. emotions, desires, etc.). If we think about the passage before in Luke, when Peter denied Jesus, it’s clear that Peter did not have a cognitive dilemma when he denied Jesus three times. He didn’t lack information about Jesus! His worldview was not the problem. What was the problem? Peter loved something more than Jesus in the moment. He desired something other than Jesus. It was not convenient for him to confess knowing Jesus in that courtyard. So when we come to the question of whether or not Jesus is God, getting the right information is important (we need that!), but this goes beyond information. We have to ask ourselves, “Why would I not want Jesus to be God? What is it about his divinity that threatens me? How would this reality inconvenience me? What do I love that is an obstacle to me loving and worshiping Jesus as God? What would I need to reject if he really was God?” More than likely, the core of the issue is an idolatry problem–a heart problem–not an intellectual problem.
  • Surround yourself with a community of people who worship Jesus as God and ask for their help and friendship. Don’t hang around Christians who say, “Don’t doubt! The Bible says so.” Find people who will embrace you and honestly address your concerns and love you through the process. This issue cannot be tackled alone. In fact, if you try to tackle it alone, chances are you will justify false conclusions, fuel skepticism, and settle in your doubt. It will take a lot of personal examination and private prayer, but you must also work this out in Christian community.

If you have similar doubts, or know someone who does, I hope this is helpful. What have you found to be beneficial as you’ve wrestled through doubts concerning Jesus’ divinity or helped others?

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Life Ministry

Is Community a Spiritual Discipline?

Most of the resources I come across that emphasize “spiritual formation” or “spiritual disciplines” focus on how I can grow my personal relationship with God. Things like reading the Bible, going to church, journaling, prayer, fasting, giving, and solitude make the list. These are good things. These things simply serve as instruments, or means, of God’s grace in my life. They are essential to my progress in the faith.

Very rarely, however, do I see “community” emphasized in these spiritual formation discussions. On a few occasions, I actually see community or fellowship listed as a “spiritual discipline.” I ran across something like the latter today and it got me thinking: is community a spiritual discipline?

My answer is that community (or fellowship or whatever you want to call it) is not a spiritual discipline. It is not merely one of the things that Christians do in order to become more like Jesus. Why do I say that? We get zero indication from the New Testament writers that community is an item on a checklist. We get very little indication that Christianity is overtly individual and so “community” must be considered an important aspect of my faith. Rather, the picture we get is that community permeates and transcends all the spiritual disciplines. Community is what Christianity, by its very nature, is at its core. Christianity is, of course, personal and individual. Make no mistake. My dad, in another context, always told me, “We don’t go to heaven in pairs.” Yes, but at the same time, Christianity is so much more than personal and individual.

This is because God is, by his very nature, a community of persons, existing eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God is not a loner, he is a tri-unity, a Trinity. It’s because God sent his Son to purchase a people for himself and bring them into the community of God through the gospel. Christians are called to image God individually and corporately. The only way an individual can image God, who exists in community, is to exist in community. Bible reading, prayer, worship, service, fasting, and a host of other traditional “spiritual disciplines” are all for naught if they are done in isolation. In fact, done that way, they can breed self-righteousness, legalism, elitism (i.e. varsity and junior varsity Christians). On the other hand, spiritual disciplines are all nurtured and empowered when done in Christian community.

Because I am an American, my environment cultivates individualism. America is home to John Wayne or Lone Ranger spirituality: “I am all I need and I can get the job done.” “Spiritual formation” resources about my relationship with God are therefore appealing, and, to be sure, ego-boosting. They feed the lie inside that says, “I can do this on my own!” Lately, I have been personally challenged and convicted by this. I am not a professional at corporate spirituality. I do not have biblical, gospel-centered community all figured out. But I desire it, I want to grow in it, and I need others to do it with me (I can’t do community alone!). The old cliché, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is true for Christianity, too. As someone has said before, the Christian life is a “community project.” That’s anti-American. But it’s not anti-God or anti-gospel.

You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now  you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet. 2:10).

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Theology

Maundy Thursday and Trinitarian Love

Today is Maundy Thursday. “Maundy” comes from the Latin word mandatum, which means mandate or command. On Thursday night before his Friday crucifixion during his final meal with the disciples, Jesus gave them a new mandate, a “new commandment,” to love as he had loved them (John 17:31-35).

Sometime after the meal and this newly given command, Jesus prays something profound for his disciples. Like the rest of the prayer, he says it is meant for future disciples as well: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).

Jesus says the remarkable and unthinkable: he has glorified us with the glory God gave him. He tells us why he has done this: so that we may be one just as the Father and Son are one. Then he tells us what the purpose of this oneness is: so that the world will know the Father sent the Son, and that the Son loved his church with the love of the Father. This is stunning.

Why does Jesus say all this? Jesus prays this so that the Christian community will be a living testimony to the Trinitarian nature of God. Though God is Father, Son, and Spirit, he is yet one. In the same way, though the church is many (i.e. made up of different individuals, personalities, nations, ethnicities, ages, denominations, etc.) she is yet one. One how? One in the fact that they have the same Lord, same faith, same baptism, even the same Father (Eph. 4:5-6). This separates Christianity from other religions or belief systems. Christianity has a common confession, yet many cultural expressions. Because God is a diverse unity of persons, Christianity can reject blanket uniformity while maintaining unity.

But the purpose of this oneness, as Jesus says, is not an end in itself. Oneness exists to deflect glory and honor back to God. Oneness will show the world that the Father sent the Son and that the Son loved his own as the Father loved him. In other words, the church is also a living testimony of the Trinitarian love of God. How? Just as Jesus submits to the Father and the Members defer to and glorify each other (John 16:14; 17:1, 4), so Christians serve, defer to, and glorify (i.e. make much of) each other. This is love, and love is God’s very essence (1 John 4:8). The church then reflects this–a community of persons who are self-giving lovers.

Do we reflect this Trinitarian God perfectly? Of course not, so we are not welcomed in by birth or religious activity or our moral effort. Even as a Christian, struggle to serve and defer to others. I struggle to love Christians who are different than me. If we do not reflect this God perfectly, then we do not deserve him. We have spit on his love rather than bask in it. You may be saying, “This sounds so good though! I want to know a God who gives love and defers and shares. The gods I serve only steal from me. How can we be welcomed by this God and enter this community?”

Just hours after his prayer, on Friday, on a hill called Golgotha, on a Roman cross, the Son was cast away. The Father removed his loving gaze from the Son and poured his wrath on him–the wrath you and I deserved as enemies of the Trinitarian God. The simple yet mind-boggling truth is that Jesus was cut off so you and I would be brought in. The Father did this so that all who trust in the Son’s finished work on the cross–not their own works–would be given the Spirit in order to be brought into this community as a true child and share in this eternal love.

We marvel. We wonder. We praise. We tremble. We sing,

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!

This wondrous love could only be Trinitarian love. O what love it is!

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Life Theology

Confessions of an Average Blogger

I have a love-hate relationship with blogging.  Right now, I hate it. Lately, I don’t want to read blogs or write them.  In a word, blogging has been a chore.  The whole process makes me frustrated.  Maybe it’s “writer’s block.”  Maybe it’s the winter blues.  Maybe it’s something else.  I don’t know.

Whatever the case, I feel like in the “theo blogosphere” there’s always pressure to write something insightful, challenging, and inspirational weekly, or even daily.  Like I have to stay on par with the other Christian blogs.  It’s the 21st century Christian way of keeping up with the Joneses.  I get sucked into it.  People comment on the blog.  My stats are up.  I get linked on other sites.  I’m on the “Top 100” blogs list for the day.  My head gets a little puffed up and it’s hard to keep it up long enough to write a short post.

I don’t want to be like that.  And I’m sorry when I am.  I want to write because I love it, because it refreshes me, and because it’s a blessing from God.  I write much more in journals, notebooks, and in the corners of my mind that only God will see than what goes on this blog.  Those don’t have big stats or comments from readers.  They aren’t visible or accessible to anyone.  It’s just raw, honest, straightforward words.

I want this place to be like that too.

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Life

Pitfalls in Communication: Unreasonable Expectations

Part 5 of a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

I can’t count the number of times on a weekly basis that I get disappointed with a person or a situation because something has gone wrong. Most of the time, I find myself frustrated, not because someone really did something evil or offensive to me, but because the advance of my agenda was halted. The kingdom of James came crashing down.

Your Biggest Communication Problem
Teacher and counselor Paul Tripp puts it like this: “You get angry, not because God’s law was broken, but because your law was broken.” That’s convicting, isn’t it? More often than not, when our blood gets boiling, it’s usually because we didn’t get our way. Rarely are we ever displeased, Tripp says, when God doesn’t get his way.

When a conflict arises, and I sense anger, defensiveness, sadness, or any emotion contrary to love brewing in my heart, I need to consider the question, “Are my expectations of this person or situation unreasonable?” Often, someone actually does sin and communicate or act wrongly. After all, they are imperfect as well. However, if I’m honest with myself, usually the latter is the case. Again Tripp reminds us, “You are your biggest communication problem.”

My unreasonable expectations are why I’m frequently arrogant, disappointed, depressed, angered, bitter, confused, and standoffish. When we have unreasonably high expectations in communication or with relationships in general, these emotions always rear their ugly head. These emotions, in turn, usually always lead to negative communication with the other person. We become purposefully hurtful, vague, shady, or even worse, we just plain ignore them.

The Solution
What’s the solution to this problem? If you think about it, how often do you live up to your own expectations? The answer for myself is almost never. If I fail to keep my standards every day, how can I ever expect someone who’s not me to keep them? More than that, we must understand that we have failed to meet God’s expectations and requirements. Nevertheless, he has forgiven us because the only perfect man, Jesus Christ, has clearly communicted who God is and how we can can him.  And he has accomplished this for us through his atoning work for our sins on the cross.

The short answer is cling to Jesus, confess your sin of faulty communication (and everything else!), and seek to change your intentions, thoughts, actions, and words by the power of God’s grace. For the long answer, check back in a week for our last post in this series.