Lay Down Your “Head” (Part 1)

There’s a popular adage that’s been the chorus of at least a few good songs, which goes like this: “Everything you know is wrong.” That’s not entirely true, obviously (I think), but there’s still a lot of truth to it.

On the one hand, we put way too much stock in our own opinions and experiences, however true they may or may not be. On the other hand—and sometimes even simultaneously—we allow ourselves to become paralyzed by our lack of knowledge, lack of wisdom, or just plain lack of confidence. By doing so, we end up acting in a way that betrays what little real knowledge we do have.

So with all this in mind, allow me the grace to put an absolute statement out there anyway: Just about everything you know might be wrong. In fact, most of what we know is some entangled mess of right and wrong. But God is never wrong.

And now, allow me to undercut even that: Because of our own fallenness and self-deception, we often don’t even get our understanding of God’s perfect will totally right.

If all of this sounds confusing, it should.

A big part of the problem—but also, the solution—lies in the connection between our minds and our hearts. There’s a refrain in Jeremiah that captures this well—“the imagination of their own heart” (Jeremiah 9:14, et al., KJV). In fact, Jeremiah often throws in “evil” before “heart,” lest we miss the point.

So often, we believe what we want to believe because we want to believe it, as if our desire by itself—or even more often, our pride—makes it all come out right. I suspect that God is far more offended by our arrogance than by our “going off the deep end,” but both miss the mark badly. Both are about us.

So where do we turn to get it right? Facts? Nope. Facts are good, but facts aren’t always the truth. Surf between news channels reporting on the same story on any given night, and you can readily see how easily different networks bend the facts to fit “the imagination of their own heart.”

Conscience? Better, but not perfect. Our conscience testifies that something’s wrong— that we’re somehow already disconnected from God—even as it potentially points us in the right direction. But though our conscience might alert us correctly, we often do wrong things in response to what it tells us. We take shortcuts. We run the other way. We do everything we can to avoid the problem we know is there. More often than not, we’re more concerned with easing our consciences than we are with trying to address the disunity in our souls that our consciences have correctly perceived.

So let’s cut to the point: Our conscience tells us something’s wrong; the Spirit tells us what’s right. To receive what the Spirit’s telling us, we need to lay down our “heads”—our thought lives—before God. We need to humble ourselves enough to let God work, and to allow our convictions—or lack thereof—to be replaced by his.

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God and Hamilton

I have to admit, I’m not particularly a Hamilton fan—but working on Kevin Cloud’s book convinced me otherwise. In this in-depth examination of the musical, there’s more spiritual themes in here than you can shake a stick at. Especially: redemption.

GOD_HAMILTONKevin Cloud. God and Hamilton: Spiritual Themes from the Life of Alexander Hamilton & the Broadway Musical He Inspired. 240p., $14.99, Deep River Books.

[I]f you watch it without understanding the spiritual themes of Alexander Hamilton’s life, you only get half the story. Discover how Hamilton is a modern-day parable that will:

  • Lead you into a deeper experience of God’s grace
  • Help you battle guilt and shame
  • Challenge you to forgive
  • Inspire your faith
  • Engage you in the struggle for human equality

God and Hamilton impressively weaves together insights from the musical itself, the lives of Alexander and Eliza Hamilton, and the story of Scripture into a tapestry that challenges people of faith to reexamine their lives.

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Lay Down Your Old Identity (Part 2)

Now, let’s fast-forward . . . to the Last Supper. In the middle of the meal, Jesus does something unusual—he gets up, grabs a towel and a washbasin, and begins washing the disciples’ feet. (It’s safe to assume the sandals have already come off, this time around.) Follow what happens next:

Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” (John 13:8–9).

Simon—who Jesus renamed Peter—protested, because he knew who he had been, and in many ways still was. He knew how unworthy he was of Jesus. Jesus knew it, too. Furthermore, Jesus knew what would happen later that evening. He knew how badly Peter—and all of the disciples—would fail him. Jesus’ priority wasn’t the disciples’ past, present, and future failings. What mattered most to him, at that moment, was that the disciples take off their sandals and be served—cleansed—by him.

What Jesus says to Peter, and to all of us, is: It doesn’t matter who you’ve been, what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter how big a screw-up you are now—and no doubt will be in the future. What matters is: Will you hand over your life—all of your life, including the screw-ups—to me, so that I can begin this incredible lifelong reclamation project called Your Life in Me?

Jesus not only came to remove the eternal separation from God that Satan intended for us, but also all the temporary separations from God we put in front of ourselves every day. In case the disciples missed the point—and they likely did—an hour or so later Jesus tells them this:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you (John 15:13–16).

This is where a changed life really begins. Especially at first we want, and arguably need, to make laying down about the “negative” stuff—the things we know we need to give up for Christ’s sake. That’s why we’re spending most of this first week on those things. However, if we focus only on what we need to give up, it’ll probably never happen. We’re overwhelmed by the task. We know we can’t do it. And to be honest, we really don’t want to give some of it up.

For all those reasons and more, we need to grab onto what Jesus promises to each of us when we’re willing to lay down everything for him. We need to remember who we are, now—Jesus’ friends. Eternal-life-long friends.

We want to justify ourselves before God, to make ourselves worthy. It will never happen. It can never happen. So let go of it. The good news is: Jesus has made us worthy. He has cleansed us. He has laid down his life for us. Jesus has chosen us because he has chosen us. Because of Jesus, that is enough.

Lay It Down Today

Got shoes on? Take them off. (Or wait for a time when you can do this later on.) Reflect on those places where you know God has already met you, and thank him again for those encounters.

Then, pray a prayer of consecration—something like: “Lord, you have created everything and everything was created to be holy, separated unto you. I want to honor you everywhere I put down my feet, starting in this place. Help me to let go of the person I’ve been, so that I might become the person you want me to be.”

Then, don’t forget you prayed this. Watch what God does with this prayer in the weeks to come. Write down any additional thoughts or prayers.

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Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel

If you’re in youth ministry—or just want to interact with the teenagers around you (including the ones in your house)—check out Drew Hill’s Alongside.

alongsideDrew Hill. Alongside: Loving Teenagers with the Gospel. 192p., $15.99 book (although it’s currently on sale for $9.99); $13.99 ebook, New Growth Press.

Our teenage friends are full of questions and longings. They’re trying to figure out who they are, where they belong, and if they matter during this pivotal time of development—all while facing new realities of loneliness and isolation, despite their social media followers.

Teenagers want to be chased, and Alongside brings scripture to life and helps parents and those in youth ministry practically connect the life of Jesus to the lives of their adolescent children and friends.

Through Scripture and captivating personal stories from years of experience working in youth ministry, Hill pulls back the curtain and invites readers to step into the unfiltered world of teenagers.

How do we start meaningful conversations with our teenage friends? How do we build trust across the dining room table? What would it look like to prayerfully cultivate a group of leaders or parents with a shared goal of seeing Christ transform the lives of teenagers in our communities? What does Jesus have to say about caring for our middle or high school friends and how can he use us in his plan to rescue them?

Alongside offers practical application and biblical truths to highlight the complexities of relational youth ministry, address the needs real teenagers encounter in their daily lives and engage their hearts rather than just their behavior. Hill explores what it looks like to not only share the love of Jesus with our teenage friends but to share our very lives with them as well.

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Lay Down Your Old Identity (Part 1)

Many Christians today believe—or at least live as if they believed—that Jesus died solely to forgive them; and that because their messes are now cleaned up, they can go on with their lives as if Christ had no further claims upon them. This is, quite simply, not true.

If we’ve truly placed our lives and trust in Jesus, then we’re already under the same death sentence as Jesus. “For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:10–11). We have not died with Christ because we think we have, or because we agree that we have. We—have died—with Christ. Our old life is done. We need to truly realize that, and to live in that new reality.

The tough part is living this out—or rather, dying it out—on a daily basis. Nonetheless, it’s what Jesus calls us to do: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23–24).

You will never fully become the person God has created you to be until you’ve fully laid down the things that he has not intended you to be. Only by laying it all down and following Jesus will things begin to come clear.

Notice I said “begin.” This laying-down thing takes a lifetime. God will guide us into the next things that require laying down as we’re ready, but we can start now—with the things we know aren’t God’s. Even when we don’t know exactly what new direction God wants to lead us in, we’re already called to obey his Word. That, in itself, should keep us pretty busy. And as we do so, our lives say to God, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9). When we willingly lay down our old selves and serve God as best we know how, we testify—to God, ourselves, and everyone around us—that we are not the same people we used to be. And in the process, we grow closer to God.

As you discover and trust that God has a better life for you, and follow out that trust, it will become more natural—I won’t say “easier”—to lay down the things that aren’t God’s, and to receive those things that are his.

There are any number of powerful stories in the Bible that illustrate this exchanging of our old lives for our new ones. Sometimes even the names themselves change—Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel. Let’s first look at a couple more Old Testament examples, and then jump almost 1,500 years forward, to another changed man with another changed name….

At eighty years of age, Moses was a fugitive from the law, “a stranger in a strange land” (Exodus 2:22, KJV). He had gone from being miraculously rescued and raised in Pharaoh’s household to a rebel who murdered a fellow Egyptian on behalf of a people who immediately rejected him for it. And now, he seemed destined to live out his days in obscurity in Midian. By most peoples’ measure, Moses was an eighty-year-old failure and would die that way.

But God had other plans.

In Exodus 3, God calls out to Moses from the burning bush—to lead an entire nation out of slavery and into the land he had already promised them. But before he gives this call, he asks Moses to do something: “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Moses obeyed. He honored God. And because of that, his life—and the lives of untold millions—was changed forever.

Fast-forward forty years, to the man who completes Moses’ task of bringing the Israelites into the Promised Land. Joshua no doubt knew about Moses’ past, but all he’d actually seen was the man that God had transformed Moses into. And from that perspective, Joshua knew he was no Moses.

Then again, for the first eighty years of his life, Moses had been no Moses either.

As Joshua approaches Jericho, the last big hurdle to entering the Promised Land, he too has an encounter with God, and a similar response:

Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so (Joshua 5:14b–15).

The places where we encounter God are holy. For me, that’s included not only both proverbial and literal mountaintops but also gas stations, empty meeting rooms, and my own living room. You have your own experiences. Because we’ve encountered God in these places, they’re special, set apart.

However, it’s not the location itself that’s inherently holy—it’s God’s presence that makes it holy. God is capable of making every place in our lives holy, and he wants to.

Likewise, God calls us too, to come out of slavery—to our sins, to our selfish desires, even to the good things we have that are nonetheless only a shadow of the better things God wants to give us—and “enter the land” he’s promised us. And he calls us to help others do the same.

(to be continued….)

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40 Questions About Salvation

Keeping this one simple… from the publisher site:

40Q salvation.jpgThis newest contribution to the 40 Questions series continues the tradition of excellent research presented in clear, user-friendly writing. 40 Questions About Salvation makes sense of one of Christianity’s most disputed doctrines, covering the most common and difficult questions about election, the order of salvation, and perseverance of the saints.

This volume will help pastors, college and seminary students, and all Christians who want to grow in their understanding of what the Bible teaches about salvation. Each chapter is succinct and readable, with a bibliography of additional resources for those who wish to study further.

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Lay It Down — one more introduction

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13–14).

We read these words in John 15, and take great comfort in the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us, his friends. But if we truly belong to Jesus, guess what? He’s our friend, too. If we belong to Jesus, then we too are to take up our crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24). Reread the above with that in mind, and follow the implications.

“And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4).

The idea of laying down our lives for Christ’s sake may seem impossible, but it’s not just an idea—it’s our calling. In fact, it’s our lifelong calling, and beyond. It’s not only foundational; it’s eternal. It’s how we first came to Jesus, and it’s how Jesus continues to shape our will in union with His. It is salvation; it is sanctification; and it is the totality of eternal life in Jesus. Our lives have to move from being of Christ or for Christ to being “in Christ” (Romans 8:1, et al.), to the point where finally our life “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, et al.).

createspace coverTherefore, in the posts to come you’ll find some pretty heavy ideas being . . . well, laid down. And why not? This is your life we’re talking about—and about laying down every piece of it for the glory of God. There’s nothing more important than that.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do—and if you do it right, you’ll get to do it every day for the rest of your life.

In some ways, what follows is meant to be very practical. However, the objective here isn’t doing. Before that, and along with that, each of us is called to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We’re called to become the new creations Christ intends each of us to be, and to understand that we are new persons.

The challenge for me, as writer—and for you, as reader—is to avoid compartmentalizing these things into stages, steps, ten easy ways, etc. And yes, this is a book with a beginning, middle, and end; I am using a certain structure and sequence to make all this easier to understand. However, God doesn’t compartmentalize—because he doesn’t change. Repentance and grace go hand in hand. Obedience and freedom go hand in hand. Inner discipline and outward service go hand in hand. Walking in the Spirit and loving our fellow human beings go hand in hand. And we stumble away from God’s will for us when we try to separate these things.

Furthermore: Laying it down is not just about releasing our bad stuff, but about offering up everything “good” we have to God. Jesus, the ultimate good, offered himself up for us. Who are we to do less—and why do we think the ultimate results won’t be as glorious?  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

Many equate “laying down” with giving up—with being a quitter, or just passively letting things come to/at us. In some ways that’s accurate—for example, when God calls us to quit the sins and/or idols in our lives. But as we venture further with Jesus, laying down becomes less about ceasing some activity we’re doing, sinful or otherwise, and more about a different kind of giving up—the active surrendering of everything we do to Christ. It doesn’t mean we stop doing the good things we surrender to him, but it does mean that we give up control of those things to Jesus so that he can direct them, so that his will can be done.

Therefore, we don’t stop working, but we “work . . . for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). We’re still parents and children and spouses, but our priority becomes glorifying God in those relationships rather than pleasing ourselves, or even that spouse or parent or child. We still use our gifts and talents, but we do it to serve God fully and not just for ego fulfillment—even, or maybe especially, in the context of “doing God’s work.” We still receive amazing blessings from God, but we learn to immediately place them back in God’s hands, knowing that even the people and things we love most were given to us for his purposes, and that our joy must rest in that, rather than in his gifts.

So let’s get ready to Lay It Down.

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