and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

(This is part eleven of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

This entry looks at the next line of the Apostles’ Creed where it says that Jesus:

“is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 is one of my all-time favorite Bible passages. I’ve written about it in 2009 and in 2010, so I guess this will be the time in 2011 that I write about it. For this entry I want to look specifically at what Hebrews 12:2 says: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Because this passage is so stinkin’ amazing, it’s easy not to pay attention to the fact that it says Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God.” What, if anything, does it mean that Jesus sat down?

Well, think about it for a minute. If you walk into a work area and everyone is sitting down, what does that tell you? Let’s suppose you work at some warehouse where people are supposed to be loading merchandise into boxes, boxes onto pallets, and then pallets into trucks. You walk into the warehouse area and everyone is sitting down. It tells you that all the work is done. There’s nothing left to be accomplished. As Jesus put it in John 19:30, “It is finished.”

Hebrews 10:1 paints a picture of the Old Testament sacrificial system when is says that the Law “can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.” This verse is describing an endless cycle, repeated year after year, of sacrifices that did not take away guilt, but served as a reminder of guilt (Hebrews 10:3). In fact, Hebrews 10:4 says that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” In this system, there is no sitting down; there is always more work to be done. Hebrews 10:11 paints this picture by saying that “every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” The priests would stand in their service because their job was never finished; sin was never taken care of once and for all. This is the heart of religion; religion is a system that shows us what we must do for God.

Contrast this with Hebrews 10:12, where is says “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Why did Jesus sit down? Because, on the cross, Jesus finished His work “by a single offering” (Hebrews 10:14). Jesus now has the honor of sitting down and basking in a job well done. His work is complete. His work is sufficient.

This is exactly why a Gospel of “Jesus plus nothing” is the only Gospel there is. If anyone tries to add anything to Jesus, they are suggesting there is something more to be accomplished. They are suggesting that Jesus’ work is incomplete and insufficient. But Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as the “author and perfecter” or the “founder and perfecter” of our faith.

When you read this phrase, think of bookends. Jesus is the alpha and omega of our faith; He started it and He completed it; He is the author and the perfecter. Faith is a gift that God gives us and it’s something that God completes for us. That is why it is a gift. This is the heart of Christianity; it’s not about what we can do for God, but what Christ has done for us.

Why Worry?

“Thank you for worrying about that for me; it made all the difference!”

“Hey listen, I’d really appreciate it if you’d take some time to worry about something for me…”

“Okay everyone, we need to stop what we’re doing and take some time to really just worry about what to do next.”

“You know, I just worried, and worried, and worried, and before you know it, I was through my trials. The worry is what carried me.”

Has anyone ever said anything like this to you? No? Really? Seriously?!? Not surprising, right? No one has EVER asked me to worry on their behalf. No one has ever advised me to intently worry about something to help get it done. No one has ever read any Bible verse that encouraged me to worry. I’ve never had anyone claim their spiritual gift was worrying for other people. Worrying is not listed as a fruit of the Spirit. I’ve never encountered a worry-centered ministry and I’ve never seen a book that helped people become better, more effective worriers.

So why are you worrying so much?!?

I’m going to show a couple translations of the same verse, but look at what Jesus says in Luke 12:25:

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (New International Version)

“Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?” (New Living Translation)

“And which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life’s span?” (New American Standard Bible)

I know your problems are big. I know your trials are hard. I know the next step in your future seems unclear. I know… I know… I know… And perhaps you’re thinking, “Actually Daniel, you don’t know.” And perhaps you’re right. But surely Jesus knows? Surely Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said that worrying doesn’t add a single hour to your life. So please, do yourself a favor and stop worrying.

Jesus continues that thought in Luke 12:26 by saying “Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” (The “very little thing” is add a single hour to your lifespan.) Jesus is saying that since you can’t even add an hour to your life by worrying, why are you worrying about everything else? Is it helping? Not a chance. Is it hurting? Possibly. Just take a moment to consider how effective or helpful your worrying is. It doesn’t take long to realize that worrying is not helpful or effective. So please, do yourself a favor and stop worrying.

Stop worrying and turn to God. He is so much bigger and larger than any of our tiny problems. He is eternal; our problems are temporary. He is infinite; our problems are limited. God big; problems little. So turn to a great, big God and, whether or not He takes your problems away, refuse to worry. Instead, trust.

Trust that God knows what He’s doing. Trust that God has it all figured out. Trust that God can and will use your trials to bring glory to Himself.

He ascended into heaven

(This is part ten of a multi-entry blog series exploring the Apostles’ Creed.)

After Jesus rose from the dead…

“He ascended into heaven.” (Luke 24:51, Acts 1:9)

So what exactly does this tell us, if anything, about Jesus or Christianity? Well, obviously this is in the creed for a reason (although I suspect it’s simply to link to the next statement). Let’s try to unpack this phrase though. I think it helps to start by looking in Acts 1, where all this took place:

After [Jesus] said this, he was taken up before [the disciples] very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? (Acts 1:9-11)

I think that, while we could try to look deeply at the “cloud” and what it might mean symbolically or why the cloud hid Him, that would be a waste of time. I think there are two important things that come from this text.

First, is the fact that Jesus ascended. He didn’t descend, he didn’t disappear, he didn’t explode, he didn’t leave this earth any of the other ways that we could think of; he ascended. Jesus rose. Although this isn’t the most important detail of Christianity, I think it’s worth remembering that Jesus ascended. There’s a certain sense of glory, of honor being bestowed upon the Son in this moment. After walking humbly on this earth and dying a shameful death, Jesus is returning back to Heaven.

Second, how often do we just stand around looking up into the clouds? How often do I spend all my time reading my Bible, praying, reading Christian books (all good, don’t get me wrong) but not spend any time actually doing any of the stuff I’m reading about or learning? I’ll be the first to say that works don’t get you into Heaven, but Ephesians 2:10 does teach that we are saved so that we may do good works.

Here’s a challenge (as much for me as for you): How about this week, we spend some time actually doing? Instead of walking around with our heads in the clouds, we take some time to look around us and see what God is inviting us to do for Him?

Pass the mustard, please?

(For one of my classes I had to write about the Kingdom of Heaven; although I don’t normally post my homework on here I really enjoyed this assignment and thought I’d share. I hope this encourages you, blesses you with a deeper appreciation of the Kingdom, and challenges you to advance the Kingdom.)

The “Kingdom of Heaven” is a topic that I think has been convoluted by many different people I’ve encountered. I’ve definitely appreciated the opportunity to study this topic further. What I find interesting is that the first person to mention the Kingdom of Heaven was actually John the Baptist in Matthew 3:2 when he proclaims, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” When Jesus starts His public ministry, He then uses a similar phrase in Mark 1:15:  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” See also Matthew 5:17. In Luke 4:43, Jesus said His purpose in coming was to preach the Kingdom of God. (From my initial scan, the Kingdom does not seem to be a prominent theme in John at all.)

The thing that interests me the most about the Kingdom of Heaven is that it seems like it was such a radical, groundbreaking, revolutionary idea that Jesus was unable to just speak of it plainly; He had to describe it in parables. I wanted to look at the series of parables found in Matthew 13.

Jesus starts in Matt 13:1-9 by describing four different types of soil. First, I think it’s important to note that the seed never changed. This is a call to all Christians in general and preachers in particular to make sure that your message is legitimate seed. If I’m not sowing the right seed, then I’m actually an enemy planting weeds (we’ll get to that in a minute). Second, this parable calls us to examine our hearts; has the “word of the kingdom” (Matthew 13:19) taken root in your heart? Are you producing a harvest? Third, this parable reminds us that we are not responsible for whether or not a seed takes root; it’s not up to us, nor is it our job to somehow change the soil.

The next parable, in Matt 13:24-30, Jesus tells us that within the kingdom of heaven, there will be weeds. I think I agree with Augustine’s assessment that this means there will Christians and non-Christians within the churches we attend, but in light of the previous parable, I can’t help but see a subtle warning to us preachers. What seed are we planting? Are we planting weeds? Or are we planting the word of the kingdom? At the harvest time, will your fruit be taken into the barn? Or will your fruit be bound and burned?

The final parable in this series, (Matt 13:31-33), takes a look at how this seed should reproduce. Turns out, the Kingdom of Heaven should be spreading like a weed! According to the University of California’s Pest Management Program, mustard is a weed! What saddens me about this parable is that I don’t see this rapid, uncontrollable spread of the Gospel in our society. We seem to be on a steady decline and I’m eager to help change that. But that begs the question “Is the modern American Church planting the right seed?”

Building a Life Worth Living: Jornada del Muerto

I absolutely love this saying.  It means “dead man’s journey” or “Journey of Death.”
there’s a hollowness to living life solely for your own sake and your own happiness.  This is exactly what Paul was writing to the Romans about.  Losing your life to find it.  Now, I’ve heard many a hellfire and brimstone, good ole southern baptist preacher lay it down whilst preaching through Romans, but I always cringe a little at how wide and far they miss the heart of the matter – they just don’t get it.  For example,  this past week I was in a conversation concerning the military and the repeal of DADT, and how that fit in with my “Christianity”.    One of the people started quoting Romans 1 as a means to condemn homosexuality and “prove” that gays and lesbians were bound and destined for hell, the funny thing is, they turned to me expecting me to agree with them.    You see, what people fail to realize is the POINT paul was making.  We’ve become so wrapped up in “NOT DOING this or dressing like that or talking like him or …you get the idea”  We get so focused on our lists of things that we can’t do now that we are christians.  Wait what?  You there are things we absolutely can’t do as christians……NOPE!  Yeah, you heard me right, that’s why it’s called Grace.  You are FREE to do what you wish.  Here is where we come to the concept Paul was trying to convey.  Yes, you are free to chase after what you wish…to do what you want, God, knows what will satisfy you and what will bind you in chains.  If we are honest, its most often the things WE WANT that end up making us slaves.  I speak from the voice of weathered experience in that arena.
Romans 1:28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Now, just previous to this Paul spoke about men and women giving way to unnatural lusts. and here he puts that on the same level as people whom disobey their parents.  He’s saying, we are all Sinners, all of us filthy, depraved and wicked apart from the knowledge and love and grace and mercy of Christ Jesus.  Yes, we are free as christians, but what will you do with that freedom?
This is where I begin my journey of death.  I have known for quite sometime, years in fact, that I was called to the ministry; however, like I have always done when faced with a seemingly difficult path, to took the easy way out.  As an extremist, i do nothing half-way… I take everything to the absolute edge of reason and more often than not, jump off the edge into madness.  I arrogantly reasoned that I KNEW BETTER THAN GOD what my life could, would and should look like; so he let me have exactly what I had envisioned and all the consequences of the choices that i made.  THIS IS THE MOST LOVING THING he has ever done for me, apart from the WONDER OF THE CROSS!  I have learned more through my failings in running my own life and building this castle on the sand than I could ever have done had I always taken the RIGHT PATH.  There is almost no person, experience, group, place, hardship, pain, fear, etc., etc., that i cannot only sympathize with, but relate to because I myself have experienced it.  An, as HE has always done, he shows me in very real and very amazing ways, that held up against the way Jesus said we should live, the way I’m living mine becomes quite trivial and meaningless and His way looks intoxicating.
Dying…this idea has been on the forefront of my mind since my return from Iraq.  Most often not in a good way.  I’m not afraid of death, it doesn’t scare me or make me nervous.  In many ways it is comforting.  Crazy?  Not really.  When you think about it, it is by Death that we have Life.  Christ’s sacrifice of his own life for ours made it possible to for us to reconnect to him.  And, just as Paul said, “for me to live IS christ, and to die is gain.”  you can take this apart and look at it from several perspectives; first, the literal…for the Christian whose life is meant to mimic that of our Savior, which means bringing hope and LIFE to a broken and hurting world, living life means being Christ to the world and, when we die, we are simply relocating.
Then we can look at it in a much harder way.  Living for Christ, as Christ, through Christ and in Christ…knowing that whatever you do and wherever you go, he goes and does with you – cause that’s what He said he would do.  That’s when no matter how far we (I) run from Him, when I turn around, he’s right there with me…THINK ABOUT THAT THE NEXT TIME YOUR ALONE.  It’s the DYING part here that’s the hardest.  Dying to oneself is never easy and it certainly isn’t pleasant.  “Crucify the flesh DAILY, take up your Cross, and follow me.”  The Saviour is asking you to embark upon a journey, one that will be wrought with pain and suffering and hardship, one in which you will be reviled and hated and considered quite insane and one that is more fulfilling, more satisfying, more glorious and wonderful than you could ever possibly imagine.  Are you ready for the Jornada del muerta?