Pursuing: The Second Word of Freedom

God is guiding us out of the land of slavery into a place of freedom and love. This is what the 10 Commandments are for: They lead us to freedom.

Second Word

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. (Ex. 20:4).

Some say…

Some say this word is just another command about worshipping God. Because God is invisible, without form, that God cannot be faithfully worship through an image.  It is impossible to represent God through a tangible image so any creation of visible image is idolatry. 

But what if…

But what if this second word is not primarily about banning unfaithful worship (though it is certainly about that)? What if this word is pointing us toward a dynamic and interactive relationship with God?

Interactive with God is an open-ended relationship. In this relationship we must pursue God as much as God is pursuing us. An image or idol of God—and of the other gods—is static and mute.  But God reveals himself as dynamic and vocal, continually acting with and speaking to his people.

Ever wonder “I know God loves me, but does God even LIKE me?” If so I’d love to give you something the good news of God with us.?

Word of Life: PURSUING

We must resist boxing God in to some preset conceptions or replacing God with a static (but easy to approach) idol. God is jealous for a relationship with us, and God knows we can be lazy and complacent. And an image or idol of any kind would just make it that much more difficult for us to pursue God.

Loving God exclusively—the first word—means loving God intentionally—second word.

Will we pursue God as much as God is pursuing us?

Is Your Gospel Holding You Back? Faith Hacking #2

Why Still So Tired?

For all the weary and over-burdened, we were told that if we followed Jesus then his “yoke would be easy and his burden would be light” (Matt. 11:28-30).

But often times we don’t feel that way.

We haven’t found that kind of rest in Jesus. We feel still feel disconnected, tired, and stuck. We feel overwhelmed, lost, and forgotten.

We believe in the gospel, but the peace and joy has worn off.

A Problem with the Gospel?

It is easy to believe this is just the nature of things.  Eventually the vibrancy of faith fades and the urgency of hope dissipates.

People tell us to embrace a childlike faith, but often we feel the need to grow up and take an honest look at life.

But what if our problem wasn’t with our faith, or with Jesus?
What if our gospel is holding us back? 

The gospel can hold us back if we only hear part of the gospel.  This can happen in two ways. We can either hear about the “gospel of salvation” or the “gospel of the kingdom.”

Only a Gospel of Salvation?

The “gospel of salvation” focuses on individual sin.  This gospel looks back to the cross as the place that God forgives our sins.  And this gospel looks forward to heaven as the reward for believing in Jesus.  And both of those things are good news.

But too often the “gospel of salvation” leaves us wondering how we are supposed to live right now.  What should I be doing with my life right now? How do I find meaning and purpose right now if the goal of everything is just life in heaven in the future?

But in the meantime people give us a list of things to do (evangelize others, serve in the church, minister to the outcast).  And all those activities are good things. But too often they can feel like another burden to bare, another law to keep.

It is easy to be discouraged, wondering how to make sense of the “peace and rest” that Jesus promised but now feels so elusive.

Only a Gospel of the Kingdom?

But maybe some of us focus more on the “gospel of the Kingdom.”  This focuses on the here and now.  God is on mission to transform the world, and we are called into this work.  This perspective looks more to the resurrection of Jesus as the place where new creation springs forth.  And of course this also is good news for us.

But too often focusing on our work to bring God’s kingdom to earth can burn us out.  We can feel that every burden of the world, every injustice against the innocent, every evil  action, is somehow our responsibility to fix.

No wonder we feel overwhelmed and burned out.  No one could ever carry that load.

The Gospel of God with Us

But the good new is that the gospel IS NOT primarily a plan for our personal salvation.  The gospel IS NOT primarily a plan for God’s kingdom come.

The gospel is not a plan at all. The gospel is a PERSON.

For the gospel is Jesus Christ himself, God become human—in order to dwell with us, in order to be with us.

4 Ways We Know The Gospel is a Person

  • The Apostle Paul describes the essence of gospel in terms of the person of Jesus (not a plan for salvation or God’s kingdom come).  He does this in 1 Cor. 15:1-5 where he describes not a plan of salvation, but the live of the person Jesus.

Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I [gospeled] to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.


  • The Gospel of Matthew has the bookends of “God with us.”  At the beginning an angel tells Joseph that the son Mary will bear will be called “Emmanuel”, or “God with us” (Matt. 1:23).  At the end Jesus himself say,  “Behold, I am always with you, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).


  • The Gospel of John begins by telling us that the Word of God (John 1:1) took on flesh and lived—or dwelt— among us (John 1:14).   The idea of God dwelling with humanity echoes the Old Testament Tabernacle which was made so that God could live with his people.


  • Lastly, all the books in the Bible that tell the story of Jesus are called “gospels”.  This is because the early church understood that the entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus was the good news of God for them.

The person who is Jesus is the good news, the gospel of God.

Faith Hack: The Gospel of God with you

Can we hack our understanding of the gospel?

Can we move our understanding away from a “plan” that accidentally leaves us as burdened, tired, and restless as ever?

Can we move toward the gospel as the good news that a person, the very person of God, has come to us, to be with us.

Can we place the good news of salvation and the good news of God’s kingdom come within the person of Jesus who comes to us?

How would your life of faith be different if you focused on Jesus who IS THE GOSPEL? What would be different right now, no matter what is happening in your life, to believe that the good news is that God is with you?


Don’t miss the other 4 “faith hacks” coming out the next couple of days (the first one is here). Subscribe and receive a free gift about how God’s glory doesn’t mean God hates us.

 If this post has been helpful or thought provoking, please consider sharing it. And please subscribe. Thanks.

Haunted House or War Zone: Does God Test Our Faith?

Now that we are saved, why aren’t things awesome all the time?  Why isn’t life one continuous ascent into the perfect life with God?

And why are we told that God is testing us?

As 1 Peter 1:6 says,

In this [salvation] you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Why would God test faith like that?

Answering this question properly all depends on how we image these tests. It depends on whether we think of life as in a haunted house or a war zone.

Is God Scaring us or Leading Us?

Ready to Jump Out

Our youngest son loves to scare people when they enter the house.  He will hide behind a doorway or some furniture, lying in wait.  And then he pounces. Sometimes he scares us. Sometimes not. Sometimes we see him getting into place. Sometimes we don’t.

It’s in all good fun.

Except when we think of God acting like this?

Sometimes we image our Christian lives as if God is lying in wait, ready to spring out and test us. We think that God is actively testing us, laying out traps to see if we will fall away or lose our faith.

Sometimes we think God is testing us to see if we really, Really, REALLY believe.  And if we fail the test then God is going to…well, who knows what will happen.

The Haunted House of Faith

Sometimes we can image our life of faith like a haunted house.  God is actively trying to scare us, jumping out unexpectedly and tripping us up.

But—as the idea goes—if we can get through without freaking out too much then we will be saved.   If we prove to God that we won’t doubt or run away then we will be saved.

But his image of God actively testing us is horrible—and inaccurate. This view of God lurking behind doors to test us distorts who really God is and how God is accomplishing salvation for us.

Ready to Rescue

Life is not an artificially created haunted house where we need to steel our nerves against any surprises.

Rather, life is better thought as a war zone.

We live in a war zone full of hazards and dangers.  And it is filled roaming spiritual forces seeking to destroy us.

But God, in Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, has promised to rescue us from this war zone.  Not only is this promised, but God IS rescuing us and saving us as the one who has come to us and is leading us to safety.

And the only way out of this war zone is to stay close to Jesus, to stay on the straight and narrow path that will leads to life.

The Loyalty in the War Zone

And the question is this, Will you give your trust, your allegiance, your loyalty to Jesus who is rescuing us, who leading us through this war zone?

Or will you, when trials and suffering and sorrows come, will you abandon him for something else? Will you put your trust and loyalty somewhere else when the attack comes?

In this war zone of life, the genuineness of our faith will be tested. But not because God is creating ways to scare us. But because this war zone is already scary enough, and we have continual opportunities to break loyalty with Jesus.

Jesus has the power to save and rescue us. And Jesus is willing to protect us. Jesus is leading us to life.  Will we trust him? Will we place our faith in him?

The Testing of Faith

God is not testing our faith.
But our faith will be tested.

Our faith–allegiance in Jesus is the beginning of our rescue. And our faith–allegiance to Jesus will lead us safely home.

If this post has been helpful or thought provoking, please consider sharing it. And please subscribe. Thanks.

The Human Side of Prayer (along with Tim Keller)

I came across this on twitter and it caught my eye and made me think.

What do you think?

As a Reformed pastor and theologian I know Keller is seeking God’s Glory in all things, and rooting out humanity’s pride and arrogance in all things. I agree with this framework, to a point, in that in the Garden Adam and Eve fell because they wanted to be like God.

But this is only half the story.

Isn’t it also correct to say that Adam and Eve fell because they didn’t want to be who they were made to be?  They were trying to be other-than themselves, other-than created beings made in the image of God, designed for fellowship and communion with God. It is not just that they weren’t treating “God as God” but they weren’t treating “themselves as themselves” (I know that is an awkward phrase, but you get the point).

Returning back to prayer, I think it better to say not just that if we fail to pray we aren’t treating “God as God” but that in failing to pray we aren’t treating “ourselves as ourselves.”  When we don’t pray are not doing what we need to do to be truly human.  When we don’t pray we are becoming more and more sub-human (as it were).  It is not “weak” humanity that needs to pray, but rather it is “true” humanity that needs to pray.

This doesn’t make prayer all about humanity, but rather that true humanity is always a prayerful dependence on God, a prayerful seeking of God’s ways in the world.  True humanity always knows itself to be coming from and returning to God.

I worry that often times Reformed theology creates an “us” versus “God” dynamic (in this case it is prayer) rather than fostering an “us” with “God” perspective.

Why did Jesus Pray?

Let’s do a thought experiment and ask “Why did Jesus pray?”

Did he pray because he wanted to “treat God as God”?  Well, that seems funny because he already was/is God and so in that sens there would be no need for prayer.

Did he prayer in order to be a good example to his disciples about how to “treat God as God”?  Well, maybe, but again that would seem particularly disingenuous and inauthentic to fake prayers as an example (I suppose this would be something like a dad letting his kids win at a game).

Rather I would say we must not forget about Jesus’ humanity and this in his humanity (or better, as the “true” human) Jesus prayed because this is what he needed and had to do.  As the image of the true humanity living in faithful obedience to God, Jesus prayed to God for all that he needed (and even argued and pleaded with God, at least once in the Garden of Gethsemane).


So let us keep our understanding of prayer (and other practices) as balanced as our Christology (divine and human), taking into account both the human and divine directions of these practices (we could easily talk about evangelism, preaching, sanctification, etc).

For other thoughts about Tim Keller on prayer see Scot McKnight’s recent post on Keller’s Rules for Prayer.

The poor you will always have with you.


For the poor you will always have with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish:
but you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7) 

From crude realism to hopeless resignation, this quote from Jesus is confusing at best and disheartening at worst.

What? So poverty and inequality are just a fact of life?  Things really aren’t going to change?  In Kingdom of God is really so ineffectual?

But Nicholas Perrin has helped me see a different perspective on this saying that revolutionized how I read it and how we should see the vocation of the church (in his excellent Jesus the Temple).

Counter-Temple Movement

Perrin understands Jesus and his movement as a “counter-temple movement”, and by counter-temple he doesn’t mean against the temple all together, but against the current sinful administration of the temple.  Jesus is against the temple as it is because it isn’t participating in and pointing toward the true eschatological temple to come (Ez. 37:26-27).  Jesus was seeking to establish a true and living temple centered on himself and his movement outside the jurisdiction of the current temple establishment (just think of the temple sayings and activities of Jesus and the temple imagery applied to the early church… I’ll post on this more latter).

In light of this, part of what it would mean to establish the true temple would be to instituted the jubilee practice of forgiving debts (Deut. 15:7-15; Lev. 25), an action that was supposed to be regulated by the priests through the temple treasury, which rarely, if ever, happened.

Jesus and his movement, through living with and as the poor, and as those who attempted to be a clearinghouse for the redistribution of wealth, was in fact functioning like the temple as it was supposed to.

“The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

So when Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you” he isn’t making a broad social observation about the current and future state of the world, certainly not one based in crude realism (as if he were saying, “There just is and always will be poverty in the world.”)  Rather, he is naming part of the inherent calling and purpose of his movement: “You will always have the poor with you because you will be the place that poverty is being overcome through the alternative economy of grace as the new temple”. 

Jesus is really naming a vocation for the church, not a reality in the world.

The church will have the poor because part of being the church is being with the poor.  If the church is not with and among the poor it is in danger of encountering the prophetic critique of Jesus himself through his Spirit, the same critiques he directed toward the temple establishment of his time.

The Work is With

This could mean all sorts of things for a local congregation: working in homeless shelters, educational programs, debt relief, or other practices of living an alternative, Kingdom-economy.

But we must remember this vocation is not just for the poor, it is with the poor.  This is not a vocation from a distance, but a work that is with the people.

Is your local church with the poor in some tangible way that makes sense in your community? If not, then perhaps you are not being built into the temple of God’s dwelling, a place in which God dwells among the fatherless and the widow, the downtrodden and the poor.

Book of Revelation = The Revelation of Jesus

victory_of_light The book of Revelation is nothing less than the Revelation of Jesus, the Lamb that was Slain but Raised Again. 

The lesser things it is NOT primarily about:

  1. The of the end of the world.
  2. The identity of the anti-christ.
  3. The timeline of  saints departure.

Hear this from Eugene Peterson, commenting on Rev. 22: 8-9, where John falls down to worship the angel and is rebuked:

The way St. John’s Book of Revelation has been treated by many of his readers is similar to the way he himself treated the revealing angel, but without the promptly heeded angelic rebuke.  It is difficult to worship God instead of his messengers.  And so people get interested in everything in this book except God, losing themselves in symbolhunting, intrigue with numbers, speculating with frenzied imagination on times and seasons, despite Jesus’ severe stricture against it (Acts 1:7).  The number of intelligent and devout people prostrate before the angel, deaf to his rebuke, is depressing and inexcusable.  For nothing is more explicit in this book than that it is about God.  It is the revelation of Jesus Christ, not the end of the world, not the identity of the antichrist, not the timetable of history. (Reversed Thunder, 187)

Sickness and the Ministry of Christ: Why don’t we do it?

The one of the things, several years ago, that concerned me about the Emerging Church Conversation was that for all its concern for the body (exhibited in holistic medicine, organic food, and even body prayer), I saw a gaping exclusion of, dare I say, the literal ministry of healing prayer (not of just emotional healing) but of the actual body.  Sickness often seems to be the crucible that the American Dream breaks up against, and as much as the Emerging/Missional Church rails against the American Dream we are often ill prepared for ministering to people in this place of utter need.

At the same time as this I was beginning my journey into my current church ministry at Life on the Vine (about 9 years ago) which is part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance.  One of the commitments of the C&MA is that Jesus is the healer of the body.  From Is. 53.5 (“By his wounds we have been healed…”), to Mark 2 (“The Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins…I tell you get up and go home”), to Acts 3.6-9 (“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk!”), and James 5.14-17 (“The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”) we see the healing ministry of Christ, and its extension to the Apostles (Acts 3) and then to the Church (James 5).

I think one of the main things keeping us from this ministry is a simple failure of nerve, or faith, or both (“If I tell people that I actual believe Jesus can heal people physically, not just emotionally, they might think I’m wierd…”).  Another reason I have noticed is theological.  Certain theological systems tend toward fatalism regarding the body by either having such a high view of God’s sovereignty that faith is merely the coming to terms of what God has done (which means just believe that something good will come of the sickness if we can just embrace it).  While in some circumstances this is the right posture, often this just drains the ability to pray that God would heal someone (maybe even a miraculous healing).

But I think a main reason for the lack of healing ministry might be just a simple lack of know how.  And I want to address this right now.

These are the principles we aim at here at Life on the Vine when it comes to a situation of sickness.

  1. Bring the presence of Christ into the situation.
    • We must realize that we, by ourselves, cannot change people or heal the sickness.  If people are not open then they are not open, and no amount of arguing, urging, or convincing will help.  We can not attempt to grasp control of the situation.
    • But we can bring the presence of Christ in and see what happens.  We bring ourselves, hopefully filled with the Spirit, testing and responding to what the Spirit is doing in this person and situation.
    • This is basically our trusting in the Lordship of Christ in all things, being open to and joining what He is doing, knowing that His desire is to overcome suffering and sickness.
  2. Focus on Spiritual Formation, not Supernatural Manifestation.

    • If we focus on the supernatural for its own sake we will run into immediate problem as we minister, and tempt those we are ministering to in think that God is here to meet their needs.  While we need to fervently believe that God can do the miraculous, that supernatural events happen (the lack of which is often the reason we don’t pray for healing and just pray for acceptance of God’s will), this isn’t the goal.
    • The goal is the sanctification and healing of the whole person, body/soul/mind/spirit.  As we minister the “presence of Christ” and his Lordship we must listen and discern how the Lord in the Spirit is seeking to form/transform the sick person.  In regarding to healing ministry Scripture links the issue of healing physical sickness to the healing of sin sickness (see Is. 53, Mark 2, and James 5).  This is the link between confessing your sins and praying for healing (James 5:16, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and prayer for each other, so that you may be healed.”) [Of course I’m not saying that all sickness is cause by sin, but I’m not going to nuance that right now].  So the goal is holistic spiritual formation, not mere manifestation.

    This leads to the next point.

  3. Discern the place of Sin and the state of Faith.

    • Have those seeking to be healed confessed/acknowledged sin? And do they believe that Jesus is at work to heal them?  These questions ask if the sick person is open to the healing work of Jesus.  Of course not every person is, and you can’t force them to be (see point 1 again!).
    • While the above texts are good places to turn in a particular situation, Matthew 9 is convenient because it contains both the story of the healing of the paralytic concerning sin (parallel to Mark 2), and the healing of the centurion’s servant concerning faith.  So you just need to remember one passage for both.
    • The goal in seeking out sin and testing faith is not to merely condemn and convict the person in need, but to remove obstacles blocking the flow of grace from Christ.

This then, in brief, is the theory and posture behind our practice.

But what, then, is our practice, roughly?  Glad you asked!

Healing Liturgy (for a hospital/home vistit)

  1. Enter Situation listening to person (seeking their heart in the situation).
  2. At appropriate time, open with Scripture (typically Ps. 103 [at least vs.1-5, if not entire Psalm]).
  3. If through continuing conversation the person is not overly open to the healing ministry of Christ, then close with a prayer over them (use wise discernment).
  4. If through continuing conversation the sick person is open to healing ministry, turn to Matt. 9 and James 5 to discuss the link between Christ’s ministry of forgiveness of sins and healing of the body (also Is. 53 is good for this).
  5. After confession of sin (if needed) and affirmation of faith (always needed), anoint with oil and pray.
    • Bless/Consecrate/Set Apart (make holy) the oil.  Something as simple as, “Lord Jesus, set apart this oil to be a sign of your healing presence and power among us now.” Or consult your prayer book.
      • Regarding oil: you can buys vials for this purpose.  But you can use veggie/olive oil in any useful container in a pinch.
    • Anoint the sick person by placing oil on your thumb or index finger, and then apply the oil to the forehead in the sign of the cross, and in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
    • Pray over/against the sickness for as long/short as needed as led.
  6. Close with a blessing/benediction.
  7. Leave (no need to linger or overstay your welcome.  Better to leave early than late, as appropriate).

I would love to hear how you all have journeyed into the spaces of Jesus’ healing ministry and how you go about it.

Anything you would add?