Saturday, September 20, 2008

Christ in You

God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

                        Colossians 1.27

It’s a Mystery

The great gospel singer Andrae Crouch once wrote a simple, honest tune encapsulating the central mystery of Christianity: "I don’t know why Jesus loved me; I don’t know why He cared. I don’t know why He sacrificed His life. Oh, but I’m glad, so glad He did." The song splendidly summarizes Titus 3.5: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” And it speaks to Isaiah’s despondency about our unworthiness: “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64.6)

The possibility of God’s acceptance comes only through our impossibility to attain it. It’s a conundrum that can’t be logically explained or solved. It can only be embraced by faith. After we internalize it, we shouldn’t be rattled if others can’t comprehend or appreciate it. Nor should we be shocked to encounter those with no earthly idea why anyone—especially Jesus—wants to love us, or why they’re most definitely not glad about our assurance that He does.

Alienated Attitudes

Paul told the Colossians, “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds, as shown by your evil behavior.” (Colossians 1.21) When the subject of behavior arises, ostracized believers tend to get defensive. Being told they didn’t act like “acceptable” Christians was what drove them away to begin with. But look carefully at what Paul said and an entirely different picture emerges. Unworthy behavior is a product, not a cause, of rejection. And here’s the mystery’s most stunning twist: wrongdoing directly results from choosing to adopt alienated attitudes. “You were enemies in your minds,” Paul wrote, “so you started acting out.” 

Paul's logic works like this. We were labeled as unworthy, naïvely believed it, and then--thinking we had nothing to lose--lent credence to the lies with our actions. Therefore, invalidating any excuses for our rejection starts by refusing to entertain the slightest doubt about God's love and acceptance. That's where so many of our problems, including self-condemnation and battles with temptation, originate. 

The Ripple Effect

Overcoming alienation is vital for our own spiritual growth and profoundly changes our lives. But its impact reaches farther, setting off a ripple effect in others’ lives. Listen to Philippians 2.5-7: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who… made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant.” In service to others, we step out of ourselves, Christ moves in, and the mystery comes alive. When people who once dismissed us as unacceptable see Christ in us, they witness His power in action. It proves He can and will use anyone who follows Him, providing hope that they too may experience His glory. It’s no longer a mystery. Now it’s a miracle.

Allowing Christ's power to work in us sets off a ripple effect that reaches others with the hope that His glory can also be revealed in them.

(Tomorrow: Going Overboard)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Our Hope

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless… and a better hope is introduced by which we draw near to God.

                        Hebrews 7.18-19

Turning a Corner

Rather fittingly, we close this weeklong series on “Our” Christ with a bookend, circling back to Hebrews, where we began with Jesus, our High Priest. But, though priesthood remains the central topic, we’re ending on a different, even higher note.

Hebrews presents Jesus as our High Priest by categorizing Him with a specific priestly order. In ancient Israel, most priests inherited their titles as descendents of Levi, the son of Abraham and patriarch of Aaron, the first priest to serve under the Law. On occasion, however, God called priests from other tribes. They belonged to the Order of Melchizedek, named for a priest who ministered to Abraham. They were sworn into office and highly revered for the nature of their calling. Therefore, Hebrews says, Jesus’s divine call and tribe (Judah) verify His position in Melchizedek’s order. That much seemed fairly straightforward. Then, the author turns a corner and finds something truly wonderful in the Psalms.

God’s Oath

Psalm 110.14 reads, “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek’”—prophetic testimony of Christ’s status. (Stick with this; we’re real close to the good stuff.) Hebrews contends that since God Himself swore Jesus into office, tradition was forever altered. His mind could not be changed on this and Jesus’s priestly authority could never expire. The past was sealed. Old thinking, old beliefs, and old practices were nullified. In Christ, God introduced a better hope that draws us near to Him.


Maybe this excited Hebrews’ original readers—Jews trying to reconcile their religious legacy with their newfound faith. Yet why should this excite us? For the very same reason. We’re all trying to reconcile certain things we were taught with what we now know. Like the Jews, we must reject old stipulations for God’s forgiveness to embrace the hope that is Christ. Doctrines of exclusion and manmade tradition are weak and useless. We have a better hope.

It’s time we leave the past to its guilt, shame, and self-persecution. Trusting in Jesus, our Hope, we can fast-forward to our future. His position as our High Priest is forever secure, which means our access to God’s mercy and grace is also secure. Let others (even us) doubt this. It doesn’t change God’s promise. And just in case you’re worried He might renege on His word or reverse His opinion, remember: He has sworn it and He will not change His mind.

God set aside the old regulations and swore that Jesus forever will be our Hope.

(Tomorrow: Christ in You)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Our Light

The LORD is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear?

                        Psalm 27.1 

In the Dark

We hate what we can’t see. It terrifies us because we know it’s there, yet we have no way of gauging its proximity to us, its size, whether or not it’s poised to strike. Incapable of judging its posture and expression, we can’t ascertain if it’s a legitimate threat or just something else, like us, lost in the dark. Sometimes, after light comes, we find out there’s nothing or no one there at all. But until we can see, we live in the grips of constant fear.

Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9.2) Today, we appreciate this more as poetry than prophecy. But when it first was written, darkness was an entity unto itself. It couldn’t be dispelled with the flick of a switch. When it fell over primitive societies, it was best to stay put. You didn’t walk into the night unless it was unavoidable. (If you did, you sure didn’t travel alone.) Old Testament writers consistently equated darkness and death—“the place of no return.” (Job 10.12) So, when Isaiah portrayed Christ’s coming as “a great light,” he promised more than illumination. He promised life.

The Light of Life

“I am the light of the world,” Jesus said in John 8.12, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” We should dial back our modern familiarity with light and hear His words as if we actually stood among His listeners. To their ears, His statement was flabbergasting. If they heard Him correctly, by following Him they would never again be endangered because He would provide them life-saving light! They’d always know where they were, who and what were around them, and where they going. The enormity of this idea overwhelmed them.

Facing Our Fears

Christ’s path is not for the faint-hearted or easily frightened. It takes us down dark alleys and leads through shady places. With little or no warning, rejection, sickness, doubt, heartbreak, loneliness and every other imaginable danger loom up, suddenly plunging us into impenetrable darkness. If we fall back on old behaviors, we tremble. Either we stand, locked in paralysis, or we try to feel our way through it alone, hoping we’ll avoid injury and harm.

But we’re not alone. We have the Light of life. And here’s what’s most amazing about that. When Christ’s light conquers our darkness, it enables us to face the fears hidden inside it. We see them for what they are—needless anxieties over people and things we can’t control. We may never defeat them, but we can always find ways to circumnavigate them. They lose their power over us. With the Lord as our light and salvation, there’s nothing—and no one—to fear.

Once Christ, the Light of life, breaks into our darkness, we can face the fears it concealed.

(Tomorrow: Our Hope

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Our Peace

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.

                        Ephesians 2.14 

Fitting In

During its first days, the church was an awkward spot for Gentile believers. They had a hard time fitting in with local congregations due to a widely held doctrine of exclusion. This was based on believing Christianity was a sect of Judaism when, in fact, Jesus came to fulfill the Law and usher in a New Order. Quickly, the apostles realized the church’s longevity depended on debunking this myth. Paul told the Ephesians to remember they once were “excluded from citizenship in Israel… without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2.12-13) Ergo, you belong.

These are stunning words, particularly from Paul. Formerly, as Saul of Tarsus, he devoted his life to excluding anyone who didn’t fit his religious views. He advocated ethnic cleansing, traveling extensively to oversee the stoning of Christians. Now, after his spiritual cleansing through Christ’s blood, he became a leading proponent of inclusion. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female,” he wrote, “for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3.28)

No Barriers

It’s interesting to note Paul invested much more time reassuring Gentiles that God accepted them than opposing unenlightened believers who restricted eligibility for God’s grace to circumcised Jews. Most likely, Paul realized arguing with closed minds would start battles he couldn’t win. He focused on persuading those longing to follow Jesus that walls of exclusion were merely imaginary—they didn’t exist.

“There are no barriers. There is no conflict,” Paul said, “because Jesus is our peace.” His presence brings us together. If we recognize it or not, if we like it or not, Christ destroyed all divisions that separate us. Any hostility that greets you isn’t worth consideration—and most certainly shouldn’t influence your confidence in God’s acceptance—because it’s an artifact of ancient theology. When Jesus leveled the wall of exclusion, hostility fell with it.

The New Reality

As formerly excluded believers reentering the halls of faith, it’s imperative that we take Paul’s teaching to heart. Our peace is real, established once and for all in the person and work of Jesus. Promoting hostility against us is a silly attempt to erect barriers of fear and prejudice in a world where they no longer apply and won’t last. We are all one in Christ. That's the new reality. Regardless of who refuses to accept it, it’s nonetheless so. Christ, our peace, saw to it.

Walls of hostility that divide God's people don't exist, because Jesus has already destroyed them.

(Tomorrow: Our Light)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Our Strength

I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

                        Philippians 4.13


When I was kid, I loved the “Archie” comic books. After reading about the gang’s antics, I lingered over the Charles Atlas ad on the inside back cover. A scrawny guy struck up conversation with a girl on the beach and then a bully showed up, kicked sand in the weakling’s face, and sauntered off with the girl. “I can make you a new man!” the ad read, touting some kind of physique-enhancement, followed by a new version of the story. The loser, now built like Hercules, stood up to the bully and held on to the girl. In my case, the girl wasn’t the prize; it was becoming the kind of guy that the muscle dude might take an interest in.

I wasn’t yet old enough to comprehend what this skewed response meant. Clearly, the ad didn’t only target the burgeoning identity of pre-teen gay men. Its broad appeal aimed at a more common anxiety. Fear of perceived weakness is a prevalent theme in everything from “Jack and the Beanstalk” to A Streetcar Named Desire to the constant saber rattling in the news. Survival threats naturally compel us to fear being viewed as weaklings. But those following Christ’s unnatural lifestyle take a different perspective. In the realm of faith, conceding weakness is how we show strength.

Knowing vs. Being

Knowing we’re weak isn’t the same as being weak. It’s the total opposite, in fact. The moment we confess our power and ploys are limited, we’re able to place complete trust in Christ to accomplish what we can’t—both in us and through us. Paul explained it like this: “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses…. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12.10)

Admission of weakness urges us to step aside, divorcing ourselves from defense mechanisms for our sake so Christ can enter our situations for His sake. He has more to prove with us than how strong we are. Anyway, what does our strength really prove? At best, it only proves we’re stronger than what we presently confront. Furthermore, it engenders false self-confidence that inevitably will fail when somebody bigger comes up the beach and kicks sand in our faces.

All Things

Christ is our strength. Through Him we can do all things—proving His strength, not our own. When we activate His power in us, we see past the moment to find the eternal, looking beyond the now to discover the next. That’s faith in a nutshell. The world teems with people who dismiss following Jesus as a sign of weak-mindedness. They couldn’t be more correct. But we know what they don’t. Accepting our weakness puts God’s power to work. His strength becomes our strength.

Beyond its latent, campy homoeroticism, the Charles Atlas ads traded on our natural fear of being weak. As Christians, we glory in weakness as Christ's opportunity to reveal his strength in us and through us.

(Tomorrow: Our Peace)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Our Friend

I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you.

                        John 15.15b-16a

The Matter of Choice

A great many of us experienced Christian conversion by answering, “Yes,” to this question: “Do you choose Jesus as your personal Savior?” The exchange is valid to some extent. Following Christ is a conscious choice, yet emphasizing the need to choose doesn’t come from Jesus. The matter of choice derives from Old Testament theology, which presented obedience as an either/or proposition—God’s way or else. “Choose for yourselves whom you will serve,” Joshua told the Israelites, “but as for me my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24.15)

With Jesus, choosing is a moot point. He’s already chosen us. His love isn’t something we earn by righteousness. It’s a gift, there for the taking, without any “either/or” attached. This was what He meant by saying, “I’ve told you everything I learned from my Father.” Accepting God’s unconditional love seals our bond with Him. It’s why He’s our Friend. That significantly changes the  conversation from whom we choose to serve to whom we choose to love.

Maintaining Friendship

On this, He was very firm and clear. In the verse before He named us among His friends, He said, “You are my friends if you do what I command.” And He prefaced that with, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” That’s a mighty tall order. It’s also rather odd when you think about it. We don’t maintain friendship with Jesus by loving Him. We secure His friendship by proving we love others, laying down our lives if need be.

Bullets and Trains

Quite possibly, we’ve all melodramatically promised to take a bullet or leap in front of an oncoming train for someone we love. That’s easily said since most likely we’ll never have to do it. But how willing are we to lay down our lives, to sacrifice pride, ambition, comfort—even reputation—to love someone else? We might prefer the bullet. Yet Jesus did it, not only in death but also in life. In 2 Corinthians 8.9, Paul wrote, “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” He set aside everything to love us—wrong, corrupt, and selfish though we were—because He’s our Friend. Not in a million years could we ever deserve it, so He chose us first. In return, He asks us to choose others first. He became our Friend so we could befriend others, including those who by no stretch of our imagination deserve it.


For most of us, it's easier to imagine taking a bullet... 


or jumping in front of a train...

...than sacrificing our pride and dignity to love someone who neither wants nor deserves it.

(Tomorrow: Our Strength)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Our High Priest

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

                        Hebrews 4.15

Atonement 2.0

The magnificence of Hebrews emerges in how brilliantly it transposes the principles of Judaism into pillars upholding Christ’s New Order. For ancient Jews eager to follow Jesus, its step-by-step comparison incontrovertibly proved living by faith fulfilled the Law. Atonement for sin was the fulcrum on which Hebrews balanced. If readers weren’t convinced of Christ’s death as the final sacrifice for sin, the rest was pointless. How it presented this surpasses genius; it was divinely inspired.

The old script called for four actors—the sinner, the priest, God, and an animal offering. Sinners presented offerings to the priest, who presented them to God. Hebrews altered this paradigm by casting Jesus in all four roles. He was our surrogate. He assumed the priest’s duties. He represented God’s compassion and forgiveness. And He became our literal sacrifice for redemption. In its self-containment, His work was forever conclusive. No one could possibly do more.

A Priest Who Understands

Having been tempted exactly as we are, Jesus transcended the priest’s traditional duty as a third-party bridge between God and man by being intimately conversant with our weaknesses. It’s crucial that all Christians grasp this—none more than GLBT believers struggling to reconcile their God-given identities with widespread disregard for their emotional and physical needs.

Jesus sympathizes with us. As our High Priest, this informs how He presents us—and our sin—to God. In his first epistle, John writes, “we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ.” (1 John 2.1) He not only relates to our temptations, He’s also deeply acquainted with the alienation many of us suffer from religious bigotry. Isaiah 53.3 says, “He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised.” Jesus knows the pain we feel.

A Confident Approach

Hebrews goes on: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (4.16) There’s no cause for anyone to feel too timid or ashamed to come to Jesus. There’s no reason for anyone to be excluded anywhere our High Priest serves. Waiting for churches to extend a proper invitation is just foolish. First, it’s not theirs to give. Second, it’s already offered. Religious approval isn’t necessary. God’s help is what truly matters. When we overcome our fear, resentment, and hesitation and confidently approach our High Priest, we'll find all of the help we need.


The old paradigm; the New Order.

(Tomorrow: Our Friend)

Postscript: New Homes

Straight-Friendly has been blessed to hear from three new homes, where our High Priest serves and where we’re welcome to come boldly to His throne of grace. If you live in or happen to visit the area where these churches are, please make sure you visit with them. You’re sure to find grace and mercy there for whatever you need.

First Congregational Church, Salem, OR

Metropolitan Community Church, Charleston, SC

Westminster Congregational Church, Spokane, WA

Finally, our prayers go up for the millions of people residing in Hurricane Ike's wake. May God protect you, sustain you, and provide for your every need. And may we all stand with you--not only in faith but in deed.