Strength In Weakness

weakness

If you’ve spent any time around Jesus, you’ve probably noticed that he sees things backwards; upside-down. His vision of how the world operates is counter-intuitive, counter-culture, and counter- most all of our own natural bents.

Jesus took his backward thinking all the way to his own, un-protested execution.

He was silent before his accusers.1

Jesus knew that there is greater strength in restraint—even in weakness.

How can weakness be strength? Again, that’s more than paradox, that’s just… incorrect. At least, it is so according to conventional thinking. (Which we’ve already said is not Jesus’ basis for “the way things work”.)

“My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.”2

Power… is made perfect… in weakness. Words of the Father to Paul, who was begging him to remove something that “tormented” him.

But God said, No… trust me. Weakness is better.

Power is made perfect in weakness. A small flame can light a dark room. Things that we perceive as weak can be strong. But I don’t think that is the point.

In a strange sense, it does actually work. Think about it. If you’re giving everything you’ve got, all your strength and ability, that’s great—but it has its limits. Your limits. When you acquiesce to a power outside of yourself—greater than yourself—and relinquish any control you have (or think you have) … there is a strange, greater strength in that act alone.

We’re giving up control. We are allaying all fear of what might come—which we can’t control anyway—by steadfastly trusting in the goodness, strength, and deep, deep love of the Father… towards me. The strength is not my own; it’s His.

Jesus lived this. And he wants us to trust him, and his Father, and do the same.

These thoughts have been bubbling under the surface of many conversations and in things read and heard in the recent past. I think God is reminding me where Life and Strength are. And now, perhaps he’s reminding you, too.

Be strong… in your weakness.

In him.

  1. From Isaiah 53, and the gospel accounts.
  2. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

I’m (Not) The Awesomest Person Ever

superman

I’m really good at a lot of things. I think I always have been. My sister-in-law once called me “golden boy”, or something like that (even before I was her sister-in-law), because everything I touched “turned to gold”.

And yet, I’m really not awesome.

I wish I was. I would have lots of uses for supreme awesomeness. I think of what a fantastic Dad I could be; always there for each of my kids with complete understanding, compassion, enthusiasm—whatever they need, exactly when they need it. I know I could be the perfect husband to my wife; empathetic, again understanding and compassionate, kind, gentle, humble, gracious, and always considering each moment from her perspective, and for her good.

If I was really awesome, I’d treat every person I spent time with each day as though they were indeed the Son or Daughter of the King—which they are. It wouldn’t matter what they looked like on the outside, or whether I was in a good mood at the moment, or even if I had time in my day to give to them. I would see them, and know them, and listen to them, and give them the honor they are due as another of His Masterpieces.

I’d also probably do some pretty amazing things along the way; whether through my music, or writing, or even through some tasty culinary creations. If I was the awesomest person ever, the world would be full of my most amazing works.

But I am definitely NOT the Most Awesome Person Ever.

(Just ask any of those people listed above.)

And I’m glad I’m not. I’m glad for the reminders that my life is only full, complete, real, meaningful… LIFE… with, and in, and through Jesus, who IS the Awesomest Person Ever. (See Colossians, Hebrews, and several other sections of the New Testament for more on that.)

I fail my wife all the time. When she needs me to show her grace, I’m often at (or past) the end of my own reserves, and instead I offer her insecurity; words and actions originating in my own lacking. I fail my kids even more (if only because there are more of them to fail) with busyness, tiredness, selfishness, all taking me from them more than I care to admit.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (Matt 5:3)

Jesus said that.

And this:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

As I was reminded by the book I recently recommended here, Jesus is clearly, far-and-away, without-rival, The Most Awesomest Person Ever.

Remember what Paul said, when he wrestled with wanting to be better (more awesome)?

That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.

Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5-10)

No. I am not awesome. Neither was Paul (who was likely more awesome than me… even if he might not admit to it), and neither are any of us who are not Jesus, the full embodiment of God the Father.

His grace is all I need. All we need.

We may not be awesome, but he is. And that IS awesome!

Christians Being Christian

wwjdI am not very comfortable in “Christian” settings. For a long time now, I’ve said that I “don’t like Christians”, but that’s meant to be at least somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I know that Jesus is life, that there is no life outside of him; and for me, everything I do, and see, and experience runs through that filter.

I am also quite fond of others who see the world around us from that perspective: knowing the loving Creator Father who made it, and us, and Jesus whom he sent, and his Spirit in us. It’s wonderful spending time with others who share that same understanding, passion, and reality.

But I recently had a moment of clarity on this subject. It’s not Christians that make me feel uneasy, it’s being at any event or location where Christians are “being Christian”.

It’s that pretense, that front, that game playing … that is what gets me to put my own guard up, and, sadly, it’s why I usually try to avoid “Christian” events.

When the language becomes Christian, when certain behaviors are expected, beliefs—not in Jesus, but in the “traditions of man”, as Paul often labeled them—are silently presumed to be firmly held and agreed upon; this is when my stomach usually tightens into disquieted knots.

I love being with other believers, but if the reason for gathering is somehow labeled “Christian”, or all the participants know that they are there to “be Christian” … I think that’s where it starts to fall apart.

And the reason is that we are not supposed to BE CHRISTIAN.

We are supposed to love each other. Love God. Be loved. The things that we think mark us as believers are evidence of lives changed from within, by God himself. Not our own efforts at all. That’s so important.

It’s completely from, for, about, and through him.

So when we who live our lives wholly with Jesus are in a setting that is not specifically “his”, I find that those times are more relaxed. (As long as we’re not “being Christian” and condemning wrong behavior that is acceptably condemnable.)

This is part of the problem. “Being Christian” is often akin to thinking a certain way on various issues, behaviors, and doctrines. (This is why there are so many splinters of the church. Doctrinal spats create unending levels of division between believers.) Christians are against homosexuality and gay marriage; six-day creationism versus evolution (and every other theory of our origins); taking God, prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Bible out of public arenas like schools and other government buildings; and many Christians hold strong views about politics that they tie to their “Christianity”.

How do any of these things make us “Christian”? In what way do they distinguish us as followers of Jesus? How are we like him by conforming to these standards?

Jesus prayed for us. Did you know that? Right before he went to the cross, John records the words he prayed. He prayed for the people he was with, and he prayed for us. Listen:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!

“O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”1

To Jesus, our unity was paramount. We in him, he in his Father, Father in him, he in us. That we as believers—centuries and millennia in the future—would be visibly, notably united was foremost in his heart and mind as he faced death on the cross.

Jesus’ unity was not just a doctrinal thing. He spent time with people who may have disagreed with him. He certainly spent time with some who were different from him. He was usually chastised in regards to whom he chose to spend his time with.

He was not “being Christian” at “Christian” gatherings.

Why can’t we just be together, and enjoy each other, and share the variety and diversity of our lives and selves together, with no need for judging, condemning, conforming, reforming, or any other manipulation of each other; whether directly or by inference?

I don’t know. But that’s why I don’t enjoy Christian gatherings. It’s a bunch of Christians being Christian.

We are most like Jesus when we love, accept, offer grace and truth together—which I think is much less common practice than many Christians admit—and truly love people who most need loving.

Which is all of us.

I don’t want to be a Christian. I want Jesus to live his love through me. (Just as he prayed for us above.) I want to be so close to him that people recognize his scent on me. Not through any of my own strength, or practice, or perfecting… just the work he is doing in me. It’s not at all about me. Only him. And you.

If we all live like that, being together with Christians who are truly “being Christian” would be the most amazing place on earth.

Because HE is embodied in us. (We’re not trying to be his body.)

Oh man. That would be spectacular.

We just have to stop trying, and let him change us. Stop being Christian. Be loved. And Christ will be in you.

Amen.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Jesus+Nothing=EverythingA good friend of ours read a book a while ago and thought that I might enjoy it, too. She was right.

What I most enjoyed about this book was it’s emphatic emphasis (is that a thing?) on the singular fullness of Jesus. (Which, I’m sure you already gleaned from the title.)

The concept is, nothing we can add to who Jesus is, and what he has already done, will in anyway add to or enhance our lives, our existence. And, in a slight bending of the commutative property of addition, he asserts that removing Jesus from everything, leaves us with nothing. (That was for my kids, who do not hold much love for math…)

Here’s a quote from early in the book:

God seemed bigger to me than ever, when I’d never been so small.

When you actually feel like you have nothing, Jesus becomes more to you than you ever could have hoped or imagined.

Jesus plus nothing equals everything.

The gospel became for me more than a theological passion more than a cognitive catch-phrase it became my functional lifeline.

Rediscovering the gospel enabled me to see that:

Because Jesus was strong for me, I was free to be weak.
Because Jesus won for me, I was free to lose.
Because Jesus was someone, I was free to be no one.
Because Jesus was extraordinary, I was free to be ordinary.
Because Jesus succeeded for me, I was free to fail.

At a very difficult time in his life, the emphasis of the author’s real, tangible life became completely focused on who Jesus is, what Jesus does for him… and the reality of its completion and accessibility to him. And to us.

The gospel erases us, in [a] sense, which is why we avoid it. But that erasing of self is the key to our freedom.

The gospel doesn’t take you deeper into yourself; the gospel takes you away from yourself. That’s why Paul reminds the Colossians (and us), “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (3:3) The gospel frees us to realize that, while we matter, we’re not the point.

Jesus is the point.

We who call ourselves Christians certainly already realize this. But it is not often realized in our lives. The days we live. The hopes we have, challenges we face, thoughts we think. We do not live in the fullness and reality of the gospel: that God so loved [all of us] that he took on skin and defeated sin and death, that we might know eternal life. In Him. And then the “Christian life” flows from knowing, accepting, and living that.

At one point the author proclaims a “hatred” for ‘accountability groups’ because of their incorrect focus. Christianity tends to focus on behavior, and inward attempts to change. But the change only comes from Jesus’ work in us. Once on the cross, and ongoing as we walk with him.

He says this about how we can encourage one another as we live our lives in step with the Spirit:

So, instead of trying to fix on another, why don’t we “stir one another up to love and good deeds” by daily reminding one another, in humble love, of the riches we already possess in Christ? ….

Our greatest need is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves, because the gospel is not our work for Jesus, but Jesus’s work for us.

The truth that this book presents is that we have everything we need in Jesus. Period. The end. Nothing more is needed. Anything else just gets in the way, and takes our focus off of the Life source: Jesus. (Hebrews 12:2 comes to mind.)

Today, if you are weary, or burdened, or feel as though you are missing something… please look to Jesus. He is already there, with you, waiting for you to cease your struggle and simply follow him. Trust him.

If those are just words, please ask Him to show you how to experience them. There is no life without him. Everything minus Jesus is nothing.

But, as Tchividjian says (I just wanted to get his name in here! It’s pretty crazy!):

Jesus, plus nothing, equals everything.

And in that, we are free.

There Is No Sin In Him

Buckle up, pardners… this may get a little heretical. (Just warnin’ ya!)

jesus-writing-in-the-sandIn many places within the pages of the Bible we read that Jesus was without sin. He who had no sin became sin for us… He is the spotless lamb… He faced all the same temptations we do, but he did not sin.

And on the one hand, that makes sense: Jesus is God. So… duh! Of course he can’t sin!

But, on the other hand—the hand that is WAY beyond our limited understanding—Jesus also emptied himself of all his divine nature (Philippians 2), and lived fully as a man. This makes the strength of the words in the book of Hebrews even more meaningful (Jesus was tempted in every way, yet was without sin) because James reminds us that “God can not be tempted to do wrong” (1:13), and so Jesus faced temptations fully as a man, but he somehow succeeded in remaining sinless.

I’ve been wondering what that means.

Did Jesus just keep all the rules? How? If he was fully human, doesn’t that mean he would fall under the “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” proclamation by Paul in Romans, which leads to death as a result? Well, Jesus did in fact pay that penalty—and he did for all of us, defeating death in the process! But he did not die for his own sin, according to scripture, but for the sins of all of us.

Many times in the accounts of Jesus life we read accusations of wrongdoing. The religious leaders, the teachers of religious law, the Pharisees, Sadducees, and any who thought that keeping the rules was paramount to a godly life, these people would accuse Jesus and his followers of all sorts of rule-breaking. Jesus generally turned it back on them by saying things like, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath,” and:

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” 1

The more important things. Hmm…

What I’ve been wondering is, what did Jesus’ sinlessness look like? Does it mean that as a boy he never disobeyed his parents? Does it mean that he always did the right thing every time, always? Maybe. But does it have to? In a religious sense, it probably does. But what did Jesus tell us were “the more important things”?

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” 2

My two oldest sons and I just finished reading through 1 John together, and the resounding themes John clearly wanted to share with the church to whom he wrote were: trust God (and his love), and love each other. There was a third theme of confessing (admitting) your sin, and by abiding in Jesus, whose spirit lives within us, moving past sin that leads to death. (For another day, John also mentioned “sins that do not lead to death”, which I found fascinating. Again… for another day.)

Love. Be loved, and love.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in him.

God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we are like Christ here in this world.

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of judgment, and this shows that his love has not been perfected in us. We love each other because he loved us first. 3

Could it be that Jesus’ sinless life looks a lot different than just doing all the right things, and especially NOT doing the wrong things?

John said in his letter, “[we must] believe in the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as he commanded.” Love is never wrong. But it might break the rules, no? At least, in this broken, sinful, glass-darkly kind of world.

I’m not saying Jesus was a ‘filthy sinner’. Of course not. But I am considering again what “sin” looks like, and so, what his sinlessness looked like.

What do you think? Is Jesus a halo-wearing, robed, sandaled guy who is distant, and sort of meaningless? Or is he the most caring, wise, discerning, honest, truthful, loving person who ever lived? (And, Easter Sunday reminds us—he still does!)

Many times we Christians focus so much on the rule-keeping, and rule-not-breaking, that we miss the “more important things”. Let’s remember this weekend, as we commemorate the cross on Good Friday, and Jesus’ victory over death on Resurrection Sunday, that all we are called to do is to know we are loved, and trust that love (confirmed by Jesus’ spirit living in us), which empowers us to love the ones God has placed us near.

Be loved, trust, and—in God’s power—love.

Perhaps that is what sinless looks like?


Please note… I do not in any way intend to diminish Jesus, nor elevate me nor any other fellow follower, nor anyone really, by any of my thoughts presented in this post. Perhaps the words caused you to ponder, as they have done for me, or, even better, stirred you to remember and live “the more important things” in this day, and every day. Grace and peace to you.

Respect

respect

What is respect? What images come to mind when you hear the word?

Do you think of military chain of command, with each subordinate respecting their commanding officer? Or maybe a similar, thought slightly more informal respect, shown by a young person toward an elderly ancestor?

A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements

Ah… respect is elicited by some ability, quality, or achievement. So, maybe a professional athlete? Some people respect them for their achievements and abilities. Perhaps a graduate of a certain academic program elicits your respect? How about a well-known historical figure who accomplished great, world-changing things in their lifetime?

Definitely.

How about giving up your seat to someone who looks like they need it more? What about trusting someone with something (or someone) you really care about? And do we show respect when we listen to someone; really listen?

Have due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of [another]

Hmm. That’s different. That respect is due to another simply because the are. They exist. They are another created being, with feelings, rights, wishes and even traditions.

Our value is not (only) in what we have accomplished. Our real value is found in our worth to the One who made us. We are worth everything to him; his own life.

I overheard someone speaking about respect recently. It was a mother, scolding her young child, saying, “You have to earn respect!” While there is some truth to that (see definition one above) the greater truth is that this mother will not likely receive the respect she is hoping for from her child, because her words and her tone are not giving respect to the other person she is addressing.

It’s always interesting with children. I speak from parenting experience. Sometimes you just need them to obey. “DO WHAT I AM ASKING YOU… NOW!” But I fully believe that when we treat others with full respect, allowing them to make a reasoned, willing decision, a respectful submission to instruction will be the most likely result—even from a child.

Treat others just as you want to be treated.

And…

For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.

What if we did it backwards? Like Jesus said in those last two quotes above. It’s not ‘Treat other people the way they treat you’, no… it’s ‘treat others the way you want to be treated.’ You first. I get to make the first show of respect.

giving-up-your-seatI’ve seen this in action as a school bus driver, believe it or not. I’m sure you have a picture in your mind of what it’s like on a big bus full of young children. And… you’re right. It’s pretty loud, energetic, fun, and crazy! But the drivers who have the best ability to control their busses, when needed, are those who look kids in the eyes when they first get on the bus and offer a genuine, friendly greeting. When things get out of hand, they address the unruly ones by name, firmly but respectfully, and most often, the measure of respect that is given is the same measure returned.

Of course I know this doesn’t always work. Maybe not even very often. But doesn’t it stand the best chance? Isn’t it just the right thing to do?

Jesus thought so.

We have chances almost every second of our lives to show another the respect they are due simply because God has breathed life into them. You’ve probably heard that we will be known by the way we love, well that’s really the same thing—respect is love, is respect. Think about others before you think about yourself. Treat the person next to you like the heir to the throne that he or she is.

(And it will come back to you in the measure that you give.)

So listen to your spouse. Show your teenager empathy. Give heaps of grace to your little ones. Look a stranger in the eye and give a genuine, friendly greeting. Do something for someone that costs you. Maybe even a lot.

We love—we respect—because he first loved us. When we know how much we are loved, then we can treat the people around us the same way. It’s the same principle, on a cosmic, galactic, universal (and beyond) scale.

You have earned my respect because you are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Jesus to do the good things he planned for us long ago. Done deal.

Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

Let’s try it. See what happens.

The Church Book: Revisited

htc-smallI came across a copy of my “Church book”, There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church!, just today, and on a whim I picked it up and flipped through it. For some reason, the epilogue, titled “Concluding Remarks”, caught my eye this time.

If you think the book is anti-church, these words should dispel that notion. The words are the written expression of many weeks, months, and years of deep, soul-searching, truth-seeking efforts for the church, the Bride of Christ.

Happening across these words again today was interesting, coupled with a conversation we had this past week with an old friend. The subject of “the church” was central to a portion of our discussion. We both spent much time crafting emotional, spirit-filled, Jesus-centered programs. Everything was meant to point the hearer/seer to Jesus. And it was wonderful. We commented that we definitely miss those moments. And still, we also recall the not-just-physical exhaustion of energy possibly slightly misdirected: building up an organization and event, rather than one another.

If you haven’t purchased (or downloaded for free) and read a copy of this book yet, I wonder if what I wrote at the end of the book might encourage you to do so? I had forgotten about this part, but I think eight years later, this is all still true. (Even while some of the other things I’ve read might have been slightly modified by the passage of time.)

Here, today, is the short epilogue, in its entirety.

As I finished putting this book together, I couldn’t help but think that I had missed something. I tried to go back over each chapter in my head, wondering if I had said all that I hoped to communicate through a few thousand feeble words. I want so much to convey the astounding freedom that we have in the quite undeserved love of our Father. I want to communicate that we as the church could be so much more! I don’t want to attack, or belittle the things that so many brothers and sisters cherish (as did I in the not too distant past). I only want to offer what I believe we Christians already know and teach, but perhaps are just not living out.

A phrase from Scripture comes to mind quite often when I ponder the current forms of the Church. “A form of godliness, but denying its power.” To me it seems that could define the church, and the lives of many believers today. We have created a facade that would pretend to offer us life with Jesus, when in fact it is only a set of ethics to which we must adhere. It’s only a meeting to attend. A job to be done.

The kingdom of heaven is so much more. It’s here, now. Jesus has made it possible for us to know him and the Father by his Holy Spirit right inside us. He is always with us. Through good, and bad. This is the nature of the church. In reality, it’s not something we have created to propagate truths passed down through generations. We have turned it into that. But the church is the living, breathing, body and bride of Christ. It’s much more real than we have allowed it to be.

I don’t know if the words on these pages have stirred you or not. If they have, it was not the words that stirred. It was your Father. He loves you, just like he loves me. He has communicated that to me through many means, and I am hopeful that you heard his voice through this book. It is not my intention to tear down anything with this book, only to liberate and help open our eyes to the greatness of what we have, and perhaps what we’re missing.

Live today in the freedom of God’s love and grace. Know he loves you, and longs to be with you. His love is perfect, and compels us to love as we’ve been loved. May you know the greatness of living life as the church with others similarly loved.

Grace and Peace to you, The Church.
Greg Campbell

htc-small
There’s The Steeple… Here’s The Church by Greg Campbell, is available through Amazon.com. If you’d like to purchase the book, please click the book title in the previous sentence. If you’d like a free PDF version, it is available here. Also have some of the audio version available at church.gregshead.net. Thanks for reading, sharing, and feel free to add to the discussion in the comments below, or wherever else you can reach me.