A Strange King: Jesus our Servant King / Philipians 2:1-11

Life is hard. With the threat of nuclear war looming over our heads and needing to wait till next year for the new season of Game of Thrones to drop, who has time to add drama or tension into our lives? We live to relax, to take it easy, to just chill, to hang out with friends over a cold one and perhaps a cigar. We are already inundated with our social media feeds over-informing us on all the goings-on around the world and in our neighborhoods. It’s just overwhelming at times. In his prison letter to the Philippian church, the Apostle Paul paints this picture of Jesus as one who intentionally inserts himself into the tension and drama of people's lives. Paul writes of a person who pours himself out for the sake of others, and Paul encourages us to be of the same mindset. How can we do this? How can we live that way as the collective church and also as individual members of it? it won't be by winning.

Read More
A Strange King: Heir to the Throne of David / 2 Samuel 7:1-17

When David was king in ancient Israel, the kingdom flourished. Enemies folded under his military leadership. And wealth soared. David recognized these great benefits and thanked God for them. But also he wondered why God had not yet directed the construction of a proper temple. The Ark of the Covenant, God's sacred dwelling, was still housed in a tent as it had been during Israel's nomadic years. Then the word of the Lord came to the prophet Nathan: "When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son." David's son Solomon would go on to build a temple of God in Jerusalem. But that temple would fall and rise and fall again. Not until the arrival of God's Son Jesus, who was likewise the offspring of David, would a temple emerge that would rise and fall and rise again. God's eternal dwelling was not to be a structure of stone and cedar but a living body, impervious to death.

Read More
The One Man: Put On the Lord / Romans 13:11-14

To walk in our own strength is to live in the dark, asleep to the new kingdom realities forged in the lordship of Jesus Christ. But we can wake from this slumber. Daylight has broken into our world, and he is offering himself to us. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, therefore, and walk as one fully awake. Receive this king; obey this king; know this king. He rules in righteousness. His words are light.

Read More
The One Man: The Pulse of Christ / Romans 15-17

Is Jesus alive in our church community? If so, where do we look to find his pulse? Is it in our budgets and facilities? Is it in classes and group meetings? Our prayers and worship? Our eating and drinking? Our friendships and families? Yes, the pulse of Christ beats in all these things. The only question is whether we will look for it in faith, whether we will feel his heartbeat through the thick lull of business as usual. As it turns out, it is in the usual business that Christ dwells. He is alive in all our comings and goings. He is alive in us. No longer quench this Spirit. Rejoice, serve, love. And receive the care of one another with thanksgiving.

Read More
The One Man: To Run With God / Romans 12-15

We are all born into a broken state of personhood, one bent toward self-preservation to the detriment of others. But this way of being is death. Jesus offers a new way, one bent toward the good of the whole, consumed with sacrifice and love. To receive Jesus is to receive his way, to walk in his steps, to think his thoughts, to feel his heart. Sacrifice and love are the shape of divine life. And as we live in Christ, they are the shape of us. We belong in this divine life. It's who we now are. So then, let's live it out. Let's pour ourselves out in sacrifice and love, laying down our preferences and comforts for the sake of one another. Let's submit to one another, bear the burdens of one another, honor the authorities God has placed over us, and in all these things rejoice in the hope of deliverance from our broken state. God is shaping us to run with him.

Read More
The One Man: Sola Fide / Romans 9-11

Jesus brought divine life into the human story. And he offers this life to all peoples. That means peoples of privileged status in the world have no advantage over marginalized peoples in receiving Christ. In fact, privilege often turns out to be a great disadvantage in receiving a kingdom wherein the last shall be first and receiving a king who came only for the sick, poor, lost, and oppressed. The only means to receive this kingdom and its king is by faith, that is, by empty-handed dependence and trust. This sort of faith is humiliating and dignifying all at the same time -- humiliating in that we must acknowledge our neediness, dignifying in that we are invited to participate in divine life. All who embrace this faith find themselves on equal footing, equally in need, equally beloved. Could this be the great source of solidarity our world craves?

Read More
The One Man: New Humanity Realized / Romans 5-8

Real rescue from God has broken into history. And his name is Jesus. In him, we are no longer under the wrath of God, no longer slaves to sin, no longer cursed with the burden of the law, no longer sentenced to death. In Jesus, we are new creations, participants in divine righteousness, partakers of divine freedom, and recipients of divine life, also known as life eternal. All these treasures, all this salvation, is given freely in Christ. By faith, his humanity is realized in us. 

Read More
The One Man: The Promise of One New Man / Romans 3:21-4:25

God gave his law to a chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, to reveal divine righteousness to them. But the law proved powerless to effect divine righteousness in them. So the law condemned the people of Israel, upholding a standard too high for them to reach. Yet God did not condemn them. More than four centuries before giving his law, God had established another means by which Abraham's descendants might partake in divine righteousness: "Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness." This was a righteousness by faith, a promise that for those who put their confidence in God, righteousness would be given to them -- not through the law, which condemns, but through a new and better covenant. Jesus was that new covenant. His life was the righteousness of the law manifest in human form. He took what was written in stone and stamped it onto human flesh. He brought the law to life. This was the righteousness counted to Abraham, and it is the righteousness counted to all who believe. It is a righteousness that not only reveals the beauty of God but invites all people to enter that beauty by faith in one new man.

Read More
The One Man: In Need of New Humanity / Romans 1:1-3:20

God created a good world and very good people. All the material of the universe is laden with his beauty and human persons are stamped with his image. But the corruption of sin has choked all that goodness and shrouded its light. We have turned love into lust and passion into envy and justice into malice. We have rejected the harmony and simplicity of life with God and embraced the fractures and chaos of life apart from him. What we have chosen is not life, but death. We have ripped apart the fine woven fabric of creation. And what hope now remains for this pile of tattered rags in the menacing hands of its destroyers? Can we mend what we have rent? No. The goodness of our humanity is damaged beyond repair. We need a new humanity. We need fresh life to recover the mantle of our original design. We need a gift from beyond our shores.

Read More
The One Man: Righteousness by Faith / Romans 1:16-17

The Gospel of Jesus Christ rescues people from the most deadly trap of the human frame -- self-righteousness. Because in Jesus, the righteousness of God is revealed. Jesus shows us a righteousness of shimmering light that renders our conceptions of our own decency rather dark by comparison. We are not righteous. We have within us, each one, all of the shadowy material responsible for the world's great evils. Dark seeds of bitterness, envy, malice, and fear are planted in the soil of our broken flesh. And when watered in the rain of politics and culture, they sprout into racism, classism, fascism, and lies. We are the enemies we claim to oppose. But a true righteousness has emerged from within this soup of human ruin. And he is Christ Jesus -- the righteousness of heaven breaking into our twisted history. His righteousness is ours to walk in, if only we would forsake every confidence in ourselves and receive his life as our own.

Read More
The One Man: Paul Among the Romans / Acts 22:25-23:11

00The Apostle Paul was born Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen educated in the most prestigious of Jewish schools. In his early adult life, he was a man of fierce conviction, who thought nothing of destroying others for the sake of advancing his cause. But meeting Jesus broke him. Mighty Saul became suffering Paul. And in the latter half of his adult life, he poured out his days not to trample others but to build them up. Paul lost reputation, comfort, freedom, and finally his life for the sake of one aim: to live in Christ and invite others to do the same.

Read More
The One Man: Christians in Rome / Romans 15:8-21

When the Apostle Paul wrote his great letter to the church in Rome, he was addressing only several dozen Christian converts, who would have gathered in homes in the city's poorest districts. Surrounding this humble church, hundreds of thousands of pagan Romans, many of them hostile to the Jewish religion and its offshoots, made up the largest and most powerful city in the world. How could so few Christian believers, with no historic tradition to guide them and overwhelming cultural pressure to abandon their faith, become the first building block to an eruption of Christian converts in the decades to follow? How could this fledgling group even have survived the sweeping public executions of Christians that would come by order of the Emperor Nero just a few years later? The answer to those questions is contained in the content of Paul's letter. "Those who have never been told of him will see," the apostle writes, quoting the prophet Isaiah. The story of Christianity in Rome defies historical explanation or precedent. It is a story of God's power to save.

Read More
Members of Christ / 1 Cor 6:12-20

We cannot know who we are apart from relationships. There is no such thing as an independent person. Personhood only exists in relation to others. So it is that true identity is not discovered by looking inward but rather in moving outward. We find ourselves not in the recesses of self-referential naval-gazing , but in the risky glory of love. Love is the height of personal relationship. It binds persons together eternally, such that those caught up in its grasp are ever defined by one another. The three persons of God, Father, Son, and Spirit eternally live in such love. And God has shared this love with us. Jesus has entered the human story so that we might discover who we are in relationship to Him. He has bound himself to us in love. To receive this love, then, is to be caught up in him, to be one with him, to be defined by him. Indeed, all who receive the love of Christ are bound eternally to God and to each other. We know who we are. We are the body of God’s beloved Son.

Read More
The Suffering of Compassion / Colossians 1:24-29

Our God is a compassionate God. We know this only because he has entered our suffering with us. That is the very definition of compassion -- "to suffer with." How then can we consider ourselves the body of Christ if we fail to enter the suffering of our neighbors? Many among us relish the thought of being compassionate people, but whose suffering are we sharing in? We live in a cultural moment when the dogmatic teachings of the church largely fall on deaf ears. Our pronouncements of judgment against sin are like clanging gongs in an echo chamber, ever ricocheting off hardened surfaces, finding no soft places to land. Yet mercy and compassion are the instruments of God's Spirit to turn stone into clay. Our church has a mission: to participate in the life and death of Jesus, to suffer with sinners as he did, to offer this Christ within us.

Read More
Good News for The Painted Door Church / Romans 12:1-21

Our country is divided. Rage and fear abound. And people line up across these divisions convinced of their righteous position. Are we convinced, too? Is The Painted Door Church convinced that we are among those who get it? That we are among the enlightened, the compassionate, the inclusive? God forbid that such delusion would fog our minds and hearts. A record of misdeeds towers in our wake. We have no moral high ground. In the wretched public theater of American race relations, we are complacent villains. Yet, this condemnation and folly has no power to define our future. We are not subject to its demands for atonement. Nor do we have any reason to spin our wheels in self-justification. We are guilty and forgiven, shameful and covered. Repentance is ours. We are free to be new. 

Read More
Good News for Artists / Matthew 26:6-13

When Mary Magdalene anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume, many of the onlookers were indignant. After all, her act of adoration was unnecessary, a costly use of resources that might have gone to nobler purposes. But Jesus rebuked this indignation and welcomed his disciple's flourish. In much the same way, artists throughout history are often seen as superfluous, their work an unnecessary luxury. Accordingly, they are often unappreciated. Yet this dismissive attitude cannot undermine the value of artists' work. Jesus himself is pleased with every creative endeavor that celebrates the beauty of his world. Since ultimately, it all celebrates of his Father.

Read More
Good News for the Traumatized / Isaiah 42:1-4

Every person experiences trauma at some point in life. And when this trauma takes place in a context of heightened vulnerability, say during childhood or within a trusting relationship, its devastating effects often reverberate for decades. Trauma can so alter a person’s view of themselves and the world that relating to others can prove near impossible. Like communication between alien species, misunderstandings abound. That difficulty tempts many of us to withdraw from the traumatized, or perhaps to offer glib fixes. But doing so forfeits seeing one of the great glories of God -- namely, that he is re-creating all things from the very fiber of trauma. God is remaking the world through the cross of Christ. In other words, apart from the trauma of Christ we are incomplete. But as his trauma manifests in us, we learn the language of heaven.

Read More
Good News for the Weary / Romans 15:1-7

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Read More
Good News for the Bootstrapper / Judges 6:7-16

Our present culture hails the bootstrapper (one who gets into or out of a situation using existing resources instead of external resources) as the epitome of the American Experiment -- without need, resilient, self reliant. The super Dad, the super Mom, the super Coworker. We often hear “God helps those who help themselves.”

I offer another definition of bootstrapper -- Coward. One who actually lacks the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things. Even in our attempted bootstrapping ways, we’re not calmly pausing to look around at available options and resources for solutions. We’re desperately fighting to get out of the perceived weight we’re stuck under. The story of cowardly Gideon in Judges is much the same. Just like Gideon, we need help beyond ourselves, we need rescue. Thanks be to God that “The Lord was with Gideon” just as He is with us. And thanks to the Lord’s holy wisdom: Weak cowards are exactly who Jesus is looking for. We’re plan A. He loves cowards at the end of our rope, and He moves toward us, wants to be present with us. We who were given faith are his tangible presence on earth as the Holy Spirit moves within us. He gives us life abundant beyond any resources we have available, any scheme we can think up, and anything we can see here in our earthly reality.

Read More