In 3 words.

Yesterday’s post on pragmatism may have struck a cord.

When we turn from pragmatism as our way to use God, we transition from trusting God for things to trusting God with our lives. This seems like a subtle shift, yet it makes a world of difference.

We still trust God for keeping His promises, as our hopes are rooted in the foundation of His faithfulness. He will not let us down. The key change is that we quit holding our hopes over Him. (Do this for me or else!) Instead we remind Him of all He surely has promised in His Word. Everything else is held with open hands, as we trust God with the changing circumstances, relationships, and opportunities that come our way. Example: Let’s say you are longing for a home to own. Are you trusting God for a home … or trusting God with a home? One has clenched fists, the other has open hands of faith.

  • Shift from these three words: trusting God for
  • To these: trusting God with

Along those lines, this quote came my way yesterday:

“The utter uniqueness of the Christian message — the heart of the gospel — is found in the three words of Christ from the cross, It is finished(John 19:30). The message of every other religious system, without exception, is predicated on some variation of another three words, which stand starkly opposed to the gospel’s three words.
Religion’s three words are: Get to work.’ And this is the heart of the bad news behind every approach to spirituality, enlightenment, or salvation that is not Christian.”
— Jared C. Wilson, Gospel Wakefulness (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 2011), 131.

Let’s exchange one set of three words for the better set.

(Quote via Of First Importance)


Sustainable Ambition. (Or, when the words of culture complete the words of faith.)

Earlier this month a colleague told me I have the habit of using “secular” words to describe biblical truth. He meant it as a compliment, and I received it as one.

Not everyone expects their leaders, and especially not their pastors, to be well-informed about what goes on “out there.” We expect our pastors to be experts on many things, especially “religious” things, yet the least of these is what we call “daily life.” So, what I’m learning, is that when a pastor uses everyday jargon to describe truths found in the Bible, it takes a moment for the crossover effect to kick in. Yet the long-term benefits far outweigh the momentary obstacle. (And I’m not talking about being trendy, hip, cool, or other attempts at being “relevant.”)

Why do I use words like ambition and sustainable to describe Paul’s vision for the Christian life (as described in Colossians 2:6-7)?

Isn’t “ambition” bad when it rears its ugly head in the church? And “sustainability” sounds like one of those catchwords only an earth-worshiping environmentalists would say as they tell me about global warming.

Nope and nope.

  • Ambition, when given God, is neither selfish or destructive. When He does a great work for us (by the Gospel), and in us, and through us, then the ambitious work of God will bring great healing and hope to a broken and lost world. Selfish ambition is the great enemy (Philippians 2:1-5), which Jesus defeated for us by emptying Himself, with the greater ambition to live as a Servant and joyfully do all of God’s will. God is ambitious. More than we’ll ever know.
  • Sustainability is no mere buzzword to be employed by environmentalists (of which I am one, and think Christians should be, but that’s another discussion for another day).

Think about the day before you go on vacation. How fun is it to meet all those deadlines, set things up for your colleagues to succeed and your customers to be taken care while you’re gone? Then waking up in a cold sweat on the morning of your vacation as you remember “just one more thing” you must handle before leaving on that jet airplane. What about you and your smartphone being the reason the plane can’t take off, because you’re still on your phone as the doors close at the gate? (I was that guy recently. Sorry again to Alaska Air flight 861.)

Is working each day like it’s the day before vacation sustainable?


Rather, we toil long and hard so that when we go to play, we are free from our other obligations. Then think about your vacation time, of lounging around, reading a good book, taking in the sights, eating out for lunch and dinner, and caving into the urge to buy that trinket you know won’t make it home in one piece. Is that sustainable?

Neither state is sustainable — from being only a producer (making things and money), and then switching to consumption mode (taking in experiences, food, etc.) — which is why sustainability makes sense when we talk about following Jesus. Otherwise we’ll have a passion ambition to “do something great for God.”

As a pastor I daily encourage to focus on the great work Jesus has done for us, which becomes what He does in us as we trust and obey Him. His work is not yet complete as He does this same great work through us.

Jesus calls us to follow Him fully, as ones rooted in the faith, built up, strengthened, taught, and overflowing with thanksgiving (returning to Colossians 2:6-7). Paul used everyday words from daily life that evoked pictures of reality they knew well (walking, growing like a plant or tree, the realm of construction, laying a foundation, learning in a classroom, and flooding like a river, to name six in those verses).

What’s the real reason I use words like that?

Because we are hard-wired for compartmentalizing our faith to the “spiritual” side of life, and then getting on with our “real” lives. And pastors can be terrible enablers in this. Know this: Jesus will have nothing to do with that split duality. He gets right at our heart issues, not content to deal with merely our felt needs. (With that impulse in mind, my wife daily writes on the Sacred Mundane, because everything matters, not just our so-called “spiritual” life.)


[in]complete: Why didn’t Jesus simply come and out and say “I am God?”

The first Christians did not get in trouble for saying “Jesus is God.” The Romans believed in a myriad of so-called “gods,” so saying Jesus is another one of those is just to add Him to the pantheon of supposed gods they could worship. That wasn’t the offense of their message.

Instead, the message was “Jesus is Lord,” which is much deeper and far-reaching in the claims about the God-Man (and is “sneeze-able“).

Those three tiny words were actually hugely offensive. Why?

Who was the so-called “Lord” of the Roman Empire?


He was the “God of the gods,” who ruled over all, on earth and in the heavens. Or so they thought. Pagans saw gods in everything, and everything was a god. So, calling Jesus “God” isn’t as forceful as what believers more commonly called Him: Lord.

When we say Jesus is Lord, we must become like the first believers, who were not using religious jargon. They were saying that Jesus replaced Caesar, and anyone else, as the one receiving their worship. These thoughtful Jesus-followers were making a whole-life claim as to who they will obey and follow in this life. They were saying He is above all, the one true ruler, the God who calls the shots. He is in control of all; He is the Caesar of the Caesar.

More than saying “Jesus is Lord,” they were living as if Jesus is Lord, which maks all the difference in the world.

Jesus was not an add-on. They realized that before Jesus they were busy serving other kings and masters, who abused them and let them down. In contrast, Jesus is a good Master, who will not let us down.

He wants our whole life. When He is Lord, life becomes good. Because He is the one Good God.

Mark 12:13-17 (NLT):

 13 Later the leaders sent some Pharisees and supporters of Herod to trap Jesus into saying something for which he could be arrested. 14 “Teacher,” they said, “we know how honest you are. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay them, or shouldn’t we?”

Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you trying to trap me? Show me a Roman coin,[a denarius] and I’ll tell you.” 16 When they handed it to him, he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 “Well, then,” Jesus said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”

His reply completely amazed them.

Image credits: “Caesar’s or God’s” by Lawrence OP, and “The Biblical Tribute Penny: Tiberius AR Denarius 16-34 AD” by Icarus Kuwait, both on Flickr


Romans: the more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.

On Romans:

“This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian’s while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.”

—Martin Luther, The Letter of St. Paul to Romans, written 1546

Chart source: Mark Barry, Visual Unit


Our God Above.

Our God Above,” a song of God-centered renewal, from Andy Melvin’s album The Human Engine Waits:

Come and fill us Father
with Your living water
’cause these wells we’ve dug are dry
the world we have befriended
has left us empty-handed
and only You can satisfy
as we return to You
our spirits are renewed
and our hearts are moved to worship You alone
our God above
we lift You up
to the place that You deserve
within our hearts
and we glorify
the Lord on high
You have no equal on the earth
No equal on the earth
Lord, we claim the promise
that the work You started
You’ll be faithful to complete
so we trust in Your might as we offer our lives
as a living sacrifice of praise to You
and we! declare! our love! to You!
yeah we! declare! our love! to You!

Live recording of “Nothing Compares” by Andy Melvin and the Unlikely Sons [see in HD]:


Weighty Words: SENT.

(Maybe it should be called Pure Words instead. Read on.)

[John 17] Jesus is about as calm as the eye of a hurricane as He awaits an inevitable betrayal, arrest, conviction and crucifixion. So He intently goes to a familiar place to pray. An urgent conversation awaits Him. His closest friends are oblivious to the weight of the scene; the only weight they feel is their eyelids shutting as they sleep instead of watch. I would chide them expect for the fact that I would have done the same.

What Jesus prays is both shocking and re-assuring. He wrestles with the Father, resigning His will to what must be done. (For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, despising the shame [Hebrews 12:1-3].) Then His prayer takes the tone of a man giving his final resolution, a battle cry of certainty. Jesus doesn’t say much after this, at least not for a few days. The risen Christ had much to say on the other side of the grave.

He had just said His peace to His betrayer, Judas, who would come onto the scene soon after this hour of prayer. Earlier, at the Last Supper, celebrating the substitution of the Passover Lamb, Jesus told His adversary to get on with what he intended to do.

What Jesus needed to say next He said to the only one who did not betray Him. Though the Father would soon turn His face away, He is the only One in Jesus’ life who would keep all His promises.

This was a moment of sweet communion and a glimpse into the most pure conversation to ever take place on planet earth. No pretense or manipulation. No one ‘winning,’ and getting his way through whining or verbal abuse. The strength of Their wills is unfathomable, their rights as Deity immeasurable. But — check this — neither asserts His rights.

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