What if Weakness is the Goal?

Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:7b-9a)

We are so conditioned by the logic of our earthly world to see power as brute force. The sports team with the bigger, stronger players is powerful. The army with larger numbers and better weapons is powerful. We are drawn to power in every arena of life. We like powerful cars. We want to play for the winning team. We want to work for the winning company. We want to get a good deal when we buy things, which is really a desire to exert our power. We maneuver or even fight for power within our relationships. We have bought into the idea that power, control and autonomy are the pinnacle of existence. We seek to avoid situations where we are not in control. If we have to be on a team we want to be on the winning team. We want to follow a leader who is powerful and in control. My observation is that there is little difference in this regard between Christians and non-Christians.

But what if Jesus taught and revealed that the Kingdom of God doesn’t run on this underlying principle of power and control? What if power is perfected in weakness? What if weakness is the goal? That almost sounds absurd. We are okay with thinking that we need to experience weakness to learn a lesson or two, but in the end, surely we will be exalted. Weakness is only a temporary condition, right? We are so conditioned to see weakness as bad. You don’t get things done through weakness. However, more and more as I read the gospels I see Jesus revealing that the Kingdom of God does not work like the kingdoms of the world. This is why we need to be born again – born of the spirit. The Kingdom of God is radical – it is not just a cleaned up kingdom of the world. Matthew shares a perfect example of this in chapter 16 of his gospel.

21 From then on Jesus began to point out to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, be killed, and be raised the third day. 22 Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, “Oh no, Lord! This will never happen to You!” 23 But He turned and told Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s.”

We are often quick to think that Jesus was a special, one-time case. After all, Jesus’ mission was to come to die – or was it? When we skip past Jesus’ life to his crucifixion we are prone to overlook the fact that his whole life and teaching was characterized by self-sacrificing love, service, and obedience. The pinnacle of Jesus ministry, from his arrest all the way through his resurrection, is a display of power through weakness. In the garden he did not resist arrest and when Peter tried to show strength Jesus told him to put his sword away. When Jesus was being questioned by Pilate he said: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I wouldn’t be handed over to the Jews. As it is, My kingdom does not have its origin here.” (John 18:36) I like the way that N. T. Wright translates the beginning of that verse: “My kingdom isn’t the sort that grows in this world.” It isn’t so much that God’s kingdom is physically in heaven as it is the basis for his kingdom is totally different.

When the Roman soldiers dressed Jesus and mocked him, Jesus did not fight back. The soldiers were mocking him but it was really his coronation. Fellow Christians, this is our king! This is the way of Jesus and this is what God is like because Jesus is the exact representation of God. So, I propose that both Paul and Jesus see weakness not as a temporary training ground until we learn how to handle power, but rather that it is only in weakness that we can know and share in God’s power. This is the heart of the mystery of the gospel. This is what Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 1:18 when he says “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but it is God’s power to us who are being saved.” We need to learn that the ways of God’s Kingdom are upside down to the logic of the world. Everything around us runs counter to the way of Jesus. This is why we need the spirit of God to renew our minds. Paul’s explanation of this reality in 1 Corinthians 1 reaches a climax in verse 25 when he says, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” The idea is not that even the smallest amount of God’s power is stronger than the greatest amount of human power. It is that God’s power is exerted through weakness.

When we can start to see things from this perspective, much of Paul’s teaching comes to life in a new way. When he says to the Philippian church, “For me, living is Christ and dying is gain,” he is taking on the life of Christ – he is imitating Jesus. Several verses later when he tells them to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ,” he is calling them to the same thing. Shortly after this, in chapter 2 of his letter, he lays out exactly what this looks like in the famous passage (Philippians 2:5-11).

Continuing on in Paul’s letter we come to a verse that for most of my life I struggled to make sense of.

“My goal is to know Him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,” (Philippians 3:10)

Paul says that he desires suffering and he desires to be be conformed to Jesus’ death. It is one thing to think that we will occasionally experience suffering, but it is a totally different thing to desire it. Was Paul just a glutton for punishment? Did he think that he deserved punishment because, as he said, he was the chief of sinners? I don’t think so. I believe that he fully understood that suffering is the way of Jesus. If we want to be like Jesus we need to learn to see and live by God’s wisdom, which is foolishness by the standards of human wisdom.

This is incredibly difficult, but what is impossible for men is possible for God. Like Paul, “I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

Who is ready to join me on the quest for weakness?

An Open Letter to the US Church

Brothers and sisters, let us not lose sight of what unites us.

To my fellow Christians in the United States of America. While we live in the US and most of us are citizens of this country, we are really resident aliens, “for our place-of-citizenship is in the heavens, from where also we are eagerly-awaiting the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20). Like Paul, Peter addressed Christians as strangers and temporary residents. We are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession. (1 Peter 2:9).

There are many things that I sincerely like about the US and I am happy to live here, but I have come to realize that the idea of dual citizenship, while attractive, doesn’t ring true with scripture. “No one can be a slave to two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.” (Matthew 6:24) Our allegiance belongs to Jesus and Jesus alone. When we support or promote beliefs and policies in the vein of “America First” we are either cutting ourselves off from or elevating ourselves above the other citizens of God’s kingdom who live outside of the US. This is, in essence, prioritizing our allegiance to America over our allegiance to the kingdom of God. “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Lord, help us to truly be servants and to love all of our brothers and sisters with a sincere love.

I believe that we are suffering from a mythical, unBiblical view of the United States of America. The US is not some type of modern-day Israel. While many of the founding fathers may have been Christians or at least showed some degree of reverence toward God, I can find no Biblical support for the idea that God would one day call and set apart another nation to function like the original nation of Israel. We are looking for a city not made by hands, but coming down from heaven – the new Jerusalem. This flawed notion of what America is causes us to write ourselves into the Old Testament narratives. I believe that it is dangerous to apply Old Testament prophecies to the US. The United States of America is a kingdom of the world, just like Rome or Portugal or England or Germany. Therefore, we should not be surprised when it behaves like a kingdom of the world. We are exiles and if we would accept and embrace that we would be less confused and disturbed when non-Christians act like non-Christians. This does not mean that we are off the hook, quite the contrary. We are to conduct ourselves honorably among the gentiles, turn away from evil, do what is good, and seek peace. (1 Peter 2:12, 3:11) We should personally extend and work toward justice and mercy for the weak and powerless and look after orphans and widows. (Matthew 23:23, James 1:27) This is a humbling and difficult assignment, to which I do not yet live up to. God, please help us to be your ministers of healing and reconciliation.

Continuing on with the idea of reading ourselves into the Old Testament story, when we quote 2 Chronicles 7:14, as many American Christians like to do, perhaps we should think of this in terms of asking God to bring healing to the people of God, the holy nation that spans all international borders, rather than applying it to the USA. Until we accept that America is not God’s chosen nation or even a Christian nation we will continue to be distracted with trying to Make America Great Again rather than declaring that Jesus is Lord regardless of who occupies the White House or the Capitol. Jesus never said that his kingdom would grow by converting human, earthly leaders to enact Godly laws. The kingdom grows like the organic spreading of seed.

While many American Christians are full of despair, fearing that God will not bless us because of the people taking office this week, let us remember that we are already blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing, and on top of that, by global standards we are already richly blessed materially. Furthermore, even if we should suffer for righteousness we are blessed. If the church in the US loses freedoms or even becomes persecuted we will only be experiencing what many of our brothers and sisters already experience. And we are called to remember those in prison as if we were in prison and the mistreated as if we were mistreated. (Hebrews 13:3) The early church thrived and was blessed even under Roman emperors who persecuted and executed Christians. I fear that we are more concerned about losing our comfort than we are about the health and growth of God’s kingdom. Perhaps rather than praying that God’s will would be done in our nation (which can too easily be a cover for: God, would you please cause other people to behave the way that I think they should behave.), maybe we should pray that we, God’s people, would do and spread his will throughout this nation.

Since January 6th there have been many cries for unity. I, too, have longed for it. Paul told us to seek unity. However, even in the church this seems elusive though we claim to all hold Jesus as our common center. How much greater is the challenge of unity within a diverse people who do not all share a common center? Unity is defined as the state of being in full agreement. Does that seem at all feasible in the US? Perhaps the best that we can hope for as a country is harmony: a pleasing combination or arrangement of different things. While many Christians in the US want to claim that this is a Christian nation and believe that the overwhelming majority of the citizens are Christians, we need to realize and accept that there are many people who do not pledge allegiance to Jesus Christ and are not interested in seeking God’s will for the country. As I said earlier, we are resident aliens. Surely, unity by force or coercion is not what God has called his people to. Let us pray for and work on unity among God’s people with our center and standard being Jesus, the crucified, risen and living Lord, and let us strive toward harmony and peace within our nation.

While I believe that God is sovereign and all-knowing, based on what we see in Jesus, I do not believe that God is all-controlling. I believe that God is characterized by love, consent and participation. So, rather than saying: God, this must be your will; I hope that you know what you are doing. My longing is for us to pray: God, what is your will for me in this situation? What would you do, Jesus, if you were here, today, in this country, in this town, in this neighborhood? May we take to heart Paul’s challenge at the end of 12th chapter of Romans.

Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good. 10 Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lack diligence; be fervent in spirit; serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope; be patient in affliction; be persistent in prayer. 13 Share with the saints in their needs; pursue hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep. 16 Be in agreement with one another. Do not be proud; instead, associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own estimation. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Try to do what is honorable in everyone’s eyes. 18 If possible, on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19 Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. 20 But, If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head. 21 Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.

Consent and Participation in the Christmas Story

This year, through his book, A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel, Brad Jersak dramatically impacted my understanding of God, the Bible, myself, the created world, history, the present, and the future, through his discussion around two words. Consent and Participation. I heartily recommend the book. However, for today, I simply want to reflect on how these two traits undergird the Christmas story.

The gospel of Luke tells us that “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” Mary and Joseph lived in a small, unimportant town called Nazareth. They were likely average, poor, Jews. When Caesar gave a decree to register, they were compelled to go. We have no indication that they tried to get out of going or that they protested or complained. Even though pregnant, they made the journey to Bethlehem. Try to imagine what the conversation was like when Joseph and Mary discussed making the 90 mile trip while Mary was very pregnant. (You want to do what? Are you crazy?) But they consented. We are not told why. Did they follow God’s prompting? Did they fear the Roman authorities? Did they respect the Roman authorities? The gospel writers don’t tell us.

The trip to Bethlehem is not our first glimpse of these traits. Months before the journey Mary consented to God when an angel came to her and told her that she was going to give birth to God’s son. It would be a scrutinized pregnancy. How would you have reacted? Would you have been excited or afraid? Embarrassed or confident in the message that you had heard? Mary’s response was: “See, I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” Likewise, when Joseph was told by an angel to stay with Mary because her surprise pregnancy was not from another man but from God, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. Mary and Joseph repeatedly consented to God and participated in his plan.

When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem they consent to less than ideal lodging and birthing accommodations. We have the vantage point of many years of Christian history reflecting back on this while Mary and Joseph only had two messages from angels. You have likely had times when you thought that God told you something and then things happen in your life that make no sense to you. Questions come. Was that some sort of bad dream? Did God fail? Did I make a mistake? Did Mary and Joseph have questions? Most likely, yes, but the gospel writers make no mention of it. God did send confirmation to them in Bethlehem, but this time it was indirectly. God sent angels, to some ordinary shepherds, proclaiming what he was doing and then the shepherds went and told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said. Sometimes God speaks to us through other people who are willing participants in his plans. All of this must have been quite confusing to them.

But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them. (Luke 2:19)

Consent and participation, however, are not only exhibited in one direction in this story. Part of the beautiful mystery of God is the consent and participation on his part toward us. God, in a sense, consented to humanity when he sent his only son into our world. And the Bible is clear that God participates in the world that he created and in the lives of humans. Jesus consented to the Father, emptied himself and took on flesh among the poor and oppressed.

Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:5-7)

And this was not just a temporary condition that he endured. Jesus is defined by self-emptying love. Brad Jersak puts it this way:

The truth is that cruciformity and kenosis (self-emptying love) are not temporary conditions of God’s history, restricted to a first century Jewish long-weekend or even to the whole of the Incarnation of Christ. They describe God’s divine identity—not just what he is like, but who he is. . . Even the secrecy of the Incarnation is not truly God in disguise. (Jersak, Bradley. A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel (p. 120). CWR Press.)

And this is why so many people 2000 years ago did not recognize Jesus as the son of God and why so many people still miss him and his true beauty. We desperately need to see and embrace the Jesus who came to show us the father. Yes, Jesus came to save us from our sins, but seeing the incarnation solely as something that had to happen in order to get to the cross misses a very important facet of Jesus’ mission. Jesus came to reveal God to humanity. As Brian Zahnd likes to say:

God is like Jesus.
God has always been like Jesus.
There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus.
We have not always known what God is like—
But now we do.

God, through Jesus, extends to us the offer of abundant and eternal life through consent and participation as “we surrender to God’s reign, cooperate with the Spirit’s grace, and receive Christ’s salvation.” (A More Christlike God (p. 121).) This year I pray that you will look into the pain and suffering and see God’s beauty – the God who is exactly like Jesus, who is Emmanuel.


I love my church. But more than that, I love The Church – the people from every tribe and nation who pledge allegiance to Jesus as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I grew up in the church. I have served professionally and as laity in the church. I love to gather together with my brothers and sisters to worship God. Then came 2020. This year, like an unrelenting storm, COVID-19 and a contentious election cycle battered the church. Many of us are longing for things to return to normal. On top of this many Christians in the US are distressed by the growing secularization of the country and the loss of political influence. It is within this context that I want to reflect on the birth of Jesus and the present reality of Emmanuel.

Emmanuel means God with us. Our hearts long for connection with God. And our hearts long for God to make things right. This was what the Jewish people were waiting for – for God to come to earth with righteousness and justice, fix all of the brokenness, and dwell with his people. Has anything changed? Right now, we feel the brokenness and wreckage all around us – in loss of life, in strained relationships, in lost jobs, in the loss of physical connection. There is wreckage everywhere. But there is still hope, and it is not distant. And this hope is not in a vaccine (though I am thankful for the work of many on that front and hopeful that it will be effective). Hear the words of Kurt Willems in the forward to Beauty in the Wreckage, by Brandon Andress.

The beauty in all of this wreckage is that God knows exactly who we truly are and exactly what we all desire. It is summed up in one biblical word…shalom (peace, wholeness, and harmonious relationships). Shalom is what we all long for even if we’ve never picked up a Bible or gone to church. There’s this sense that we’re all tired of not knowing the innermost parts of our souls. We are tired of half-truths. We don’t actually want to segment from one another, but fear enslaves us to our tendencies toward marking out the world as spaces of “in” and “out.”

The hope that followers of Christ have is that God’s good world, although presently victim to the wreckage of Sin and Death, will be liberated from its bondage to decay (to borrow a phrase from Paul the Apostle). That is the great vision of new creation that runs through the biblical storyline from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus will bring heaven down to earth to heal, purge, and restore it for eternity. But right now, we inhabit the world as it is. We need to own that, perhaps more than many Christians have in previous generations.

This book impacted me this year and taught me how to see God’s beauty even in this wreckage and how to experience Shalom. As we think about a baby in a manager let us ponder that at that point in time God began to dwell among us, but to most people he was hidden. John the apostle said:

He was in the world,
and the world was created through Him,
yet the world did not recognize Him. (John 1:10)

Why did they not recognize Him? For the same reason that we often do not. We have a wrong image of God. When we think of God, we often picture the greatest, most influential, most intelligent, most powerful men that we know of and we picture God with similar attributes. Undoubtably, we believe that he exceeds them all, yet we often overlook how dramatically these figures shape our image of God. Yet God is unlike all world leader; he is exactly like Jesus – lowly, meek and mild. He is the beauty in the wreckage. Jesus is the center and the the beauty of Christmas.

But Jesus, the baby, the man, lived and died 2000 years ago. Admittedly , that is not the end of the story. He was resurrected and lives forever. Yet he returned to heaven. So, do we today share the same longing and waiting for Emmanuel that the prophets of Israel penned centuries ago? Do we still wait in darkness? Yes and no. We still long for recreation, for restoration, for the new heaven and new earth that John described in Revelation 21. We know that things on earth are not as they should be. If we were ever unsure of that, this year has cleared that up for us. However, God is still here with us. Jesus did not abandon us. When Jesus went away the Father sent the holy spirit to live in us. Near the end of his time on earth Jesus said:

15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive Him because it doesn’t see Him or know Him. But you do know Him, because He remains with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)

We are never abandoned because God’s spirit lives within us. When the Holy Spirit indwells us the relationship between God’s spirit and our spirit is as complex and mysterious as the incarnation of Jesus Christ. How is Jesus fully God yet fully man? We try to make sense of this, but it is a profound mystery, a paradox and our feeble attempts to explain it will always fall short. So too is the mystery of us as born-again humans. We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. We are united with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ in me. In some sense the two have become one. We are more than containers for the Holy Spirit. He does not dwell in us in some totally disconnected realm. There is some sort of melding that has happened and is happening. I can’t fully explain this, but I have experienced it. God has breathed his breath of life into us and as we live and breathe, we are his body – united to God and united with one another. And we continue his mission of restoration and reconciliation of mankind and creation to God.

As we celebrate Christmas let us pause to remember that it is through us that God is with us. Then go and spread God’s love throughout the world.

God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. (1 John 4:9-11)

What if we focused on being better followers?

I have, at times, throughout my life and career been in leadership positions. Really, we are probably all leaders to some degree, but we are also followers.

As a follower it is very easy to become a critic of our leaders. Pre COVID I traveled a lot and one thing always jumped out at me as I would overhear conversations of other business travelers. It seems that everyone thinks that their leaders don’t know what they are doing and if these people were in charge things would be so much better. If a group needs a leader it is because they need to go somewhere and going involves change. Most of us are resistant to change. Change is often uncomfortable or frightening. At least with the status quo we know what we have. Change involves uncertainty. 2020 has brought tremendous change to all of us and there remains a lot of uncertainty. On top of that, no one really knows what things will look like next year or even 3-6 months from now and that includes our leaders. When things are challenging it is easy to start pointing fingers and finding fault.

This morning I heard a quote on a podcast that really caught my attention.

“Leadership is disappointing your own people at a rate they can absorb.”  Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky

Wow. That is a rather unglamorous job description. Yet we tend to focus on our own disappointment and not on the cumulative weight of this for our leaders. This made me reflect on how things would be different if we focused more on being better followers rather than cataloging all of the ways that our leaders could make our lives better or easier.

For me, this reinforced another principle that I have recently been trying to implement. Within Christian circles there is a common saying: “Love the sinner but hate the sin.” This is often used to justify opposition to various beliefs, behaviors or policies that are believed to be sinful. However, this inevitably leads to judgmentalism. Recently, in a sermon that I was listening to by Brian Zahnd, he flipped this saying upside down, which, by the way, is what Jesus frequently did. He said, what if we instead followed the principle: Love the sinner and hate my own sin. Since then this continues to flash vividly in my mind as I catch myself ready to critique someone’s words or behavior.

So, what if we focused on supporting our leaders and trying to make them successful in their job of leading. Yes, I believe that there is a need for sharing insights and wisdom with our leaders. No leader is perfect or has all of the answers. I’m just saying, what if we prioritized following and being solid team members?

What is Freedom?

I would say that I have been a Christian for more than 45 years, but it is only in the past few years (and most dramatically during the past few months) that my eyes have been opened to really see God, the world, humanity and myself through the lens of Jesus. I believe that Christianity in the USA has become more defined by The American Dream than by the teachings of Jesus. The actions and teachings of Jesus are radical and countercultural. To follow Jesus is not easy or natural but I am beginning to see that it is the way of true peace and joy and freedom.

Bradley Jersak is one author that has had a profound impact on my thinking and understanding over the past few months and the following are some of his thoughts on the idea of true freedom.

Excerpts from A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel by Bradley Jersak

What happens when we feel our freedom—our rights or our security— being threatened? In our era, the chief moral imperative has become defending our freedom—it’s considered the height of all we deem honorable and valorous.

We live in a culture that so totalizes freedom that anyone who presents an obstacle or becomes a hindrance to what I want is attacking my freedom. I will perceive intrusions on my way of life as the enemy, whether it’s a family member, a foreign militant or a government regulator.

Freedom in Christ, ironically, is freedom from the tyranny of our own paranoia-producing self-will and fear-driven self-preservation, which we’ve tragically mislabeled ‘freedom.’

Consider the possibility that the very act of placing freedom before and above love has actually perverted the definition of ‘freedom.’ Freedom has popularly come to mean being what I want, getting what I want and doing what I want. I am captain of my ship—I set my course according to my desires.

Is this the ‘freedom for which Christ set us free’ (Gal. 5:1)? Is this the ‘freedom’ the Spirit of the Lord brings (2 Cor. 3:7)? Has our idolatry of self-will really freed us from fear? From the power of Satan, sin and death? From oppression, obsession and addiction? From the economic, political and religious beasts that devour? What we now typically call ‘freedom’ sounds more like the idolatry of pride to me.

While Christians once saw true freedom as a blessed byproduct of living according to virtues revealed by God, we now frequently see freedom as living the values we create without hindrance. Jesus taught that his truth sets us truly free to follow the path of love that he created. But now, western culture defines freedom as forging one’s own path, willing one’s own destiny.

Take a typical line from any presidential address (Republican or Democrat): “Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing—absolutely nothing— is beyond your reach.” Such lofty language recalls the story of the tower of Babel in Genesis 11, where a people who sought to “make ourselves a name” soon found that pride comes before a fall.

This type of freedom is really about will— my will be done—what I’ll call ‘the primacy of the will,’ self-will or willfulness. We talk about freedom, but when the will rules, it actually craves mastery and power. Far from ‘live and let live,’ self-will imposes itself on the other—whether it’s the most vulnerable in our society or a terror suspect in some out-sourced dungeon. So our ‘free will’ grows brutish, employing coercion, domination and lethal force.

Thus, when freedom is primary, the will becomes self-centered, then dominates others, and finally becomes captive to its own demands. But there is another way.

On the other hand, what happens when love reigns? Could God’s love for us somehow make loving God (worship), loving one another (fellowship), loving our neighbor (compassion) and loving our enemy (forgiveness) our highest moral vision?

Ultimately, we know what love is and what it isn’t by God’s standards of a compassionate heart, self-giving care and selfless commitment. God showed us this perfectly in Christ.

Remember Jesus’ words: 23 Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? (Luke 9:23-25)

24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me. (John 12:24-26)

Take up your cross? Lose your to life to save it? Die to live? Hate your life? Serve? Follow? Jesus’ words rebel against every instinct of self-will and worldly freedom I can imagine! Imagine saying this at a commencement speech for college graduates! And yet Jesus says it. To me. To you.

Jesus called love of God and neighbor, ‘the greatest commandment’ (Matt. 22:36). In fact, if by grace, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20), then what won’t ‘Christ-in-me’ do for love? Christ’s love surrenders willingly to the Father’s will as its highest good. Christ’s love is the true freedom—freedom to love, empowered by our risen Love! Love-sponsored freedom sacrificially serves one’s siblings-in-Christ, extends mercy to the needy, and lays down its life in the cause of justice.

Christlike love is willing, not willful. Consensual, not coercive. Faithful, not forceful. It serves and defers for the sake of a higher good than one’s own way. In using terms like self-giving, sacrificial and forgiving, I am making Christ’s passion journey from Gethsemane to Golgotha my central and abiding referent for extreme love.

He prays the words of surrender as he kneels in the garden: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet …” (Matt. 26:39). “My Father, if it not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done” (Matt. 26:42).

See Christ lay down his rights, his personal freedom and his will for the sake of the Father’s saving cup of ‘co-suffering love.’ When he is betrayed and Peter would ‘defend freedom,’ Jesus says, “Put away your sword. Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11) And so he does, from his trial and torture to his death on the Cross.

“This,” says John, “is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16), for our neighbors (Mark 12:31) and our enemies (Matt. 5:44). For disciples of the Lamb, laying down our lives means laying down the sword of coercion and lethal force, and picking up the Cross of self-giving, radically forgiving love.

Jersak, Bradley. A More Christlike God: A More Beautiful Gospel (pp. 50-51, 53-59). CWR Press. Kindle Edition.

Transformational Reading List

The following is a running list of books that I have recently read or are currently reading that have shaped my theology, values, world view, and political positions. I have loosely grouped them into categories based on my areas of personal transformation. Many of these books have dramatically changed my thinking and hopefully my actions as well.

The Gospel and The Kingdom of God

  • How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N. T. Wright
  • Simply Good News by N. T. Wright
  • Salvation by Allegiance Alone by Matthew W. Bates
  • Heaven On Earth by R. Alan Streett
  • The Kingdom of God: Preached by Jesus…Forgotten by Us by Wayne Barrett

Living the Way of Jesus

  • The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey by Brian Zhand (I have read this book twice and will again during Lent this coming year. I highly recommend this book.)
  • The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry: How to Stay Emotionally Healthy and Spiritually Alive in the Chaos of the Modern World by John Mark Comer
  • Love Over Fear: Facing Monsters, Befriending Enemies, and Healing Our Polarized World by Dan White Jr.
  • God Has a Name by John Mark Comer
  • Beauty in the Wreckage by Brandon Andress
  • A More Christlike God – A More Beautiful Gospel by Bradley Jersak
  • The Crown and the Fire – Meditations on the Cross and the Life of the Spirit by N. T. Wright
  • With by Skye Jethani

Evolving Faith

  • Still Christian: Following Jesus Out of American Evangelicalism by David P. Gushee
  • Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
  • Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions by Rachel Held Evans
  • Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey

Origin and Nature of the Bible

  • Cross Vision by Gregory A. Boyd
  • The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More than Our “Correct” Beliefs by Peter Enns
  • Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans
  • The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith
  • How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns
  • The Bible Tells Me So by Peter Enns

The Afterlife

  • Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N. T. Wright
  • All Things New by John Eldredge

Americanization of Christianity

  • Postcards from Babylon: The Church In American Exile by Brian Zhand
  • One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America by Kevin M. Kruse
  • Jesus Untangled: Crucifying Our Politics to Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb by Keith Giles
  • Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump by John Fea
  • The Myth of a Christian Nation by Gregory A. Boyd

The Bible and Its historical setting

  • Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by Brandon J. O’Brien , E. Randolph Richards
  • When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation by Paula Fredriksen
  • Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan
  • Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot – and Cold – Climate Cultures by Sarah A. Lanier
  • Missing Lenses: How reading scripture with the first century church can help us find our lost identity by Tom Holland With Ann Weaver

The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Jon Acuff, in his book, Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, Do Work that Matters, challenged me to start writing out my thoughts. I have always done a better job at accurately and interestingly expressing myself through writing rather than speaking. At least for me, I do a much better job if I first write and then speak. On this blog I am primarily going to be writing about my current reading and thinking about theology and how it guides and shapes my life and equally how my life has shaped my theology.

Feel free to join me on this journey as I grow and share.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring