There’s a Title for That

Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of who Jesus is:

  • The Word: He pitched His tent with us and put flesh on God’s promises (John 1)
  • Son of God: He’s got the whole world in His hands (Matthew 16:16)
  • Son of Man: He knows our sorrows up close and personal (Matthew 17:12)
  • Son of David: He loved His people, even if they didn’t recognize Him (Matthew 1:1; John 1)
  • Teacher: He tells us exactly what we need, even if it’s not what we want to hear (John 3:2)
  • Prophet: He told us what would and will happen (Deuteronomy 18:15; Matthew 13:57)
  • Provider: He can make a little go a long way (Mark 6:30-44)
  • Mediator: He’s right in the middle of our struggles and pleading our case (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 9:15)
  • Suffering Servant: He got busted up for us (Isaiah 53)
  • Lamb of God: He put sin in a full-nelson and made death cry uncle (John 1:29)
  • Lion of Judah: He can take care of His enemies with just His roar (Revelation 5:5, 19:21)
  • Counselor: He’s the cure for our addictions and struggles (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Prince of Peace: He signed—in blood—the peace treaty between God and us (Isaiah 9:6)
  • Immanuel: He never gets tired of being with us (Isaiah 7:14)
  • King of Kings: He’s got the power (Revelation 17:14)
  • The Way: He ain’t got no time for wishy-washy “all roads” arguments; He’s it (John 14:6)
  • The Truth: He puts the lie in our “true for you” follies (John 14:6)
  • The Life: He resuscitates hearts that were hardened by sin (John 14:6, 20:31)
  • Good Shepherd: He patiently and lovingly tracks down His runaways (Luke 15:4; John 10:11)
  • True Vine: He nurtures us to fruitfulness (John 15:4-5; Romans 7:4)
  • Friend of Sinners: He offers grace to those stumbling around in darkness (Matthew 11:9)
  • Balm of Gilead: He binds up our wounds by the scars on His back (Jeremiah 8:22; Isaiah 53:5; 1 Peter 2:24)
  • Giver of the Spirit: He sent the One who makes the journey alongside us and leads us into truth (John 14)
  • Light of the World: He sends photons to those who’ve been blinded by the god of this age (Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 2 Corinthians 4:4)
  • Intercessor: He never stops praying for us (Isaiah 53:12; John 17)
  • Great High Priest: He took care of all the Temple work (Hebrews 7)
  • The Bread/Water of Life: He’s our daily nutritional requirement for a spiritually balanced life (John 6; Revelation 21:6)
  • Alpha and Omega: He gets the first and last word… always (Revelation 22:13)
  • Lord of Glory: He makes angels belt out never-ending praises (Psalm 24, 103:20; James 2:1)
  • Firstborn among the Dead: He paved the path that leads to His place (Colossians 1:18)

Jesus has so many titles because He fulfills all our needs. Wherever you are in life, whatever you need, He’s got it covered. As my father-in-law sometimes says, “Jesus picked up His cross and said, ‘Hang on to Me. We’re going through.’”


My Alien Brain

“And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” Colossians 1:21-22

The first migraine hit me in middle school. While wrapping up some pre-algebra problems, a fuzzy, white spot kept covering up the numbers. I’d blink and rub my eyes and try to work around it, but the spot hovered there for most of the class. Being the well-reasoned adolescent that I was, I naturally assumed what seemed logical: I was about to die of a massive stroke.

I obviously didn’t die. But when the spot finally did go away, I wished it had stayed.

Stomach-curling, fist-clenching, world-bending pain plopped down into my cranium and threw some sort of headache party. After an hour or so, I couldn’t take it anymore. I told the skeptical school nurse that I thought I had a “migration headache,” which didn’t ease her skepticism. Still, she let me go home.

Just to complete the headache humiliation, I got sick right outside the school (so that all the classes on that side of the building could watch), fell asleep as soon as I got home, and woke up with a throbbing head. Migraines don’t like to go without a fight. They kick and scream into that good night.

My own head revolted against me for several years after that. If I didn’t get enough sleep or got hit with too much stress, the spot would make a comeback. I did learn to lessen the pain sometimes by closing my eyes as soon as the fuzz sprang into view, but that didn’t always work.

Truthfully, the migraines were the least of my problems. My un-reconciled brain, the one that had no understanding of Christ, had revolted from God. Instead of fuzzy spots as warning signs, there were evil deeds, as Paul calls them. I played on others’ emotions to get my way, used girlfriends as my personal trophy case, spent hours and hours on the kinds of websites that wouldn’t make it through a work Internet filter, and generally wasted my gifts. The pain that resulted from those “spots” wasn’t just inwardly focused—it left quite the burning trail in its wake.

My alien brain knew nothing else then. It wanted nothing better. It was pretty much dead.

That’s exactly the reason Christ’s reconciling, restoring death still astounds me. This gray matter, so unresponsive to anything spiritual, came to life with God’s preceding grace. He kept hitting me and kept hitting me until I finally gave up, followed His Son, and stopped being an alien.

P0wned by Identity, Bought by a Savior

“You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:20b)

Arguments about “identity” should end at this verse. For non-Christians, it’s meaningless noise. For Christians, it’s everything. We own nothing from our hair follicles to our toenails. Every drop of cytoplasm, every hormone, every spark of our synapses was paid for in full. Christ didn’t die for the “good” parts or the parts we let Him have; He wanted all of us.

That’s why it makes no sense for us to justify what’s natural or what makes us happy or what satisfies us. To do so breaks us into pieces, compartmentalizing where we will and will not surrender, what we will and will not hand over to Christ. But the choice isn’t ours. The price paid was for the whole shebang.

The heart loves to mass-produce idols, and identity works just as well as anything else. Deep inside, the hammers of what’s just and fair and right beat in time with our resistance to surrender. We know who we are, and we can’t change.

But the possibility of change is completely beside the point. Even if no change comes before the perfect does (1 Corinthians 13:10), even if the desires never stop, we have no room to act on them or justify them. We have no ownership in ourselves. Not even a partial vacation stake.

It all belongs to Jesus.

Christ urged us to follow Him with the heavy weight of lumber slung across our shoulders (Mark 8:34). That image is one of ownership. Why else would we take up humiliation and hardship to struggle after a bloodied Lamb? It isn’t an image of coercion, but of willingness. Just as the Messiah surrendered Himself to be crucified, we crucify ourselves to admit surrender.

The arguments about orientations or ingrained needs or natural behaviors focus on one thing: us. They point to who we are and what we want. Put succinctly, such discussions are nothing more than navel-gazing. We’re peering down at what makes us tick and letting that determine our course.

And ultimately, none of it matters. That navel we’re peering so deeply into belongs to Christ. He bought it.

We’ve got genes. They’re Christ’s. We’ve got a past. It’s Christ’s. We’ve got failures and foibles and more twisted thoughts than we know what to do with. And they’re hammered to the cross. The ownership of a Savoir sidesteps any arguments about identity because our true identity starts and ends with who we are in Christ. It undercuts any passionate defense of “who I am” because who we are is His. Nothing should come between us—the purchased—and the One who took care of the bill.

We must not let the clanging of our idol-making heart drown out the call of Christ to follow how He leads.

Salvation is free, but following Jesus isn’t. The cost isn’t in wealth or doing enough good stuff. It’s sacrifice—the willful surrender of even some of our most cherished beliefs about ourselves and what we need. When we come to Christ but refuse to surrender it all, we’re like the rich man who couldn’t bear the thought of empty pockets (Matthew 16:19-30). We’re not all in.

However you identified yourself before you got blisters from hauling around your cross, that identity is now the old identity. You gave it up to the One who paid up. You’re His. You’re new.

Good Friday 2000 Years Later

David’s poetry in the Psalms pokes at sin and guilt with all the gentleness of sledgehammer.

Take this one, for example:

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. 5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

The next time you hear a news report concerning the “genetic basis” for why people struggle, remember these lines. Sin goes much deeper than just physical causes. Sin is a predisposition.

But there’s more. People who live a life opposed to what God had in mind really do have an ingrained struggle that runs much deeper than choice. It’s the orientation of a sinful heart.

We can’t single out certain people as if they alone are somehow choosing sin. We all choose sin. From birth. (I have kids—I know.)

The power of Christ’s resurrection and the Holy Spirit’s re-heart-ment are, then, that much more amazing. We run to sin; God completely changes the landscape. Suddenly, we’re running to Him. He completely transforms the bent of a wayward soul.

As Easter approaches, remember that Good Friday did this—reoriented the entire universe. Where once the faithful only looked forward to Hope, we look back at a finished masterpiece.

Mistake Obsession

We’re a country obsessed with mistakes. Flubbed song lyrics find prime real estate on news websites and blogs; political speech slip-ups become Twitter fodder for years. If a public personality makes a snafu, a camera probably recorded every syllable.

Given my propensity to bungle a line or two in personal conversation (foot-in-mouth genes run deep in my family), I’d hate to imagine a camera-touting interloper capturing every single one. No need to play those over and over.

As I’ve been studying the book of Job, I’ve found this same obsession with mistakes. Job’s friends, instead of comforting him in his misery, ask him to think back and figure out what he did wrong. They mourn with him, but they don’t offer a single tissue or back scratch or anything.

They’re too worried about being right.

And that reminds me too much of me. When people I know face problems, my mind often zips back over the past to dig up the things that may be “causing” these problems. I want to justify the reason for their suffering.

But that’s not how it works. The man born blind wasn’t that way because he deserved it—he was that way to show God’s ability to spark synapses and make eyes work.

Who is Your “And”?

Around ten years ago, I picked up two prostitutes at a gas station. Reading that, I’m sure you have certain expectations about my reasons for doing so. But that wasn’t it.

For one thing, naiveté still had me rather tightly in those days. The realization of whom I had picked up dawned on me only halfway to their hotel. You see, I thought they were two women who’d simply been stranded after a night out. Never mind they were wearing short skirts, deep-cut tops, and more makeup than should be possible. I wanted to be a hero. I saw that as my shot.

The realization came as we talked—how they got there in particular. What I hadn’t bargained for was hearing about the person behind the label. Prostitutes are often defined by their job, not by their humanity. Before that car ride, I’d categorized a whole segment of the population into something almost less than human.

So it was with tax collectors in Jesus’ day. They weren’t human—they were tax collectors. They weren’t even sinners. They had their own special category beyond mere sinner: sinners and tax collectors (or flipped in most cases). Perhaps Matthew—one of those worse-than-sinners—even believed that himself.

But Jesus gave him the chance to follow—something the religious people would never have done. Jesus saw all humans equally worthy of death—and all worthy of love.

“Follow me.” Those were probably the sweetest words Matthew had ever heard. He got so excited he threw a party so that other “sinners and tax collectors” could meet Jesus. In fact, God used an “and” (a tax collector) to write a book of the Bible.

Each of us has an “and” (or more than one), a class or group we consider the worst offenders, those too evil to love or minister to. The American church in particular has focused on homosexuals as the “and.” And strippers. And legalists. And … you get the point. Put simply, we use the and to separate ourselves—to make ourselves distinct.

Jesus came to call those who realized they were sick. Most people do, but they don’t always hear that Jesus wants them to follow Him.

I’d love to end this post by revealing how I told the two women I picked up all this—how I showed them the Jesus who loves them. But I didn’t. At that point, I had no idea how sick I was. That came later. Instead, I dropped them off and drove home in shock. They’d ruined how I thought life worked.

Waffles or Pancakes? Yes!

In human terms, you have to choose between the waffles and the pancakes. You can’t have both (at least, in my imaginary restaurant … just go with me here). We live an either/or existence of mutually exclusive decisions. Either an iPhone or an Android. Either a bowl cut or a flat top. And no matter how hard we try, two objects can’t be squeezed into the same spot. Your sofa and your chair both can’t fit under the window. One gets the dark corner.

Either/or … that’s us. And that’s what makes it so hard for some people to accept God.

Why? God works with both/and (or even both/and/and). Love or wrath? Yes. Grace or justice? Yes. Past, present, or future? Yes. One God or Trinity? Yes.

In fact, Jesus is the ultimate cosmic dissonance from our perspective. Is He God? Yes. Is He human? Yes. Which one? Both. That’s not something we can grasp from our everyday lives (where sofas and chairs need two distinct locations). One or the other might be easier for us to put into a tidy bin under our beds, but God doesn’t work with our tidiness.

Either/or makes sense for breakfast foods, but our experience under the sun doesn’t necessarily explain the fullness of what’s “out there.”

Food for thought.