Spirit and Truth

Article written by Matt Holmes

This past winter I attended a Punch Brothers concert.  That show has stuck with me ever since.  The band’s top notch musicianship engages the audience and invites them into a conversation filled with unique expression and conventions seldom heard.  Even if you don’t particularly enjoy five-piece progressive bluegrass settings, you are forced to appreciate the band’s skill they have in their craft.  At that concert, it was made clear that live music provides something different, something more than you can get with record players; live music provides an experience, a more direct connection to human expression. From the first note of the show I couldn’t look away from the stage, I was captivated.  Ultimately, the music that night for me imaged worship of the one true God.  

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. – John 4:24

First, the music engaged me mentally.  I couldn’t help but begin to think where these sounds were coming from and how they were functioning.  All the musicians worked within the design of their instruments and the design of sound itself.  The musician’s fingers press down on the fretboard, changing the vibration of the string’s frequency.  The style of music provides a framework to work within.  The notes are played within certain scales and chords and in a certain order.  To play an instrument in a way that it is not designed or to neglect the music theory behind how notes are supposed to function leads to displeasing dissonance and chaos.  To become aware of how sound works and to master the techniques of the instruments is to align with truth, to create within the good design of music.  Yet, playing with the right theory and technique alone does not create sound pleasing to the ears.  

Secondly, the music engaged me emotionally.  Throughout a show there are some “musical moments” that shine brighter than others, that connect with the audience more, that impact the listener deeper.  Numerous times that night I was taken back by certain musical moments.  Those moments were shaped by the delivery of all preceding notes and the specific presentation (such as dynamics, phrasing, etc.) of the notes in the moment.  To simply play all those notes in succession would be impressive, but would not evoke powerful emotion or lift your spirit.  The players on stage that night were expressing from the heart all the notes they played.  Because of that, the listeners was invited in to feel and experience what the players were portraying and experiencing; a connection was made.  Their emotion brought the music to life in a way that pleased the heart of the listener.  

Being fully in the moment, reflecting on the Lord and His god design, I came to a place of worship.  From mentally examining God’s good design of music, to emotionally connecting to God’s grace in His cultural mandate for humans to bear His image by creating and cultivating.  That night provided me with an experience, allowing me to deeply believe theological truths I had known for a while in a personal way.  

For our worship to be pleasing to the Lord, we must worship in spirit and truth.  We must know the God whom we worship.  We must know that the only way we have access to our Lord is through the cross of Jesus Christ.  These are the truths we must understand and believe.  We are also called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength.  We must sing in our spirit a melody to the Lord that is genuine, expressive, and true.   Worship of the one true God is to engage the mind, heart, and soul of the worshipper.

My night of worship did not take place at a church, but rather a concert hall.  Jesus teaches in John chapter 4 that now because of the new covenant, we are free to worship God anytime and anywhere.  The Samaritan women in the story shares the religious understanding of worship that it must be done in certain locations, like on the mountaintop and in Jerusalem.  But now because of what Jesus has done for us, we have access to God himself through the cross of Christ and we have freedom to live within God’s good design.  Because our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, we are free to worship our God in a concert hall or a coffee shop.

God’s presence and grace is not limited to inside a church.  The image bearing of God is not limited to believers.  Whether or not those musicians know the Lord, they bear the image of God as creators.  Whether or not those musicians know the Lord, God used their music that night to bring me to a place of worship and to glorify Himself.  As Christians, we should not be afraid to engage art or culture found in all areas of life.  We should seek it out.  For when we engage culture, we have a heightened awareness of God’s grace, and when we have a heightened awareness of God’s grace, we are drawn to worship in spirit and truth.  For God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:24).  



Social Justice, Racial Reconciliation and the Gospel Part 2: False Unity and Gospel Unity

Note: This is part 2 of 3 in a series of blog posts dealing with the issues of social justice, racial reconciliation and violence that has burst upon America the last few months. Click here for the first post and stay tuned for more!

Article by Joel Stegman

In Genesis 11, we are given the account of the Tower of Babel. All humanity comes together and decides that, if they can just work together, they can build a tower to the sky and reach God, basically becoming gods themselves. This seems completely irrelevant to today’s context. What could a story about coming together to build a tower have to say about the state of America today?

We’re more fractured than ever, a hot mess of ethnicism, nationalism and partisanship. The country and the world are in a state of turmoil and upheaval in a way many of us are not prepared to handle. Because this kind of civil unrest and the threat of violence has been so foreign to most people, we are caught entirely by surprise and are completely unaware of how to deal with this issue. This was what I discussed in my last post. However, as a society, we’re not without our narratives about how the problem can be fixed, narratives that constitute a false unity.

There’s basically two narratives of false unity that we’ve all grown up. One says that if we just went back to the way things were, we’d be okay and the world would be a better place. This is the conservative narrative, and you can tell from the simple campaign slogan Donald Trump has been using: “Make America Great Again”. The problem with this notion is that it forces everyone to conform to a certain standard. How does this mirror the Tower of Babel? In Genesis 11:1, we’re told that all people spoke the same language. I want you to join me in an historical thought experiment. Assuming that the people building this tower are as awful as we’re led to believe – so much so that God sees it as fit to punish them – I don’t think that it’s a huge stretch to assume that speaking one language and living in line with this one people group was mandatory. Necessary for inclusion is uniformity with the main group. “Just be like us, and you’ll be okay. And if you can’t, well…” The conservative call back to the past excludes those who can’t journey back to it because you had to be white and male to actually enjoy it. Original sin has plagued all of American history. Why should we journey back to a time marred by sin as much as our own time? There hasn’t been room for people not like white men to live in this world, and this is where I, as a white male, have to admit I’ve been part of the problem because I enjoy this status even though I’ve done nothing to earn it. Yet the world has been made for me to thrive. Saying I want to go back to it is exceedingly safe and selfish for me, but it’s a much more terrifying proposition to someone with skin color different than me.

The other cultural narrative of false unity states that if we can just become less intolerant and put aside our differences, we can find ourselves living in a perfect world, a utopia where everyone is happy and never mean to one another. This is the liberal narrative, and we can find this belief baked into Bernie Sanders’ campaign slogan “A Future to Believe In.” What we need lies in the future; we just need to work together to get there. This mirrors the Babel account in that it wants to push towards a human-centric utopia, relying entirely on people to approach a fully-realized perfect world. In many ways, it also mirrors the Christian narrative for the coming kingdom of God. Yet, the reason it’s no more than a shadow of that new world lies in the fact that it assumes humans are already imbued with the necessary ingredients for this in themselves.

This narrative precludes the fact that the problem isn’t outside of us, found in intolerant systems, organizations or rules. It’s found within each and every one of us. This was the main point of my last post: the problem of original sin, the evil inside of all of us, makes it so that we can’t blame one group of people for the problems. If we truly did try to come together and build a tower in honor of humanity, it would be plagued with all of the same problems every other society has been, even to this day. This is why God was against the tower of Babel; it made a mockery of Him, trying to attain equality with God, evidence of self-idolatry and arrogance and proof that instead of the answer just being humans coming together, the problem was merely compounded.

It’s often been assumed that Jesus was basically living out the liberal narrative as he welcomed all, no matter if they were categorized a “sinner”, “unclean” or made up parts of the undesirable classes, such as Samaritans, women, or Gentiles. The point shouldn’t be missed that Jesus did seek those people out and welcomed them into the fold of God’s people. However, it also doesn’t mean that we should decide that Jesus was simply a modern day liberal born out of time, either. Miroslav Volf, who I referred to in my last post, has written that

“It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from Jesus’ compassion toward those who transgressed social boundaries that his mission was merely to demask the mechanisms that created “sinners” by falsely ascribing sinfulness to those who were considered socially unacceptable. He was no prophet of “inclusion”, for whom the chief virtue was acceptance and the cardinal vice intolerance. Instead, he was the bringer of “grace” who not only scandalously included “anyone” in the fellowship of “open commensality”, but made the “intolerant” demand of repentance and the “condescending” offer of forgiveness. The mission of Jesus consisted not simply in re-naming the behavior that was falsely labeled “sinful” but also in re-making the people who have actually sinned or have suffered misfortune.” 1

What Jesus does is dismantle the equal and opposite errors of the two narratives I just mentioned.

First, Jesus says that the way society has drawn its dividing lines are sinful, and that they need to be changed. This is the conservative error; to the point that it ignores the fact that those lines exist or that they are being mistreated. The dividing lines of race of, say, 1950’s America were not God-honoring. Going back to the way America has been means reinforcing these fault lines, by forcing everyone to act like nice white people from the 50s. I submit that this is sinful.

Second, to Jesus, grace and tolerance are two very different things. This is the liberal error: failing to make the distinction. Tolerance accepts because it believes the person you are accepting is basically alright. They are in themselves worth accepting and left the way they are. Grace accepts in spite of the prickles and dirtiness of the other, but it’s not the kind of thing that is content to leave someone where they are for, because we actually aren’t basically okay, and not capable of entering a new, tolerant and inclusive society on our own. We need the work of Christ and the Spirit to form us into something new, and to incorporate us into a new body, a new culture, a new worldview.

*   *   *

At creation, God ordered the world in a way that was called ‘good’ and ‘very good’. Everything that was ordered was done in a way that was best. That meant that some barriers were good. The land was divided from the sea, and that was good. Man was meant to be distinct from the animals, and that was good. The birds of the air and bird of the sea were to be separate from each other, and that was good. Life was precious, and the taking of it was seen as a disordering of God’s world. What sin did–and continues to do–was to violently blow up the order God had put the world in, and then reassemble it in it’s own ugly image, worshipping creation rather than the Creator (Rom 1:25).

We’ve not graduated from this. We never figured it out back in the 50s (contra the conservative belief) and we’re not on the precipice of moving beyond it now (contra the liberal one). Society is still arranged along certain cultural fault lines. We’re divided by race, socioeconomic status, political affiliation, religious groups, interests, age, whether we live in the city or in rural areas, and on and on and on.

In my last post, I talked about how on the cross, Jesus provides the justice we need in this society. Specifically, I talked about how it condemns the sin social justice cries for, but it provides for justice, or justification, that comes with those who turn to Christ crucified. In condemning sin but in also naming those in the light righteous, the cross creates a new people group who are defined by their inclusion in Christ’s body and their justification by their faith. This new group of people, the church, has an identity that transcends all other identity markers. In Ephesians, this is one of Paul’s big points in the flow of things. When they read Ephesians, most people go immediately to chapter 1 and the beginning of 2 and then skip to the spiritual warfare section in 6. But there’s a lot of stuff in between those about the implications of the gospel for people groups.

For [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Eph 2:14, 19-22)

The gospel tears down these old barriers–the ones imposed by sin and the fall, built out of the rubble of the good order God had initially established in the garden. Now, God has built new dividing lines out of what is to be identity markers for us: are you justified, a member of the church, the people of God, in the light of Christ? Or are you outside of that? This is the only barrier that matters.

The ultimate goal of all of this is found in the book of Revelation. In chapter 5, John has an apocalyptic vision of the people of God, assembled together because the Lamb on the throne was worthy to break the scroll of God’s will to be instituted on earth:

“and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (Rev 5:9-10)

Notice how this view of the one people is different from the one we saw earlier in the Tower of Babel. Everyone does not come from the same stock. They do not speak the same language, and are not all from one people or nation. There is a variance to them. To say to them, upon entrance into the people of God, that they must all look and act the same is to say that their culture or race or whatever that they come from is evil. This is not the picture I’m trying to cast: “Shed your blackness or whiteness. Cast the idols from your heritage into the furnace and accept the new uniformity of the church!” The picture that the Bible gives us is of a body of many unique and different people and groups, all coming together in their uniqueness and together creating something bigger and better than their culture alone because of God’s work in Christ. These are faultlines that God has deemed good. As long as we focus on the larger picture of the puzzle, and on our individual puzzle piece, we can also celebrate the unique way in which we contribute to the puzzle because it contributes to that bigger puzzle 2.

I’m going to refrain from talking much about the way in which this looks like practically because it’s supposed to be the focus of my next post, but I wanted to offer one quick way that the church proclaims this unity to the world. In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34, Paul is appalled to learn that some of the Corinthians have celebrated the Lord’s Supper without the others. To Paul, celebration of the central sacrament of Communion is of paramount importance, and symbolically shows the unity of the Corinthians as they all together eat and drink from the same body, Christ’s. The Lord’s Supper is done in remembrance of the cross, and the justice and justification that takes place on it. If we are to do it to symbolize and reflect on that portion of the gospel, we must recognize that it also symbolizes and reflects the portion of the gospel that declares that we are united, one body and people within the faultlines God has ordered in Jesus.

This means that when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, with others comprising that united body, we declare to the world that we are one in Christ, that the gospel is the answer to the disunity we now face. As you go out, as you partake in the Lord’s Supper, reflect on that. We’re all surrounded by Christians at work who may not go to the same local church as us. We may have neighbors who are in different ‘tribes’ of Christianity than us. Find ways to commune with Christians from all over, whether it’s in actual Communion, or communion that reflects the unity you have with them. And finally, find ways to reach out across cultural barriers that may divide Christians despite the reality of our oneness with them through the gospel. If we can find ways to do this, we can accomplish what humans have tried and failed to do since Babel, yet we will do it in the only way that will succeed, the one that brings glory to the Creator who “makes two groups one.” (Eph 2:14)


1 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace 72-73
2 This is the same way that the body of Christ is presented in passages where it describes the body made up of people with different gifts. It’s the same concept, applied to race or other cultural dividers.


“Isn’t there more to it than this?”

Article by: Lance Steiger

This certain question pops into my head once in awhile and reveals an emptiness that I didn’t even know was there. Sometimes, the questions we ask ourselves can reveal much about what is actually going on in our lives. It seems that some of my fellow believers have asked this same question more than once… is this common? Why don’t we discuss this more often? The feeling that creeps in after this thought is one that I’d like to forget. How can a short question, a fleeting thought in my head, cause me to quiver with so much uneasiness?
So… “Isn’t there more to it than this?”

I know the answer is an emphatic “Yes!” But, where is this thought coming from and how have I become either consciously or subconsciously bored with the Christian life? After all, I’m active in the ministry here at Hope, read my Bible, pray regularly and I attempt to match my lifestyle to the way that Jesus asks me to live. Apparently actions and efforts don’t make me immune from slipping into spiritual emptiness.

Ever so slowly, inconspicuously, I drift towards an automated, ritualistic relationship with Jesus that leaves me in perfect camouflage so my brothers and sisters in Christ nod in unaware approval saying, “Yep, he’s solid, must be doing great”. I suspect that there are many others who find themselves in the same situation. If not…ummmm, this is awkward and you should probably click back to

Ok let’s go back to being vulnerable here…

Jesus said in John 7:38 “Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’”. Rivers of living water. Rivers of living water! I’m picturing powerful, steady, life-giving water. Clearly, there’s a disconnect in my life. Something is wrong.

So what’s wrong?

There’s a foundational truth that I tend to lose touch with…I am in Christ and Christ is in me. I have union with Christ, the living God of the universe who became man and died on the cross for my sins. Did you know the Apostle Paul never addressed believers as “Christians”? He most commonly addressed them as those who are “in Christ”. In 1 Corinthians 3:16, Paul says “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” John Owen, a seventeenth century theologian and pastor says, “Union with Christ is the greatest, most honourable, and glorious of all graces that we are made partakers of.” This is a big deal. Paul calls it a “profound mystery” (Ephesians 5:32). He appeals to us in dozens (over one hundred maybe?) of verses throughout the new testament to remind us of the union we share with Christ. It’s so common that we miss it, yet, it’s so profoundly mysterious that it won’t fit neatly into our finite minds. And by attempting to describe it, we water it down.

…and that’s part of the problem! I’ve developed a bit of an allergy to mystery. Rather than gaze with amazement at the miracle of Christ, himself, dwelling in my life, I (and you?) tend to systemize, automate and reduce faith in Jesus to only doctrine, apologetics, behaviors, morals, etc. The foundation of our faith is the reality that we have communion with God himself, through faith in Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins, by the working of the Holy Spirit; everything else is supplemental to that mystery. Consider the way that John Calvin approaches this mystery in his Commentary on Ephesians:

“For my own part, I am overwhelmed by the depth of this mystery, and am not ashamed to join Paul in acknowledging at once my ignorance and my admiration…whatever is supernatural is clearly beyond our own comprehension. Let us therefore labor more to feel Christ living in us, than to discover the nature of that intercourse.”

Is anyone else surprised by those words? John Calvin, the church reformer, theologian and father of Calvinism is asking us to labor more for a feeling of Christ living in us than for a doctrinal belief system that describes it.

How did I get here?

So, what led to the revealing question…. “Isn’t there more to it than this?” I have two well-worn paths to this place of emptiness, but there are others as well. (Maybe I’ll discuss those in my next blog post)

The first path is cheap grace. I’m not talking about the abounding grace that God extends to us in our salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Eph 2:8-9 No, not that grace. I’m talking about the self-centered grace that I seek when I want God’s blessings, but not God. I slip into the sin of treating God like a genie in a bottle who never asks anything of me. I gladly accept his provision but offer very little of myself to him. And, one day I wake up and say “Isn’t there more to it than this?”

The second path is duty. I proudly labor in the body of Christ and pat myself on the back after a fruitful small group discussion or an extra tithe to the church. Boy, what would the church do without me? I’m fulfilling my duties and then some! I think I’ll help out in another ministry because, after all, who couldn’t use the help of such a great guy. And then one day I wake up exhausted after months of overcommitment and burn-out and ask “Isn’t there more to it than this?”

Yes, there is.

When you meditate on the indescribable mystery that is ….I am in Christ and Christ is in me… your life changes. This mystery gives meaning and life to every interaction throughout your day. It also gives you the energy to work tirelessly in God’s kingdom without pride or self righteousness. It gives you the confidence to face your sin with sober reality and yet feel completely loved and accepted by God. It gives you the freedom to be submersed in the ocean of God’s grace without the temptation to get complacent and indifferent towards holy living. If I hold on to this mystery and “labor more to feel Christ living in me”, as John Calvin puts it, I can quiver with anticipation of the work that God is about to display in my life.

So, how might you “labor more to feel Christ living in you”?

What’s holding you back from experiencing real communion with Christ in your daily life?

I encourage you to discuss this with your brothers in Christ this week.


Social Justice, Racial Reconciliation and the Gospel Part 1: Justice and the Cross

Blog post written by Joel Stegman

Note: This is part 1 of a series of blog posts dealing with the issues of social justice, racial reconciliation and violence that has burst upon America the last few months. Stay tuned for more!


Dominating all spheres of life right now is the violence taking place in America and abroad. Particularly, for us in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, the video and story of Philando Castile being shot and killed by a local police officer in Falcon Heights demanded the attention of what can many times be a numb and disengaged country, shocking them into tense observance of what is fast becoming a major issue in America. Or, at least is shocking us into the realization that a problem exists and has existed for some time. The issue is one that at times seems to be narrow, in relation to specific incidents like Castile. At others, it can seem very broad, permeated by fear of violence and lack of safety.


Like a messy car wreck that you drive by on your way to work, we have no choice but to face the events – specific and broad – and respond to them. After the initial shock (a place I think we’re beginning to arrive), we make a move to a place where we desire two things: an explanation and justice. Where was and is God in this all? And what is He doing about it?


Shows of solidarity on Facebook and other social media has been the response of many, though solidarity with whom varies person to person. Quickly, this conversation becomes about which group of people to blame:


What about those radical Islamic terrorists, you know, the ones whose parents read them the really violent parts of the Qu’ran while they’re still in diapers? Or how about those obviously racist police? Hold on – what about the oppressive American government? Actually, those thuggish black people are the problem.


Regardless, we’ve drawn a clear line in the sand and said that those whose hearts are filled with “hate” for the good are the ones who’ve perpetrated our circumstances. Those on the wrong side of the line need to be shamed into submission (and of course, we conveniently always find ourselves on the right side of the line). These are all sentiments that have made the rounds on cable TV, expressed themselves in political speeches and have wiggled their way onto our Facebook feeds.


In explaining the real issue at hand, I submit that these are easy, lazy and reactive answers, founded in raw emotion.1 Why we struggle so much to answer the question that these answers are in response to – the question of “Who is responsible for causing me to feel unsafe, or causing society to be in such upheaval” – is that, as a society, we have no robust, reasoned concept of evil. It’s the kind of thing that has been marginalized, apparently only existing in third-world countries, Marvel movies or in our imagination. There’s an easily identified “big bad” who is making clear overtones that they want to ruin the world for everyone else.


This being our concept of evil, when something awful happens, we try to quickly and clearly identify the person or group who is to blame. However, the bad guy isn’t always easily identified; rarely do we get someone giving us the villainous monologue that we’re used to seeing in superhero movies. So we come up with those lazy answers I mentioned above, blaming a whole group for the problems of society.2


When we single out one group as the problem, it means that the opposite is also true: the group on my side of the line is innocent, and is perhaps the saviors. As Yale theologian Miroslav Volf has said, “In addition to inflicting harm, the practice of evil keeps re-creating a world without innocence. Evil generates new evil as evildoers fashion victims in their new ugly image.”3 One group may perpetrate evil toward another, but because we live in an economy of evil, the oppressed cannot be innocent either.”4


If that can’t be the answer, where can we place blame for the events in Falcon Heights, Orlando, Dallas, Paris, 9/11 and so many of the other horrific events we’ve endured lately?


The writers of the Old Testament devoted much ink to the same questions we ask: “Why? How? What?” Like us today, the Israelites were quick to assign blame to people groups: false gods and the ethnic group tied to them, evil nations and their kings, etc.

We never get a real clear, easy statement of what evil is:


“The fact that one cannot really understand evil is itself … a demonstration that evil is an intruder, a force not only bent on distorting and destroying the good creation but also on resisting comprehension. If one could understand it, if one could glimpse a framework within which it ‘made sense,’ it would no longer be the radical, anti-creation, anti-God force it actually is.” 5


But with the ambiguity, hope sprung eternal. Throughout the whole of the Old Testament, we get hints that God was planning to come and sort everything out on His own. And in Jesus and on the cross, we see a clearer picture of the problem and the solution.


Thus, the whole of Scripture leads to the cross. Jesus himself talked about it quite a bit before he was actually nailed to it, and it was clear he saw it as the final solution to the problem of evil laid out in the Old Testament. Take this passage – including perhaps the most famous verse in the whole Bible – from John 3:14-19:


“‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’ For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.


When Jesus speaks about condemnation happening on the cross, he brings into view the idea of a court scene that unfolds on the cross itself: those who turn to Him, hanging on that tree, will live, but those who will not turn to Him are condemned. Since humans and their status are linked to the creation itself,6 then anything associated with those people who do not turn to him – be they institutions, philosophies, governments or whatever – stand condemned and guilty of sin. Therefore, justice occurs on the cross in that it renders guilty and under judgment anything that does not turn to the one who has come to save the world through his own death. Jesus takes all of the sin of the world – not just your sins – on himself so that it can be judged and named as the evil (evil being forces, people and institutions that are anti-God, anti-creation) that it is.


Thus, the verdict is rendered for those who choose darkness over the light: they are guilty in the eyes of God. And, as the rest of the New Testament details, Jesus, following the cross, resurrection and ascension, will finally come back one day to finish the job and exact the “verdict” he’s already made on the cross. Justice in one sense has come on the cross; in another sense, it moves inexorably toward the world until it arrives when Christ comes back to render the final verdict for sin. The reason that we can even know for sure that acts or racism – and the racist and unjust system in which they are perpetrated – are wrong is because they overflow from a heart that seeks darkness instead of the light.  This means that people looking for justice for those affected by violence or racism should look to the cross to find true justice for the evil done to them. We should start here before moving on and talking about justice in the here and now.


I know that in the moment, this may not feel like consolation. In the moment, when all we see is the evil perpetrated by those who seek out sin, it may not seem like much. But there is power in knowing that God sees, and hears, the cries of the oppressed and that his response is the cross. We can know God deems racial injustice evil because he has made that declaration in Christ crucified. Evil stands condemned. Justice will be served.


Arriving at the end of the passage, we see that light comes into the world, referring to Jesus and his own coming into the world. Those who come to the light are coming to it from darkness; they are those who do not stay in the darkness they’ve stumbled around in their whole life. The picture is clear: we start in darkness and move toward Jesus, the light. This means that it’s not just a certain group in darkness; for Jesus is speaking to a Jew, one who had been trained to think that the problem was outside him, found in a certain people group. Jesus’ answer is, ‘No, all humans are in darkness; thus, in humanity itself lies the problem.’

The idea of the darkness here seems to fit well with where we’re at as a society. Because we choose not to see the glow of the light of Jesus, we stumble through the darkness, bumping into each other, into hidden pitfalls, and we have no ability to truly articulate the problem because we can’t see it. How could we?


This is where the problem of evil finally comes to fruition: we are where the evil comes from. In theological terms, this is called the doctrine of “original sin.” The evil doesn’t lie in a people group. The evil lies in each and every human, and only by moving to the light of Jesus can we move out of the darkness. And to add one more thought on top of everything else I’ve just said, in the same way that one group of people are not the problem, one group of people is also not the solution. Instead of responding to police violence towards black people by by saying that one group of people – in this case, cops – are the “good”, and anyone against them is wrong, we’re in effect responding to one error with another. The doctrine of original sin means that one group of people can’t be the problem; they also can’t be the solution.

The light itself is cast onto everything else, showing us what it truly is. In the glow of this light, the lazy answers I listed above are shown to be just that: lazy. Those answers siphon one group off as the problem. Israel tried to do the same thing. We have to refuse the impulse to blame shift and call some group of people the problem. We need to go to the root as a church, like those seeing clearly because of the light. Thus, the answer can’t be shutting out entire groups of people from our country. It can’t be violence because that is not how God has chosen to deal with evil; He’s chosen to deal with it on the cross.


Black Lives Matter, All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, because the death of Christ matters. It is what gives life to men. The cross is the place justice happens – and this is where God was in the midst of these events. Because of our ability to move away from what would have been our condemned status, we can have the freedom to be agents of reconciliation in the world, to be at the forefront of the efforts to reconcile groups to each and to Jesus, the true light.


Let’s make that infect our Facebook feeds and political discourse instead of the junk that’s filled so much of it recently. Let’s be agents of that light to the world.



1 This, of course, does not excuse the need for policy and practical responses to these questions. Questions of what the response of the government or practical, state-level answers to these problems–for example, questions of how to find and stop terrorists–of course need to take place. This, however, is not a place to focus on those policy questions.


2 Consider two extreme examples. The Nazi movement in Germany is an example of this happening to an ethnic group; Marxist revolution is it happening to the government.


3 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, pg. 81.


4 Volf goes on to say that, “From a distance, the world may appear neatly divided into guilty perpetrators and innocent victims. The closer we get, however, the more the line between the guilty and the innocent blurs and we see an intractable maze of small and large hatreds, dishonesties, manipulations and brutalities, each reinforcing the other.” Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, pg. 81.


5  N.T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, pg. 742.


6 In Romans 8:20-21, Paul makes the claim that creation itself is tied to humans. The point is that humanity is the key to the problem of sin, death and decay in the world. Adam falls; creation falls. Humans are redeemed in Christ; the whole of creation is now likewise restored. It may be that is what Jesus means when he uses the word kosmos for world in 3:16, which can be used many ways and refer to the whole of creation.


Being A Man- What Culture Tells Me vs. What God Tells Me

Blog post by: Miles Trump

I’ve had at least 60, maybe 70, surgeries on my throat.

After a while, you just stop counting.

As a child, I was diagnosed with a rare disease called recurrent respiratory papillomatosis. That essentially means wart-like growths would coat the inside of my throat, eventually blocking my airway, and that when doctors would remove them with a laser, they would persistently, stubbornly return.

Before each surgery, I tried to play it cool. Tried to be tough. Brave, strong, level-headed. Tried convincing myself that I wasn’t terrified of everything inside this hospital: The weird white cream that numbed the skin on the top of my hand and alleviated the pinch of the IV needle, the people in the masks who would say things like, “We’re almost ready for you,” the too-sterile smell of hospitals that still makes my skin crawl, the warm blankets, the socks with grips on the bottom, the eerily, nauseatingly sweet smell of the anesthesia through the translucent mask.

I was none of the things I pretended to be. I was a frightened, young boy – so unnerved that just about every time the hospital staff wheeled me away from the parent who brought me to surgery this time, the whooshing by of operating room after operating room en route to the one waiting for me would make me vomit out of sheer nervousness.

I failed to be a man, or what I thought was a man, during these moments. Men didn’t puke when fear popped its head around the corner. They looked it in the eye and laughed. I vomited.

Years later, I wondered where, though, did I get these messages about what men in our society do? About who men were? And about how men acted?

From our culture, more than anything else.

I watched entirely too much television growing up – not my parents’ fault, but my own. One thing I’ve learned about TV is that it can be a simple reflection of the goings-on of our culture, our society. Same with movies, music, art, media — all of which fascinated me.

And so, the culture slowly began to impress on me, to construct for me, what a man was.

Culture taught me that men don’t show emotion, unless you’re letting out a primal scream after posterizing someone on the basketball court.

(I was, and still am, too short to dunk.)

Culture taught me that men are never vulnerable, and certainly never act vulnerable, around other people – especially not other men. How unmanly.

Culture taught me that men don’t cry, even though I cried as a child. Another sign I wasn’t a man yet.

It taught me that men aren’t scared.

That men get rich, wear tailored suits and drive nice cars to important appointments.

That men drink, smoke, swear and play by a different set of rules, and it’s awesome. And that when they get together to do these things, their conversations run the gamut of sports, work, women, maybe family — nothing deeper.

Speaking of women, that men have sex with many women, because sex is amazing and the more you can have with lots of women, the better, cooler and more like a man you are.

That, even if they won’t admit it out loud, men think they are higher in the collective pecking order than women.

That men must always be better than the next man, and must care about the next man insofar as he is doing better than him.

That for many (but not all) men, God is separate from daily living and shows up mainly on Sundays and at weddings and funerals.

The list goes on. (You, reader, can likely add to it without much effort.)

I lived most of my life with this general image of a man impressed on me, with some elements sinking in deeper than others. I also lived most of my life knowing this couldn’t be the only design for a man. If so, then what was I to become? Not that.

I grew up attending a Lutheran church, but 2012 is the year I first considered myself a Christian (that’s a story for another time). And these messages between the man culture told me to be and the man God called me to be started to conflict.

Over the course of the last four years, I’ve grappled with this: What does a Christian man’s behavior, along with his inner life, look like? What does he do? How does he think? And how does he act?

And could I possibly be one of those men, despite all the years I’ve spent living in the ambiguous area between trying to fit our societal standards and ignoring the Gospel tugging on my soul?

Yes, God says. You must be this man. And I will help you.

I have learned, or rather, God has taught me, much about what it means to be a man.

I’ve learned I must try to imitate, and be a reflection of, Christ, and try to live a life filled with love, every day. No days off.

I’ve learned it’s OK to express my deepest, most inner emotions, to be vulnerable with others. Jesus wept. He flipped over tables in the temple. He spoke truth to (earthly) power. He didn’t hide his emotions. Why would I?

I’ve learned that, at times, I will be scared, and that God cares about my fears. That God, through His grace, tells me to cast my worries and concerns upon Him, and to be still and know that He is exactly who He says He is.

I’ve learned that my professional life is important, but that my faith in Christ is what I must build my foundation upon.

I’ve learned that my selfish nature, which likely has taken up deeper roots than I can recognize, must die (repeatedly), so that I can live a life worthy of my calling.

I’ve learned that I must confront and repent of my sins, which are not simply a repetitive series of moral shortcomings, but are acts of hostility against a God who has given me so much more than I deserve.

I’ve learned that as God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, I must love her with the deepest kind of love I can summon. That I must love her to the extent I’m willing to sacrifice my life for her, as Christ did the church He loved.

I’ve learned that women, who astonish me every day, deserve nothing less than our utmost respect and admiration. The men in our society often fail at this, and much more, in regard to women.

I’ve learned that, even amid that deep love for my wife, the best way I can love her (and live the life designed for me) is by loving God before all else. And that doing all that I can to praise, honor and glorify Him (and point people toward His son, Jesus) is my obligation.

I’ve learned that I must create conditions in which the people in my life can flourish – spiritually, relationally, professionally. That doing so takes living a disciplined, intentional life where I am no longer the focus, but God is.

I’ve learned that I must care – every day! – about those who are in need, at the bottom, the voiceless.

I’ve learned that I must wake up each day and recognize that Christ died for me and the people around me, even the people whom I don’t like. I must allow this mentality to penetrate not just my mind but also my soul.

I’ve learned that my life might not ever be easy, but it will always be worth it.

Ironically, just like I felt after vomiting from my hospital bed all those times, I still feel like a failure.

If what I outlined above is true, then I fail each day at what I understand a man to be.


The difference now is that I serve a God who will not fail, who cannot fail because failure isn’t in His nature. I serve a God who will help guide me, correct me, regenerate me, convict me, encourage me and love me as I fail.

I still have so much to learn, so much growing to do. I will continue to stumble my way through manhood. But I will do so happily, because I know God, who sent His son to die for me, and who has given me a life and salvation that I do not deserve, will help me along the way.
He’s the man.

A photo by roya ann miller.

Selfishness, Sin, and Forgiveness

Blog post written by Aaron Robertson

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you think: “I’m not going to come out of this one looking good?” Maybe I’m the only one but I regularly find myself in situations where managing my ‘image’ isn’t easy. For me it is usually in situations where my less-than-perfect character is brought to the surface or where my usually well-managed flaws become exposed. Most often it is stress or struggling through relational issues with others that bring out my worst. Life keeps reminding me that I am not as good, righteous, or virtuous as I would like to think.
As much as other people and circumstances can expose these things in my heart, scripture has often been more precise in exposing these things. Philippians 2 is one of those passages that always helps me see my true self. The first five words of Philippians 2:3 are some of the hardest for me to read: “do nothing from selfish ambition.”
Perhaps like me you can read through stretches of scripture and think “I’m doing alright with that.” It is really easy to do with the “do not murder” and “do not steal” passages. As an introvert, when I am feeling like a curmudgeon it is easy to say “I don’t really like talking or people so I don’t need to worry about gossip!” But when I read “do nothing from selfish ambition” all I can think is “oh crap…I screwed that one up.”
If marriage and parenting have taught me anything it is that I am extremely selfish. I thought that many of my vain, narcissistic patterns had already been dealt with when I was younger. However, when my wife and children started messing with my habits and hobbies I found I still have a long way to go.
The truth is that I’d really only learned to minimize the frequency of my selfish moments and I never addressed the selfishness in my heart. The irony is that my minimization of “selfish moments” was only accomplished by living a self-absorbed life ordered around my needs and desires!
Paul could have been so much softer in this Philippians passage. My sinful heart wishes he had been.
He could have said “try not to be selfish” or “as much as possible think about others first.” Paul didn’t take that soft, left-up-to-interpretation approach. He couldn’t leave wiggle room on this because he knows the human heart too well. Paul knows that any grounds left for self-involved thinking will be clung to with fierce desperation. So Paul tells us “do NOTHING from selfish ambition.”
If you are asking “when can I think of myself first?” let me clarify:

  • When pigs fly
  • When hell freezes over
  • Under no circumstances
  • Never ever ever

Those five words, “do nothing from selfish ambition,” are enough to condemn every human heart. I think if we are honest we realize that we all screw this one up every day. The truth isn’t just that we screw up occasionally but that we are screw ups through and through. Selfish ambition is often our M.O.
Paul knows that about us and so this passage is for us. While this is tough to read and impossible to live out, it is precisely because it leaves no wiggle room for interpretation that we should love this verse. There is nothing like seeing our failures to help us see our need for some help.
If Paul had phrased things in a way that left us feeling like we could figure it out on our own, we would be fighting endlessly to do just that. Instead, because there is no escaping Paul on this one, we are left in a position of desperation and helplessness. This is precisely where God wants us because it points us to Christ.

We are screw ups. Every last one of us. There is no figuring it out, no try-a-little-harder, and no chance of leaving behind our selfishness under our own power. We simply don’t measure up.
For you it might not be selfishness. It might be anger. Or lust. Or envy. Whatever it may be for you, when you dig into those issues you end up realizing they all come from a heart of selfishness, just with different symptoms showing up in our lives. Anyway you cut it, we are all living for ourselves and we all fall short of what God asks of us.
God knows this about us and knew that it would take someone besides us to live that out. Selfish ambition can be a path to hell or a flashing neon arrow pointing to Jesus. The Father sent the Son so that we don’t have to live eternity in judgment for our selfish ambition. Instead we can live eternally in Him who forgives and fixes us up.
We rejoice in serving a God who truly does nothing out of selfish ambition. For us, seeing God in all of His glory, power, and magnificence goes a long way towards pulling us out of our own selfishness. The next time you really “screw that one up,” look to the cross. God’s grace is sufficient.
The great news isn’t just that Jesus lived selflessly on our behalf but also that he is actually able to help us live that way ourselves. In Christ and with the power of the Holy Spirit we can die to ourselves and live for others. Just a few words after the challenge to “do nothing from selfish ambition” we learn are encouraged to take on a humble mindset “which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
Humility and selflessness are already ours in Christ Jesus. With His example and the power of the Holy Spirit we too can live that out more and more fully as we become like Him. What great “good news” that we are forgiven for our failings and empowered to be like God.
Repentance and forgiveness are so incredibly powerful for us when we see our sin and learn to go directly to our Savior. We can crucify our selfishness in the flesh and live in Christ. The next time you screw up, don’t beat yourself up. Go seek forgiveness from the one who was beaten up on your behalf.


Men of Hope: Preseason

As you all may be aware based on the fact that NFL training camps are starting, students are coming back after “working” all summer and it cooling off outside (wait…never mind on that last one!), fall is upon us! And with the fall at MOH comes the kick off of our year! We’ve got a lot of great stuff planned for the year, and we’re excited to see how God is going to use MOH to bring glory to himself and expand his kingdom this year.

Have you wondered what MOH’s vision and mission are, and how those influence what we do? Or who the leaders are? Or are you just curious about what is going on this year?

To start the year off well and talk about all that we have planned, we are having MOH Preseason on August 27th at Hope East from 9am-10:30am. The basics of Preseason are that we feed you some coffee and donuts and let you know what MOH will be up to this year! We’ll cast some vision forMOH, let you know why we do what we do, present you with some opportunities for ways to get involved with MOH, go through the events we’ll be having, talk about coaching and the blog, and unveil the Bootcamp theme! We’ll have a chance for you to get to know some people who are also interested in MOH, ask some questions of MOH leadership and let us know if there’s stuff you’d like to see MOH be doing!

We really hope you can join us! Please RSVP here on the City so we know how much food to get and how many guys to prepare for!


Rest More, Kill More Sin: Your Summer Guide to Doing Less

Article by: Aaron Shaw, 6/21/2016

I’ll be the first to say that summer is one is my favorite seasons. When we turn the corner from rainy 40 degree spring to that first 60 degree day with nothing but sunshine, I’m the first one to throw on a pair of shorts, a t-shirt, and grab my shades and drive into work with the windows down, sunroof open, and music cranked up a bit louder than normal.

I grew up wedged between the ocean and 11,000 foot snow-capped mountains in Oregon. Traditionally people ask me two questions about Oregon: “Is Portland as weird as everyone says it is?” (The answer is a resounding yes) and “Does is rain a lot?”  Yes. It rained it a ton. Almost 300 days of rain a year. We lived about a half hour from the ocean and we would frequent the beach a lot. However because it’s Oregon, half of the times we were there it was cloudy, 50, and misty. It made it less appealing to surf, skim board, or take a jaunt through the water. Instead, you’d throw on a North face fleece, grab your Starbucks coffee, an REI beanie, take a short walk, grab a shell or two, and turn around and head back.

Now that I live in Minnesota I experience more sunshine than I ever have. I did give up my oceans and my mountain adventures, but in turn I got more sunshine, great friends, and was introduced to the delightful season of road construction. Maybe the last one isn’t something I’m super thrilled about, but nonetheless, I enjoy having more sunshine available in Minnesota than in Oregon. Summer is a great time to hang out, be with friends, and even spend a weekend at the cabin. Yet, for me summer can also mean that I’m preoccupied more with the sunny weather than I am with my Bible. In years past, summer becomes my playground for hammocking, beach volleyball, late night DQ runs, and bike rides as far as my legs can go. Even though I’m not married and have the time to do whatever I want whenever I want, there’s still an obligation and responsibility that I believe we as men (and women too) must hold up and exalt above our preferences of a leisurely summer with loosened responsibility. Except, I’m not advocating for anyone to do more stuff. In fact, my plea is that we do less.

With the departure of winter and the summer months now in full swing (or 4 months of bad sledding if you choose to look at it like that) we have more sunlight, more outside freedom, and traditionally (for some) more free time. The refreshing nature of summer comes at a time where we need time to recuperate from the crazy fall, winter, and spring. But some of us use that extra daylight or extra free time to do more stuff. I was convicted many times this past month by multiple people, and then God, for not resting well this past year. I hardly took a day to myself or structured in more than a few minutes to myself in a given day. From 6am to 11pm, I was always doing something. Sabbath became somewhat of a foreign concept. It can sound really productive or give a vibe that showcases my “importance”, but overall it is not good.

It’s actually sin.

Not truly resting in God and taking time to become refreshed (like God was AFTER the 7th day in Genesis 2) is pride. It’s saying that we don’t need to take the time to slow down, make time, and commune with the Father. I know we are all busy people with schedules, agendas, people to provide for, and children to take care of. But I still think it’s fascinating that the first thing God makes Holy throughout the creation in Genesis is not people, is not the Earth, however, is time. God ordains time to be Holy.

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” -Genesis 2:3, NIV

If God makes time Holy, it must be important. I think that if we lack in understanding the importance of time and the depth to which God desires us to come to Him for rest, we miss a large part of who God is. If God rested after creating the universe, how much more do you believe we need to rest? Personally, I’ve taken this to heart and found myself much more joyful, satisfied, and refreshed. Yet I didn’t achieve this by simply adding in spiritual disciplines like in prayer or Bible reading on top of my current life. Instead I started to cut my social time, spend less time on my phone/computer, wake up earlier, work less than 50 hours a week, start to say ‘no’ to certain opportunities, and start to value my time with God. I made it a priority to actually do less stuff. In turn, I forged for myself 2 hours a day in my schedule where I don’t do anything with anyone and make that time I would spend with God. Whether I’m painting, reading, praying, listening to worship songs, or going for a solo walk to Stone Arch Bridge, the 2 hours of “God time” I’ve made has been nearly revolutionary. In the New Interpreters Bible Commentary about the Sabbath in Exodus, Walter Brueggemann explained the necessity of rest:

“How is it that a covenantal work stoppage (Sabbath) bears witness to this self disclosing God? The answer is given in the motivational clause: Israel rests because God rests.  This God [YHWH] is not a workaholic. Yahweh has no need to be more secure, more sufficient, more in control, or more noticed. It is ordained in the very fabric of creation that the world is not a place of endless productivity, ambition, or anxiety.”

God wove rest into the very fabric of our creation. Trying to be productive all the time deters the ability to seek God, feel God, know God, and ultimately abandons our ability to truly be image bearers of God. If God rested, so shall we. To deny this is to deny the essence and nature of God and thus undermines Him by our attempts to exalt our time, desires for production and consumption above God’s ordained requirement to be still and know who He is. Walter Brueggemann continued,

“The work stoppage on the Sabbath- the breaking of the vicious cycle of production and consumption is a sign for all the world to see.”

This is the true meaning of rest in Christ Jesus our Lord and King- that we may not seek His will in hopes to perform and please Him, but that we rest and be filled. That we all quietly retreat to commune with the Father in simply just being. If we are stressed out, busy, finding our time slipping away from us, or losing grips with our spiritual compass, taking some time to rest could be the greatest gift God has offered us. Through rest I know we find our ultimate joy, ultimate satisfaction, and supreme direction for our lives: to know God, to be known by God, and to love God! To take time to be away from working, people, and school can free our minds to be with God. To put a stop to our work or play, sit before God, listen, pray, and worship gives God glory. God fills us when we come to Him. We are not human doings, we are human beings. Thus, we should embrace our existence of “being” and be.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!” -Psalm 46:10, ESV


Jesus’ Answer to Anxiety

25“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

-Matthew 6:25-32

I am a father. On August 21, 2015, my wife gave birth to our first child, our daughter Anna. Seeing my daughter born was one of the most – if not the most – exciting moments of my life. It may also have been the most terrifying.  Being responsible for an utterly helpless, completely dependent child has changed the way that I see the world. My wife and I are no longer solely concerned with providing for our own needs. We now have both the responsibility and honor of taking care of a child – in a world that is different from the world I grew up in.

How can I protect her without being overprotective? In what ways will my character affect her – both positively and negatively? What will this world be like in twenty years, or even forty years? Will she come to know and love Christ? These new questions are without answers, and they have lead to new worries that I’ve struggled to learn to deal with.

This led me to the passage above, and particularly the beginning verse 25 and the ending verse 33. In verse 25, Jesus gives us the seemingly unreasonable command not to worry.  Really? Don’t worry? It’s helpful to read on to understand where He’s going with this.

You will notice that the things Jesus mentions not to worry about are needs not wants. In fact, He mentions nothing about our wants. In this, Jesus is telling us that God will provide for our needs but He may not provide for our wants. So Jesus asks us to trust Him, calling us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”.

What does that look like for me and my worries about my family? My natural response is spend my energies creating a safe environment to protect Anna – to keep her safe, to protect her from “bad” things (however we may define that), and to make sure her financial needs are provided for. But ultimately I know that won’t give her what she needs most deeply. True security comes from God, from trusting God and seeking Him. I need to learn to be faithful to Him, and to become a God-honoring husband and father. In doing so, I hope that I will learn to trust that God will take care of the needs of my family.

Blog post written by Ryan Satrom, 2016


Canvas of Impossibility

Article by: Michael Bolland, March 23rd, 2016



I’m not sure I know anyone who, when it comes to a desired success, puts themselves intentionally in a position where their likelihood decreases.

I was always taught to set myself up well for success.

With education, I was told that in order to get a job and live a sustainable life, I needed to get training and knowledge in the field that I would go into.

With athletics, I was told that I needed to prepare at the highest level and in the smartest way possible leading up to a game or competition to put myself in the best position to win.

With finances, especially as a 23 year-old, I’m told to invest and delegate my money wisely to set myself up well for later in life.

With health, the message is that the better I take care of myself in my youth, the more likely my older years are to be full of good health.

These are good teachings, and I would stand strongly by any of them; however, this concept stands completely in contrast with the means to which God displays His sovereign character.

 “Who is like the Lord our God,

the One who sits enthroned on high,

who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?”

(Ps 113:5-6)

John Eldredge, in his book Wild at Heart, mentions something profound about the nature of God: “It’s not the nature of God to limit his risks and cover his bases. Far from it. Most of the time, he actually lets the odds stack up against him.” As examples, Eldredge brings up David against Goliath as well as God’s victorious reduction of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. Then, Eldredge goes on asking us to consider God’s plan to spread the Gospel: “It’s not just a batlle or two that God takes his chances with either. Have you thought about his handling of the gospel? God needs to get a message out to the human race, without which they will perish forever. What’s the plan? First, he starts with the most unlikely group ever: a couple prostitutes, a few fisherman with no better than a second-grade education, and a tax collector. Then, well, he passes the ball to us!” This is nothing short of incredible, and it touches on my point that I’d like to make about God: God doesn’t display His character on the back-drop of the slightly improbable, but upon the canvas of the seemingly impossible. As we look back and see His mastery, we are left to think nothing else but that God had to be responsible. Consider Jesus’ explanation of the kingdom of God from Mark 4:30-32: “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on the earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

Seeing the “largest of all” knowing that it bloomed from the “smallest of all” prompts us to believe that God’s hand had to be over this transformation. God is uniquely capable of taking the smallest, weakest, most frail, and seemingly useless and turning it into the largest, strongest, most sustainable, and most powerful of things. Furthermore, Jesus couldn’t have been more right in his description of the kingdom of God because from what seemed like only handful of pestering Jews, God built an unstoppable worldwide movement called the church of Jesus Christ.

Gamaliel, a Pharisee, in Acts 5:38-39, said: 38 Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. The origin of the gospel being spread is obviously significant to God. He wanted to make sure that there was nothing left in question as to how His message was being moved forth.

Was this message of human origin or was it from God Himself? The nature of men who were God’s messengers—“unschooled and ordinary”—did the opposite of disprove the message’s claimed origin: it actually enhanced the evidence. As I look back and think about the mustard seed of an origin that Christianity had and sift my memory across the face of its history, I’m left in awe of Him who painted and orchestrated it all.

Who among the gods

is like you, Lord?

Who is like you—

majestic in holiness,

awesome in glory,

working wonders?

(Exodus 15:11)

God has been painting a picture of His glory for a long time in the face of the impossible—quite literally, He always has been. Upon the canvas of dark nothingness, the Creator breathed Creation into existence:

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:1-2)

Then, God invited us to do what he always has been doing: displaying His majesty as a God who lives in glory, love, perfection, and complete satisfaction in Himself:

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27)

John Piper put it well when he said: “He made humans in His image to image something, namely Himself. So, our existence is about showing God’s existence, or specifically God’s glory. Which, I think, means God’s manifold perfection: the radiance, the display, the streaming out of his many colored, beautiful perfections.”

However, it wasn’t long before the fabric tore; we chose to give ourselves a different purpose. Instead of being a lighthouse that properly let ships know of the shore, we decided that it was better off that ships kept their attention on us.


Imagine a puzzle strewn about the room—some pieces hidden, some upside down, some bent, some scratched. There’s no way we can tell what the puzzle was supposed to display. We need to be found, turned right side up, bent back, and painted upon what has been scratched off! There’s something missing to this story though, and I want you to feel it.

Forgive me, but I’m asking you to empathize with puzzle pieces:

The pieces hidden are those lost in darkness without a Light to illuminate their purpose.

The pieces upside down are those without an eye to their Conductor to know what to sing.

The pieces bent are those without Aid to walk straight and upright.

The pieces scratched are those marred without a Healing Touch.

Collectively, the puzzle is us—helpless, out of tune, lost, purposeless, and needy. It is in this void that we taste once again our God’s glorious artistry:

“‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

It is the greatest relief to all mankind that God interacts with us in our incapabilities. In the case of salvation, this is a particularly precious intervention. Though we departed from our honorable and privileged purpose of imaging God to live in the feebleness of self-glorification, God graciously grants us an offering of a redemptive return to fulfillment of our purposeful existence. This return, which was impossible for us, was made possible through Jesus Christ. We were dead, so He died that we might rise with Him and be born again into the purpose God had for us since the beginning.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28-29)

Written by Michael Bolland. Michael attends Hope and is involved with the Men of Hope ministry. Michael is an intern with Athletes in Action, a ministry of Cru that focuses on athletes and discipleship. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2015 with a degree in Mathematics. He currently lives in Minneapolis.

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