for love of you, too.

“Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement, and death will be part of your journey, but the Kingdom of God will conquer all these horrors. You are no longer slaves, but sons and daughters–and the fact that you are sons and daughters makes you heirs of the Kingdom by God’s design. The Abba of Jesus loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be. You’ve only checked into the hotel of earth overnight, you’re in route to the heavenly Jerusalem, you’re going to drink new wine forever at the Messianic banquet table. My friends… I didn’t come here to mince words, or beat around the bush, or indulge in wishful thinking. My name is Brennan Manning… I am a son of my Abba and I’m going to that Kingdom.”

Richard Francis Xavier Manning was known to legions of ragamuffins as author, preacher, and Abba’s child. As Brennan Manning, he was a man for whom grace was irresistible. He believed Jesus seeks us beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity… in the morning sun and in the evening rain–when your intellect denies it, your emotions refuse it, your whole being rejects it. He believed God loves without condition or reservation. And on Friday, April 12 at 12:10AM, Brennan completed his earthly journey. He has lept into his Abba’s arms. He has gone to that kingdom.

brennan

“My own glimpse of Jesus moved from obscurity to increasing clarity on a winter’s night, December 13, 1968, in the Zaragoza desert in Spain. I was living in a cave six thousand feet above the village of Farlete, it was 3:00 A.M., and the world was asleep, but my heart was awake to God. During what began as a long and lonely hour of prayer, I heard Jesus say, ‘For love of you I left my Father’s side. I came to you who ran from me, who fled me, who did not want to hear my name. For love of you I was covered with spit, punched and beaten, and fixed to the wood of the cross.’

Although it was thirty-five years ago, this morning in an hour of quiet time, I realized that those words still burned on my life. Whether I am in a state of grace or disgrace, the words impose themselves with the stark realism of objective truth. That night in the cave I stared at a crucifix for hours, figuratively seeing the blood streaming from every wound and pore in Christ’s body; and I heard the cry of his blood: ‘This is not a joke. It is not a laughing matter to me that I have loved you.’ The longer I looked, the more I realized that no man has ever loved me and no woman could ever love me as he does. I cried out in the darkness, ‘Jesus, are you crazy–are you out of your mind to have loved me so much?’”

Brennan Manning, A Glimpse of Jesus, pages 40-41.


Song of Solomon 2:10-13
, John 3:16-17

Who….. me??

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls and, upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matt 13:45-46).

Love array

“The kingdom is compared to the merchant who seeks the pearl, not the pearl itself. It is of paramount importance that we make this simple observation: the kingdom of heaven is not the pearl in this parable; it is the guy seeking the pearl. In… [another] parable, we have some bumbling fool who trespasses and stumbles over a treasure quite by accident. But here we have a merchant who is an expert, and who is always searching – in fact, searching his whole life – for this great pearl. He knows pearls. He is an expert. He knows what he seeks. This person is like the kingdom of God. In other words, God is the merchant.

If God is the merchant, what – or who – is the pearl? Here is the crux of the matter, the amazing fact. We are the pearl. This is the intent of the message: we are a rare and sought-after treasure in the eyes of God. He sees something unseen by our own condemning self: not failure, but beauty. He really, really likes us. He wants us; He perceives enormous beauty and wealth in us. He has become greedy and jealous over us because He is consumed with strong and passionate desire for us.

I will never forget the moment when this first dawned on me. I was going through a number of difficulties; my business was failing, and I had the dreadful task of laying off my trusted and devoted employees who had sacrificed much for me. I had many other problems going on that were even worse. It was a bad time. Meanwhile, in a men’s Bible study, we were going through the parables of Jesus and had just discussed His story of the pearl. As I was taking a shower, I was pondering this seemingly dull and familiar parable when it suddenly hit me: He is the merchant and I am the pearl. Me! I’m the pearl. That means He went and sacrificed all to get me, not just because of some weird theological obligation but because He wanted me and saw great worth in me. When that truth hit me, I cried so hard that my stomach muscles hurt. A switch had turned on inside somewhere, and I finally understood: God really desires me.

God, by His own initiative, likes us. There is none of this nonsense about ‘loving but not liking’ with God. In fact, He is extremely taken with us, to the point of sacrificing all else to have us. We are not battling an attitude in God in which He is constantly ready to condemn us and reject us, ever focused on our flaws and shortcomings. Rather… He has dealt definitely with our flaws, sins and shortcomings because He wants these things swept completely out of the picture. He is excited about us. We are very greatly loved, even as we presently stand.”

Jim McNeely, The Romance of Grace, pages 14-16.

What if the extravagant love of Jesus’ kingdom is not primarily asked of us, but aimed at us?

Isa 43:1-4, Zeph 3:14-17

Something Beautiful.

we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. 2 Cor 5:20
fathers run

“In his treatise, The Rich Man Who Is Saved, Clement of Alexandria writes this edifying narrative:

Listen to a story that is not a story but a true account of John the apostle preserved in memory… arriving at a city near by [Smyrna], he settled disputes among the brethren and then, noticing a spirited youth of superior physique and handsome appearance, commended him to the appointed bishop with the words: ‘I leave this young man in your keeping, with Christ as my witness.’

When John returned to Ephesus, the churchman brought home the youth entrusted to his care, raised him, and finally baptized him. After this he relaxed his oversight, having put the seal of the Lord on him as the perfect safeguard. But some idle and dissolute youths corrupted him with lavish entertainment and then took him with them when they went out at night to commit robbery or worse crimes. Soon he joined them and, like a stallion taking the bit in mouth, he dashed off the straight road and down the precipice. Renouncing God’s salvation, he went from petty offenses to major crimes and formed the young renegades into a gang of bandits with himself as chief, surpassing them all in violence and bloody cruelty.

Time passed, and John paid another visit. When he had finished his mission, John said, ‘Come now, Bishop, return the deposit that Christ and I left in your keeping with the church as witness.’ At first the bishop was dumbfounded, thinking that he was being dunned for funds he had never received. But John said, ‘I am asking for the young man and his soul.’

‘He is dead,’ groaned the old man, in tears.
‘How did he die?’
‘He is dead to God. He turned out vile and debauched: an outlaw. Now he is in the mountains, not the church, with an armed gang of men like himself.’

The apostle tore his clothing, beat his head, and groaned, ‘A fine guardian I left for our brother’s soul! But get me a horse and someone to show me the way.’ He rode off from the church, just as he was. When he arrived at the hideout and was seized by the outlaws’ sentries, he shouted, ‘This is what I have come for: take me to your leader!’ When John approached and the young leader recognized him, he turned and fled in shame. But John ran after him as hard as he could, forgetting his age, and calling out, ‘Why are you running away from me, child – from your own father, unarmed and old? Pity me, child don’t fear me! I will give account to Christ for you and, if necessary, gladly suffer death and give my life for yours as the Lord suffered death for us. Stop! Believe! Christ sent me.’

The young man stopped, stared at the ground, threw down his weapons, and wept bitterly. Flinging his arms around the old man, he begged forgiveness, baptized a second time with his own tears but keeping his right hand hidden [as unworthy of forgiveness for all the bloodshed it had caused]. John, however, assured him that he had found forgiveness for him from the Savior. He prayed, knelt down, and kissed that right hand.”

Eusebius, The Church History, pages 97-98.

What if resembling Jesus is the fruit of trusting in the drastic mercy of Jesus? What if running toward the needs of our neighbor arises from knowing that God’s one-way love is always chasing after us?

Luke 15:20, Acts 7:54-60, Rom 9:1-16

My Church

village

“It’s what everyone needs. Everyone. Gospel + safety + time. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.

Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the present power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures. Constant immersion. Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible.

Safety: a non-accusing environment. No finger-pointing. No embarrassing anyone. No manipulation. No oppression. No condescension. But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls.

Time: no pressure. Not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. No rush. No hurry. But a lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level. If we relax, trusting in God’s patience, we actually get going.

This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s the only way anyone can ever change.

Who doesn’t need that?”

~Ray Ortlund

______________________________________________________________________________

I’ve been attending Village Church at Vinings for a while now. This past Sunday I had the privilege of becoming a member. The co-lead Pastors are Rev. Jonathan Adams and Rev. Curt Benham — I was connected to them through the ministry of Liberate and some mutual friends. No one convinced me to come… or stay. I wanted to visit. I wanted to join. And I want to honor them and our community. The quote above from Ray Ortlund explains my reasons better than I can. So, I’ll just point to that and say: that’s my Church! Not a perfect Church. But a Church for sinners. And I’m beyond grateful to fall into my seat on Sunday at VCV. When I needed it very badly, they gave me Gospel + safety + time.

If you’re looking for a Church in Atlanta, feel free to email: JohnDink@outlook.com
Here’s the Church website and here’s my sermon from a couple weeks ago.

~Peace in the Lord~

And I’ll put away my sword. For thine is the kingdom.

“When I consider how my light is spent
Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,
And that one talent which is death to hide
Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he returning chide,
“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
I fondly ask. But Patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts: who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er land and ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.”

John Milton, On His Blindness.

John 9:41

Ode to Liberate. And Dr. Rod.

liberate

A friend and I had just left our first workshop at Liberate 2012. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt was in the pulpit. I love listening to Rod. He doesn’t just lecture about what he thinks or feels. Rod is a preacher. And that means, he is controlled by a message that he hasn’t crafted. Something foreign has gotten a’hold of Rod. Something that is crafting him, repenting him, faithing him… something he calls the gospel of Jesus. In the chapel at Coral Ridge, Rod preached a blessing of forgiveness, life, and resurrection – he unveiled heaven’s surprise for a weary world. It’s special because you can tell that Rod is more devoted to heralding the message than he is to hearing himself talk. In fact, he spent a great deal of his time with us reading from another theologian’s writing. And as the workshop progressed, something else became very clear – Rod was not there to answer questions. He was there to answer the question. You see, Rod is one of the best at revealing the difference between a speaker and a preacher. A speaker may tell you what could be, would be, or should be true about you. But a man who preaches the gospel dares to declare something into a sinner’s possession. He dares to give you a gift…

I’ve wanted to tell this story for a while – what happened at Liberate that day has been cemented into my memory. It was during a part of the conference that wasn’t even on the itinerary (the best moments in life can’t be scheduled). We were all leaving the chapel and Rod was practically begging for me to introduce myself – so, I chased after him through the crowd of people. He made himself accessible to the group of us following him… finally, there was only one guy standing between me and Rod. But, the man talking to him had a whole laundry list of concerns. His long series of questions about faith and practice began to unravel, but none of Rod’s answers had much stopping power. For every reply that Rod offered, the man plowed through it with another inquiry. Then, something happened. In real time, it was only a matter of seconds – but I felt like I was watching it all in slow motion. So, I’ll try to be precise… 1) Rod had been standing at a socially acceptable talking distance, then 2) Rod moved into a distance of approximately one ankle-hair away from the other man’s face. 3) Rod’s post-workshop sermon was about to begin…

Rod surged forward and said, “You’re getting in, son!” The man looked shocked. He struggled to reply, “but… I…” – and Rod cut him off, “You are getting in, son. You’re getting IN!” The man stammered, “but…if…” – again, Rod growled, “YOU’RE IN!” I watched as the young man became motionless. Rod’s words invaded – they moved through the man, like he was listening to them echo off the bottom of his heart. Finally, the man smiled and Rod walked away. As for me, I quietly rescheduled my appointment with Rod – and I tried to decide whether I would laugh out loud or burst into tears. It was beautiful. It was like a rush of fiery wind. It was like I said… a preacher doesn’t answer questions. He answers the question. The trouble is – gospel preachers are few and far between. And honestly, we tend to prefer men that are experts at speaking eloquently without ever really saying anything. The flesh likes a sermon that will buy us a little more time in limbo – not too hot, not too cold. On the other hand, it takes an ambassador of Christ to declare law and gospel. And it takes a chief of weakness to answer the questions we’re too strong to ask. Rod heard a cry for help and he dove through the fog. In a secret place, like many of us, I believe that man was praying under his breath: “God… am I close to your heart? Am I forgiven? Is there room for me, a sinner?” And Rod stuffed his pockets with the “YES!” of God in Christ…

I’ll cut to the chase. This story stirs some serious questions: is this a glimpse of heaven or blasphemy? I mean, did this young man even believe the gospel? Did anyone check that guy for faith before Dr. Rod let him loose into the kingdom? You see – we have this tendency to think that faith is something we can muster. And if we don’t define faith as a supernatural gift of hearing, it is destined to become a work we use to merit grace. In other words, faith can easily become a prerequisite for sitting under gospel preaching. Functionally – it’s like we’re demanding that people learn to dance before the music even starts to play. It’s empty of the power of God’s foolish love for sinners, because we act like faith grows out of flesh. Instead, Paul says “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?… faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14,17). Many of us have heard the word of the law. A student of the law will learn how to believe in guilt, shame, and fear – but he believes in condemnation only. In fact, if he has any hope in himself at all, he clearly has not understood the curse. If the law has truly done its work, the poor sinner will not expect to be pardoned – quite the opposite. When we preach God’s law with demands as high as heaven, we preach it rightly. I’ll say it another way – when the law is preached rightly, he is personified as a righteous juggernaut that thwarts every chance we have at becoming King of the Hill. The law is God’s holy hitman in the game of religion – he trips up every climber and sends us plummeting into the valley of death. Yet, the valley of death is where Jesus builds his kingdom. For those who admit their spiritual life has become a downward spiral – they are given faith-eyes to see a King who waits with open arms. Our heavenly Father has condescended in Christ to catch his falling children. Down is the only way up to Him. And the announcement of the Gospel turns this journey into a trust fall…

The more we cling to the rock of our performance, the more exhausting our fall becomes. The longer we live in our own strength and attempt to regain control, the more foolish faith appears to be. And the better we become at clawing our way to the top, the more threatening grace will seem in our relationship with God and our neighbor. The ladder of God’s law denies passage to every sinner. The standards are too steep. But there is another word from the Lord that will speak for sinners – the word of Christ. You see, the law declares that we have fallen in Adam. But the gospel promises that we’ll be caught in Christ. Look at it this way – we are falling, and the devil wants us to spend our lives arguing with gravity. But the gospel is an invitation to stop struggling against the fall. It’s a major paradigm shift. I do not nullify the rescue waiting below me – if we could climb up ourselves, then a Messiah would be pointless. So then, my struggle is actually against my natural urge to ascend. The Christian life is a leap away from the cliffs of law. We’re called to descend into the depths of God’s grace. The new man learns to fall freely into his own humanity. He learns that he is free to just be along for the ride of redemption. He learns to smile at the most inopportune times and sweep away the safety nets. Yes, he must even surrender his own sanctification into God’s hands. The law clips the wings that strive, and the gospel beckons us to dive. We dive deep into the gospel of our Savior and, eventually, our fall may even resemble something peaceful, and fearless, and loving. The gospel dive gives us a new sort of wings. They can’t be seen by worldly wisdom, but they will bring us to God sure enough. They are the wings that wait on the Lord and let the weight of grace pull us into his presence. They are the wings of faith that grow from hearing someone finally say, “Jesus loves you.” The great preacher, Gerhard Forde, said it best: “in spite of our reluctance and timidity, it isn’t some herculean task we are being asked to do. It has all been done. All we have to do is say it; just let the bird fly!”

I’m hoping and praying that this story warms your heart like it does mine. If it does, I don’t doubt your life and ministry will be changed by it – but, that’s just part of coming to grips with your own belovedness. Lately, this story has made me think of the famous Spurgeon quote, “if sinners be damned… let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay.” That’s what Rod did. He let the bird fly. He wrapped that young man in the heart of God. And, that’s the only place where people learn to believe. Until glory, we’ll all need to be squeezed in God’s gospel-hug… until we quit climbing and cry Abba. As for me – Jesus got me too. He abducted me with an alien word from far outside the camp of self: “I have climbed and bled out for you. It is finished! You’re in.” But I’ll say this… it doesn’t take very long for me to doubt that. It doesn’t take very long before I stop believing in God’s love. If that sounds like you too… there’s going to be a bunch of us gathered at the Liberate Conference this year. We’ve all lost the game, so now we’re huddling around victory in Christ. None of us are King of the Hill. The scoreboard reads “Grace alone” forever… and if you’re okay with that, register here and please come remind me about all this stuff in a couple weeks. I’ll need reminding by then.

lesmis

“Do you hear the people sing?
Singing a song of liberated men?
It is the music of a people
Who will not be slaves again!”

Gentlemen, start your engines?

ironwarrior
Happy 2013 — ’tis the season for New Year’s resolutions. So, some clarity from Berkhof on sanctification came to mind… it’s a sobering reminder, aimed at the ways we tend equate our Father’s house with bigger-faster-stronger living. Instead, Jesus makes his home with those who mourn. He waits for the weak. He conquers by laying down his life. God’s kingdom is a gift for any receiver — yet, it is hidden from those armed with willpower instead of faith.

“Sanctification is a work of the Triune God, that is ascribed more particularly to the Holy Spirit in Scripture. It is particularly important in our day, with its emphasis on the necessity of approaching the study of theology anthropologically and its one-sided call to service in the kingdom of God, to stress the fact that God, and not man, is the author of sanctification. Especially in view of the Activism that is such a characteristic feature of American religious life, and which glorifies the work of man rather than the grace of God, it is necessary to stress the fact over and over again that sanctification is the fruit of justification, that the former is simply impossible without the latter, and that both are the fruits of the grace of God in the redemption of sinners. Though man is privileged to cooperate with the Spirit of God, he can do this only in virtue of the strength which the Spirit imparts to him from day to day. The spiritual development of man is not a human achievement, but a work of divine grace. Man deserves no credit whatsoever for that which he contributes to it instrumentally… A man may boast of great moral improvement, and yet be an utter stranger to sanctification.”

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, pages 535, 532.

Matthew 6

Pray then like this: “Our Father”

prodigal
“Abba – if I had my life to live over again, I’d climb more mountains, swim more rivers and watch more sunsets. But most of all, I would love your Son Jesus and those around me, and I would let them know before life’s evening.

Abba – if I had my life to live over again, I’d eat more ice cream and less beans. I’d take more trips and burn more gasoline. But most of all, I would love your Son Jesus and the least of my brothers and sisters, and I would let them know before life’s evening.

Abba – you know how I tend to live every day. I never go anywhere without a water bottle, a snack, a raincoat, an umbrella, a parachute and a raft. But if I had my life to live over again, I’d take a few more chances next time. I’d have more real problems and fewer imaginary ones. I’d ride more merry-go-rounds, I’d pick more daisies. I’d go barefoot earlier in the Spring and I’d stay out later in the Fall.

But most of all, I would love your Son Jesus and those around me, and I would let them know before life’s evening. Amen.”

Brennan Manning

~Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones, peace in the Lord~

If you’re looking for ways to encounter law and gospel with family, you can find it on the big screen… Les Mis comes out Christmas Day!

Love died once for all, and never again. God is forgiving.

Tree of Life


“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life: the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself- accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself- get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them, to have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it… when love is smiling through all things. They taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end.”

Mrs. O’Brien – the way of Grace:

-The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.
-Do good to them. Wonder. Hope.
-I will be true to you. Whatever comes.
-Help each other. Love everyone. Every leaf. Every ray of light. Forgive.

Mr. O’Brien – the way of Nature:

-Your mother’s naïve. It takes fierce will to get ahead in this world. If you’re good, people take advantage of you.
-If you want to succeed, you can’t be too good.
-Don’t let anyone tell you there’s anything you can’t do.

Jack – becoming human:

-Mother, Father. Always you wrestle inside me.
-What I want to do, I can’t do. I do what I hate.
-I didn’t know how to name You then. But I see it was You. Always You were calling me.
-Mother. It was [she] who led me to Your door.

The film is slow. Painful and beautiful. The characters trace the subtle lines of law and grace — yet, the two forces collide with an explosive incompatibility. We tend to write off some of the differences between these two trajectories as simple semantics, but the film helps to reveal that there is a pure dichotomy at the root of our chaos. The Tree of Life is very well done — an excellent vision of the struggle between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of love. Without the God of mercy, we exist in a state of alienation and our methods are shaped by fear — fear that lives through endless attempts to be important and have control. In the end, it becomes evident that we can never experience awe and wonder if we’re just out to make our mark on the world. We may plead our good intentions along the way, but grace cannot be grafted into the old creation… grace is the seed that grows all things new. At great length, we see that we are being directed by two different paths: the way of nature is always calling us to be more aggressive, but the way of grace always beckons us to be more receptive.

~Happy Thanksgiving, peace in the Lord~