Sometimes the Monday low after a Sunday high requires something sweet…
“Let me sit inside your silence; let me ease the hurt you hide…”
Sometimes the Monday low after a Sunday high requires something sweet…
“Let me sit inside your silence; let me ease the hurt you hide…”
The love of God for sinners is not a concept or a category…it’s a person. Jesus is God’s love language.
I’m not sure I’ve read anything outside of the Bible that captures the love of God in the passion and person of Jesus like these sentences from Francis Spufford’s book Unapologetic:
Just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside. He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a pedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. Someone kicks him as he goes by, and whoops, down he goes, flat on his nose with the cross pinning him like a struggling insect. Jesus is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement. And as he struggles on he recognizes every roaring, jeering face. He knows our names. He knows our histories.
And since, as well as being a weak man, he’s also the love that makes the world, to whom all times and places are equally present, he isn’t just feeling the anger and spite and unbearable self-disgust of this one crowd on this one Friday morning in Palestine; he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough. I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you. I am the light behind the darkness. I am the shining your shame cannot extinguish. I am the ghost of love in the torture chamber. I am change and hope. I am the refining fire. I am the door where you thought there was only wall. I am what comes after deserving. I am the earth that drinks up the bloodstain. I am gift without cost. I am. I am. I am. Before the foundations of the world, I am.
Some of the best, mind-blowing paragraphs I’ve ever read on grace come from Robert Capon. The following sentences on preaching made me sing:
I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills…and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross–and then be brave enough to stick around while [the congregation] goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.
But preachers can’t be that naughty or brave unless they’re free from their own need for the dope of acceptance. And they wont be free of their need until they can trust the God who has already accepted them, in advance and dead as door-nails, in Jesus. Ergo, the absolute indispensability of trust in Jesus’ passion. Unless the faith of preachers is in that alone-and not in any other person, ecclesiastical institution, theological system, moral prescription, or master recipe for human loveliness–they will be of very little use in the pulpit.
There are way too many “good, religious kids” in the pulpit these days pushing the idea that is most naturally comfortable to all of us: “proper human behavior is key to [our] relationship with God.” May God raise up a generation of preachers who fearlessly storm the gates of “just do it” religion with the jaw-dropping, chain-breaking, cage-rattling, freedom-inducing words of our Savior from the cross: “It is finished.” I pray everyday for God to unleash desperate preachers who are bold enough to push the irrational logic of His grace in the face of enslaved people.
So…go on preachers, I dare you. In fact, I double-dog dare you. There’s no better time to abandon your preaching to those three game-changing, paradigm-shattering words than today–Good Friday!
Anything I could or would say about the experience you’re about to have would simply take away from its pure perfection.
So…sit back, relax, and “dream on little dreamers.”
Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls…I give you trance at its finest.
For a while, my parents were getting Reader’s Digest every month while I was growing up. Because they were stored in the bathrooms, they were widely read. In each and every issue there was an interview with some celebrity, usually an actor or an athlete. Reader’s Digest’s favorite kind of celebrity was the “self-made” variety: someone who had come from nothing, preferably a broken home in which the single mother had to work multiple jobs to afford the windows that protected the family from the ceaseless gunfire outside. The interviewers inevitably ended their pieces by asking the celebrity something like, “If you could offer one piece of advice to our readers, what would it be?” (In fact, this makes up the bulk of Reader’s Digest…the part that isn’t ads. It’s full of pithy little pieces of advice for an improved life: “For a fun afternoon with the kids, try making caramel apples! To sleep better, try eating more blueberries! For a more fulfilling marriage, try going camping together!”) The celebrity would always say something like, “The one thing I would like to tell your readers is that you can’t let anyone tell you that you can’t accomplish your dreams. I’m walking evidence of that. If you want something badly enough, and work at it hard enough, you can accomplish anything at all.”
So much Christianity has become Reader’s Digest Christianity: “Jesus can help you achieve your dreams. He’ll go ninety-nine yards if you just go one. Do a little and he’ll do a lot. God helps those who help themselves.”
The Kingston Trio has a great song called “Desert Pete” about a man crawling through the desert, dying of thirst, who comes upon a decrepit old water pump. Next to the pump he finds a bottle of water. There’s a note, too. The note next to the bottle says that he has to use the water to prime the pump before he can drink any. Here’s part of the chorus:
You’ve got to prime the pump. You must have faith and believe.
You’ve got to give of yourself ‘fore you’re worthy to receive.
You’ve got to give before you get.
That sounds like a lot of preaching these days. “Do for God and then he’ll do for you”, “Do your best and then God will do the rest.” It’s Reader’s Digest Christianity.
I’ve said before that for every good story in the Old Testament, there is a bad children’s song. Perhaps one of the most well-known is “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” You know the one:
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho;
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, And the walls came tumbling down!
You may talk about your men of Gideon,
You may talk about your men of Saul;
But there’s none like good old Joshua and the battle of Jericho.
I know what you’re thinking: “C’mon, Tullian. Don’t be such a cynic. It’s just a cute, harmless way of helping children remember the story.” Ok, ok. I’m not saying that knowing, liking, or even singing that song is bad. But the song doesn’t really tell the story. Or, more accurately, it leaves out the most important part of the story.
But it’s not only the children’s song that leaves out the most important part of the story. More concerning to me is the fact that most sermons and Sunday School lessons do too.
You remember the story, don’t you? Joshua comes up against the city of Jericho. The people of Jericho built huge walls around their city because they wanted to protect themselves from this “God” they had heard so much about—a God who split the Red Sea in half for his people. Verse 1 says that the inhabitants of Jericho hid behind those walls, “not going out and not coming in.” And God’s big plan was to have Joshua’s army walk around the city for six days and then on the seventh day, walk around the city seven times concluding with a huge shout from God’s people. When the walls of Jericho “come tumbling down,” it seems as though Joshua’s faithfulness (and willingness to follow through on this ridiculous plan) is being rewarded. So this Joshua-at-Jericho story seems, at first glance, to fit perfectly with Reader’s Digest Christianity.
We read the story (or hear the sermons) and sing the song and make this whole account about Joshua and how he bravely fought the battle of Jericho and how as a result of his great faith, the walls came tumbling down and he led his people into the Promised Land. And then we turn it into nothing more than a moral lesson: “If we, like Joshua, have great faith and bravely fight the battles in our lives, we will see our personal walls of sin come tumbling down and enter into the Promised Land of spiritual maturity.”
When we read the story of Joshua this way, we demonstrate that we’ve completely missed the hinge on which this story turns. This whole story hinges on the placement of one verse: “See, I have handed Jericho over to you, along with its king and soldiers” (Joshua 6:2). The key point is that God hands Jericho over to Joshua BEFORE Joshua does what God wants! We expect God to say something more like, “If you do this crazy thing—if you prove your faith to me—I’ll reward your faithfulness by being faithful in return.” But in God’s economy, his promise precedes our faith! In fact, his promise CAUSES our faith. So, as it turns out, this story completely breaks down Reader’s Digest Christianity. It’s like a wrecking ball. God’s economy is the opposite of Desert Pete’s: you get before you give!
God’s word is creative (his words “let there be light” actually create light): when he calls someone “faithful” they become so. When he declares someone “righteous,” they are righteous. God makes his pronouncements at the BEGINNING, before any improvement or qualification occurs—before any conditions are met. God decides the outcome of Joshua’s battle before anyone straps on a shield or picks up a sword. And he not only decides to deliver unconditionally; he does so single-handedly. No one lifts a finger to dismantle the wall—the promised victory is received, not achieved. So, in the end, the seemingly harmless song is wrong and misleading because Joshua did NOT fight the Battle of Jericho. God did. Joshua and the Israelites simply received the victory that God secured.
Of course, this battle points us to another battle that God unconditionally and singlehandedly fought for us. It points us to another victory that God achieves and that we receive. We are the ones trapped inside the fortified walls of sin and death—of fear and anxiety and insecurity and self-salvation—and Jesus’ “It is finished” shout from the cross alone causes the walls of our self-induced slavery to come tumbling down. Real freedom, in other words, comes as a result of his performance, not yours; his accomplishment, not yours; his strength, not yours; his victory, not yours.
That’s good news!
A few weeks ago I publicly confessed my two decade long addiction to EDM. And since then I have been posting weekly installments of this type of music to hopefully convert some and rally others. As I said to a friend via email yesterday, no music uncovers and explores the longing for love and the deep emotions tucked down inside me like EDM.
As I said in my original post a few weeks ago, the way that the best of these DJ’s/Producers are able to create moods and take the listener deep is nothing short of brilliant. They are maestros of emotion. The complexity and chemistry of sounds is magical, poetic, romantic and powerful. I know, it’s not for everybody (what kind of music is, after all?). I’m fully aware that growing up in South Florida where this music totally “fits” the sights, sounds, and smells may be part of the reason it is so ingrained in my heart and head. But try it. You may like it. It may loosen you up, chill you out, and make you dream of rooftops, ocean breezes, palm trees, city lights, and losing yourself in the one you love.
And there may be no one who does this better than my man, Kaskade (Ryan Raddon). He just “gets it.” He’s a clean-cut, non-drinking, non-drug using, husband and father of three who looks just like my boy Ben Peays (Executive Director of The Gospel Coalition. Of course, Ben is slightly better looking, but I say that only because I promised Ben I’d say that today). Kaskade is a minister of moods. He’s been at it for a long time and is in many ways, THE leader in the industry. I call his sound “happy house.”
There’s a lot more where this came from and I encourage you to look him up and try him out. It’ll do your heart good. Trust me.
So…without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I give you…Kaskade.
A couple weeks ago my good friend Jean Larroux, senior pastor of Southwood Church in Huntsville, AL interviewed me about LIBERATE and the gospel. Jean has taken it on the chin (and in the groin) for preaching the gospel of grace without qualifications and footnotes…and I love him for it. I cheer him on from a distance and am happy and honored to be on his team. Semper Reformanda, amigo!
What is LIBERATE all about? Is it just a conference or something more?
Back in 2010 I was traveling around the country speaking about God’s grace and the radical truth that Jesus + Nothing = Everything. Regardless of where I was people would come up to me and ask two questions (often through tears): 1. Is what you just said true? and 2. If it is, why have I been in church my whole life and never heard this before?
They were trapped in a checklist version of the Christian faith where they heard 100 sermons about how to live the Christian life but precious few on the Christ who lived and died for us. As a result, they were weighed down and burdened by the mistaken notion that the focus of the Christian faith is the life of the Christian. I knew the church needed to get back to the robust and liberating doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone and what that actually means for life and relationships. We came up with “Liberate” which started as a conference but has now grown to much more—it is now an annual conference, a well-resourced website, publishing projects, a pastors network, partnerships with churches and a lot more. It’s growing faster than we know what to do. There are a lot of people out there (especially pastors) who are being awakened to the radicality of the gospel of grace and rethinking everything as a result. We want to resource the church universal in any and every way that we can. I feel like a paradigm shift back to grace alone is happening and I’m just happy that Liberate has been positioned by God to help lead that charge.
Isn’t all this emphasis on grace going to make Christians lazy and ignore holiness?
[Laughs] We hear that all the time, don’t we? I always want to ask people who say that, “So are you saying that love does not produce love?” Their question assumes that the law (instruction, rebuke, exhortation) has the power to produce love. But the Bible says just the opposite. Paul makes it clear in Romans 7 that the law shows you what love looks like but has no power to actually make you loving. It can show you what to do and what you’re not doing but it can’t stimulate loving action.
Think about it—what does it do to your heart when you’re persistently criticized for failing to do something? Does that criticism make you want to do it? Does judgment engender loyalty and love? Or does it produce relational distance and frustration? The only thing that produces true love and heart-driven loyalty is love. Sanctification is nothing more and nothing less than love for God and love for others (it is the life long process of being compelled by Christ’s love) and 1 John tells us how love happens— “we love Him because He first loved us.” It is right and it is our duty to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, but the command itself doesn’t produce the love that is commanded. The only thing that produces love for God and love for others is love from God.
Is LIBERATE just for professional Christians or can “normal” people go too? How do we connect?
Liberate is connecting God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world. I’ve never met anyone who is not exhausted. I’m not talking about exhausted because we’re too busy raising children and trying to pay the bills. I’m talking about emotional exhaustion, relational exhaustion and living on a treadmill of performance to ensure that our lives are meaningful. All of those things are just our own frantic attempts at self-justification. Liberate is for weary and heavy-laden people like that. Therefore this message is not just for professional Christians or pastors. It is not just for old people, young people, married people or single people—it literally is for humans. All of us, every human being who needs the rest that only Jesus offers.
If you had to condense the Gospel into an “elevator pitch” how would you describe it?
The gospel is the good news that Jesus has come to do and secure for you and me what we could never do or secure for ourselves. And He has come to freely give to you and me what we could never get for ourselves. No one wants to live a meaningless life. Everyone wants to matter. Most of our pursuits are fueled by this thirst—this longing to validate our existence. To justify ourselves. To rescue ourselves. To set ourselves free. And the gospel is the good news that Jesus has come to set the captives free. The gospel is an announcement, a declaration that One has lived for us and died for us.
At Southwood we often talk about the Gospel redefining our identity. You are Billy Graham’s grandson. How does the Gospel free you to rightly rejoice in who you were born to be and concurrently reject some persona that people would falsely expect you to be?
Trying to do it all will cause an inevitable crash and burn. That happened to me just after coming to Coral Ridge. When you are flat on your back, you finally get honest with God and yourself. One of the greatest gifts that come when you reach the end of yourself is the fresh realization that your identity—who you are—is ultimately anchored in Christ’s performance not your own—His obedience, not mine. I am defined by His work for me, not my work for Him. So who we really are in Christ has absolutely nothing to do with us. It has nothing to do with our behavior (good or bad), or our family background. What relieves me of the pressure to perform is the realization that I wake up every morning with something infinitely better than a clean slate. I wake up perfectly loved and perfectly accepted despite my unclean slate.
For EDM lovers like me, Miami was the place to be this weekend. The City of Sound played host to the Ultra Music Festival, an annual event every March that started back in 1999. Every year it gets better and better. There is no way I could possibly explain the experience.
The best set of the whole festival (in my opinion) was played by Above & Beyond. A three man British DJ team consisting of Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki, Above & Beyond formed in 2000. They started the London-based electronic dance music labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, and they also host a weekly radio show called Group Therapy Radio. I call their genre of EDM “emotional trance.” They are flat-out masters of moods. The way they blend sounds, beats, and vocals is emotionally spell-binding. Their set at Ultra this year was musically mesmerizing.
They played a song I hadn’t heard before and it immediately swept me off my feet.
So…without further ado here’s “You Got to Believe” by Above & Beyond featuring Zoë Johnston.
Eugene Peterson draws a contrast between Augustine and Pelagius, two fourth-century theological opponents. Pelagius was urbane, courteous, convincing, and liked by everyone. Augustine squandered away his youth in immorality, had a strange relationship with his mother, and made many enemies. Yet Augustine started from God’s grace and got it right, whereas Pelagius started from human effort and got it wrong. Augustine passionately pursued God; Pelagius methodically worked to please God. Peterson goes on to say that Christians tend to be Augustinian in theory but Pelagian in practice. They work obsessively to please other people and even God.
Each year in spring, I fall victim to what the sports announcers diagnose as “March Madness.” I cannot resist the temptation to tune in to the final basketball game, in which the sole survivors of a sixty-four-team tournament meet for the NCAA championship. That most important game always seems to come down to one eighteen-year-old kid standing on a freethrow line with one second left on the clock. He dribbles nervously. If he misses these two foul shots, he knows, he will be the goat of his campus, the goat of his state. Twenty years from now he’ll be in counseling, reliving this moment. If he makes these shots, he’ll be a hero. His picture will be on the front page. He could probably run for governor. He takes another dribble and the other team calls time, to rattle him. He stands on the sideline, weighing his entire future. Everything depends on him. His teammates pat him encouragingly, but say nothing.
One year, I remember, I left the room to answer a phone call just as the kid was setting himself to shoot. Worry lines creased his forehead. He was biting his lower lip. His left leg quivered at the knee. Twenty thousand fans were yelling, waving banners and handkerchiefs to distract him. The phone call took longer than expected, and when I returned I saw a new sight. This same kid, his hair drenched with Gatorade, was now riding atop the shoulders of his teammates, cutting the cords of a basketball net. He had not a care in the world. His grin filled the entire screen.
Those two freeze-frames—the same kid crouching at the free throw line and then celebrating on his friends’ shoulders—came to symbolize for me the difference between ungrace and grace.
The world runs by ungrace. Everything depends on what I do. I have to make the shot.
Jesus calls us to another way, one that depends not on our performance but his own. We do not have to achieve but merely receive. He has already earned for us the costly victory of God’s acceptance.
Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Last Monday I confessed my addiction to House Music and all of its genres–an addiction I’ve been nurturing since I was 19. I also promised you that each Monday I would introduce you to a different song with the hope that you too might develop a taste for the sound and the emotion that it elicits.
Meet Eric Prydz–the Swedish DJ who has been creating delectable moods with his music for a long time now. His first break-through track “Call on Me” (which sampled Steve Winwood’s hit “Valerie”) came out in 2004. I’ll never forget first hearing it and being drawn in immediately. Well, since then he has become quite the trendsetter in the industry and last week he released his newest track called (drumroll please….) “Liberate”! I’d like to think I had something to do with the naming of the song Technically, this song would be considered “progressive house”, but I call it “happy house.”
I hope you like it as much as I do…