Let’s Not Waste Our Vapor On Safety

Coffee with Jesus-2

It’s easy to reduce people to walking trees.

But she’s not just a mean girl who spreads nasty sexual rumors about others.

She’s a maladapted splintered soul who was molested by her uncle at the age of four.

He’s not just a hopeless stoner who skips school to smoke and fight club with his buddies.

He’s a directionless fatherless son trying to take care of a mother struggling with meth addiction.

I recently read about a morbid scandal in California that included explicit sexual acts. At a Lutheran preschool. Between four-year olds. My heart hemorrhaged at that news.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to home school my sons forever and a day. Shelter them from the nasty asteroids of the world and demons who live in children of men. We could live on the fringes of town with the doomsday preppers, cursing the darkness while drinking my pet goat’s milk and storing up an arsenal of Walking Dead level weaponry. Safe from the stains of fellow humanity.

But it’s hard to reach people with your back turned to them.

It’s easier to cry “anathema” from a proud hill than enter uncomfortably into the valley that’s cursed. Only armed with the counter intuitive swords of intercessory prayer, sacrificial love, and words of peace.

The world’s default is darkness. And we have the only illumination that will quell it.

God never called us to safety. He called us to salt and light living, but not safety. Even in a sanitized bubble existence, germs and cancer can reach us there. Old age will reach us there. The question then is not how or when we die, but what we die for.

We’re all given a fleeting vapor to work with.

I’ll do my God-given best to protect my sons from the wiles of the world; but they’ll have to jump from the nest soon enough. Wherever they land I pray they will each take ownership of their own cross. That they will work out the implications of being in, but not of, a world that is both lethal and beautiful. Perilous and precious. That it would be done with hard thinking and risky living.

In the process maybe they’ll learn how to live well and die well. The hardest part is the simplicity of “just living.”

It’s a process their daddy hasn’t quite figured out yet.

And I pray they grow to see all people as precious souls not stone facades. Bruised, neglected, twisted, torn, souls. That they’d be better than their daddy in that regard. That they’d see their overwhelming need to receive and grant this indiscriminate grace.

A living grace found in one person:

Jesus. Only Jesus. Just Jesus.

Bryan Daniels

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The Beautiful Gift Of Ugly Love This Valentine’s Day

Familiarity to a Bible verse can breed negligence.

We’ve see it on Tim Tebow’s eyepaint and memorized it in VBS when we were four years old. But we should not approach John 3:16 lightly, as Spurgeon said, “like children, playing marbles with God’s diamonds.”

“For God so loved….”

We can never get over that truth. We can never get past it and on to deeper matters.

There is still an untouched uncharted ocean that dwells within John 3:16. This love that God loves with is an “agapao” love, or the most emphatic form of love. It’s not just that God loved the world, it is that he intensely loved the world. And the force of the word is coupled with way he loved (so loved), literally meaning,

“God intensely loved the world in this way….”

God is not your distant deadbeat dad. God is a God who loves. That means He feels. He knows devotion. He knows affection. He knows heartache. He has emotions.

Stop reading, turn the computer off, and let that settle down into your soul deeps.

The transcendent One is an emotional being. Human emotional makeup is so twisted with jealousy and prone to instability. But we have emotions only because our gracious Originator had them first. And it is He who has granted them to us.

Unlike us, the Father is neither stoic nor unstable with His emotions. God’s emotions are perfect. His love is a perfect love (1 John 4:18). His jealousy is a perfect jealousy (Exodus 34:14). When He loves, He does it with precise intensity and purpose. He’s not a distant watchmaker or security guard with mace spray. He doesn’t dwell in a cloud of unknowing.

He burns with perfect passion.

He delights to love;

He delights to manifest this love to the world.

“For God so loved the world…”

This love was meant for the world. Not for Jews only, or Americans only, or the Reformed only.

Every one.

The redneck dude that cut you off in traffic and showed you his tall finger.

The online bully chick who is spreading nasty Facebook rumors about your sex life.

The Pharisee. The prostitute. Republican. Democrat. Even the Independent. Rich. Poor. Catholic. Atheist. There is no distinction in the kingdom of free grace. Divisive human categories be damned.

We’re all in this great cosmic mass of fallen humanity together.

“For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son….”

This is a love grounded in action. For an infinitely less significant analogy imagine this: You are a powerful King and you beckon your only son and heir of your throne for a mission. You tell him:

“There is something I want you to do for me: I have some enemies who want to wipe us from the earth and murder our family name. Now, I want you to go and die in their place, so that they can have eternal life and inherit my whole kingdom.”

That’s what the Father and Son did at the cross; and incalculably more than that times a billion billions.

This is a face melting, soul rocking, mind exploding divine arrangement.

My sons would stay home safely in my arms forever before I would ever imagine sending them to die for a thousand martyrs or missionaries. But the Father’s love was too great. God sends his son to die not for the nice and clean, but the vile and dirty. His love is altogether not like any we have experienced. There is no category for this love in the shallow human realm of categorizing.

God’s love is grounded in a decisive sacrificial act, not just a thoughtful feeling or obligatory side hug.

God the Father looked at his perfect, precious Son in one hand, and the snarling mass of wretched humanity in the other, and he literally crushed the blessed Son with a holy hand meant for us (Isaiah 53:10). This was the blessed eternally begotten Son, ripped from the bosom of the Father to endure an agonizing hell for mankind.

The ugliest most beautiful sight in the universe.

Terrifying.

Irresistible.

Crazy.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”

All the flimsy little preconceived groups we place people in are futile in eternity. It may be red state/blue state, black/white, rich/poor, or any other temporary niche. But there are essentially only two enduring groups: Those who will perish without the Son or those who will live with Him. Those who acquire God’s deserving justice or those who acquire God’s undeserving mercy.

In one thousand years nothing else will matter above that.

We are not left to our own devices. God graciously provides a means for us to accomplish His eternally good end. The God who loves and gave lavishly out of that love says, “Believe in Me. Trust in me. Put your faith in Me.”

There is much that the word “believe” entails.  It is a type of believing that perseveres for Christ. It is a type of trusting that exalts with joy in Christ. It is a type of faith that knows the dead heart can only be raised with the power in Christ. And part of that believing is a repenting before Christ.

Maybe repentance is the gift we really need this Valentine’s Day. Whether we’re married, dating or single:

Repent for chasing lesser lovers because I believe Christ is not sufficient for all my needs.

Repent for allowing a fallen culture to tell me singleness is the same as aloneness.

Repent for my part in contributing to the commercialization and plundering of the word “love” in society.

Repent for believing God’s love is a reflection of human love and not the other way around.

Repent because the love of God set forth in John 3:16 has been memorized by me, but has not yet been fully realized in me.

The Gift Of Ugly Love

The best gift we can get this Valentine’s Day is not sex, roses, cheap chocolate and steak dinners. The world says love looks like a suave young couple dressed to the hilt, holding hands, giggling, and exchanging flirtatious glances with one another over candlelight.

God says love looks like a single Jewish man, stripped and forsaken, beaten like a rented redheaded step mule, and scorned by all, even his own Father (Isaiah 53:10-11). Do we desire the pretty former love over the ugly latter? May God grant us the gift of repentance if we do (2 Timothy 2:25).

And may we again return to the precious stones of our childhood, where the lost can become found all over again; And where the beauty of ugly love is the most precious priceless diamond we can receive.

What’s a way you can share this gift to others this Valentine’s Day?

Bryan Daniels

PS. I’ve violated one of my main blogging rules with the daunting length, forgive me, as I believe the topic is worth it.

Muhammad Ali and Your God-given Name

Muhammad Ali was a mental assassin. He was also a pretty good boxer.

“What’s My Name?!”

The story goes that soon after Ali changed his name from Cassius Clay he had a bout with Ernie Terrell scheduled. At the 1967 press conference Terrell refused to call Ali by his new name citing, “You’ll always be Cassius Clay to me.”

This set Ali off.

During the fight ringside witnesses could hear Ali barking at Terrell. After each succesful haymaker and combination Ali asked the same simple question, 10-15 times a round:

“What’s my name?!”

Boom!

“What’s my name?!”

Pop! Pop!

“What’s my name?!”

Muhammad ali

The left eye was closed by the 8th round. The right eye was closed by the 12th. Terrell couldn’t see Ali coming anymore. He was getting beat like a redheaded rented step mule.

The brutal bout went 15 rounds because Ali wanted it to go 15 rounds. Terrell slumped and Ali would hold him up; he wasn’t done until his opponent knew his name. Legend has it during a 15th round clinch, Terrell whispered into the ear of Ali:

“Muhammad Ali…It’s…Muhammad Ali.”

We Don’t Know Our Name

Every day, an oceanic rush of competing voices washes over us the moment we crawl out of bed.

On our worst (most?) days, we let the wave overcome us and define who we are.

We’re fish in a fallen culture, and we don’t even notice the toxic water we’re inhaling. The supermodel says I’m fat. The car commercial says I’m poor. The clothing ad says I’m a dweeb.

We let what we do define who we are.  Our family, social status, job, hobby, church work, exercise routine, and even addiction. So we self identify:

I’m a runner/teacher/overeater/gamer/blogger/calvinist/trekkie/father/doglover/libertarian/pastor/husband/etc.

A lot of good stuff is contained in those positions. But none of those are an identity that will last. These aren’t are our “names.”

Our God-given Name

God has a much higher view of Christians than Christians do. The cursed performance mentality has been on earth since before Cain. But God’s opinion of us is never based on our daily failures in sinning, quiet times and evangelism. Performance is damned in this Kingdom of free grace.

Where we see a dearth of hypocritical hijackers, passionless puritans, and spiritually dead deacons,

God sees a spotless bride, holy saints and an invincible army (Ephesians 5:25-27, 1 Peter 2:9, Matthew 16:18).

If Satan is the accuser of the brethren then he is getting plenty of willing help from the brethren.

I’m not talking about Holy Spirit driven conviction that brings repentance and joy. I’m talking about flesh driven guilt that brings stagnation and exasperation.

This is a revelation that has been spread out in our plain sight all along. When Scripture talks of Christians in the New Testament it really never calls them “sinners” “depraved” “wicked” “hypocrites” or whatever negative pet term you please. Over dozens of times it designates our primary identity as “in Christ.” So whatever Jesus is, by God, we are by grace:

Sons. Daughters. Beloved. Holy. Chosen. Free. Well-pleasing.

In Christ.

It’s a messy battle to ward off the old dead titles of our former self.

Fight for your new name in Christ.

With the word. With blood. With sweat. With tears.

All 15 rounds.

Until you die.

Only when your heart stops is the fighting over. Then the name above every other name will welcome you into true lasting rest. And He will give us a new name that will be intimate and eternal, written in stone that cannot be broken (Revelation 2:17)

Bryan Daniels

The Public Death of A Third Place Bible Drill Girl

I was probably ten years old.

A blond-haired bowl cut chunk of boy.

She was probably 13 years old. I didn’t know her name. She didn’t know mine.

I sat in the back. Safe. Bored.

She stood on stage. Vulnerable. Nervous.

A Nice Public Flogging

It was a Sunday night church Bible Drill Competition. The sanctuary seemed uncharacteristically packed. Deacons, rubbernecks, parents, peers, everyone accounted for. Her competition was two boys.

The final three.

The first reference was called and the frenzied rustling of pages began. The first person to get there lunged forward and proudly recited it for the whole auditorium to hear. The next was called. And the next.

2 Chronicles 7:14!

Psalm 23:4!

James 5:16!

Ancient renderings from Nehemiah the adults in the audience had never heard. An interesting subplot was taking center stage. The two boys were running away with the competition. The poor girl fumbled her way through every challenge.

Not once.

Not once did she step forward.

Her older brother was sitting in the pew in front of me with a group of friends. His peers snickered as every squandered verse ran through her fingertips. At one point in hushed brotherly rage he whispered, “Shut Up!”

As the debacle unfolded her shoulders drooped. Defeat washed over her countenance. I could feel the white-hot embarrassment emanate off of her. She likely felt every eye from the faceless shadows peered at her; the spotlight on her ineptitude.

bible drill

At the time I didn’t know what to think; except how bad I felt for her. Now I think:

What a Stupid Petty Tradition

What did this competition teach that girl? That drive by knowledge of a reference and using the Bible as a silly sports ploy is what church is about? That the Christian life is namely about performance?

That night I learned I sure as heck wasn’t going to be a part of any such game. If I felt that much anguish from the back row I can’t imagine what she felt.

Children should be taught not to drill the word but to dwell in it (Colossians 3:16). If anything they should be led to handle what they hold with care and reverence, not rip through it as some recreational means to an end.

The Pharisees were the “Bible Drill” Champions of Ancient Israel. They flaunted their knowledge of the Law with brash eloquence. They wielded their Scripture swords like a drunk pirate, always lazily pointing outwards, never inwards to their own black heart.

Scripture was just a means to an end for them.

I’m informed by generally good scholarship that these teachers of law had the whole Pentateuch memorized by the time they were this girls age…thirteen. The only claim to memorization I had at that age was Blues Traveler’s mildly popular song “Hook”: “Suck it in, Suck it in, Suck it in, if you’re Rin Tin Tin or Anne Boleyn…..”

Pharisees and Bible drill

The Verse That Powns Pharisees

This all brings me to one of my favorite verses in the bible. It’s Jesus’s words to the Pharisees:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life;
it is these that testify about Me; (John 5:39)

From Genesis to Maps. Every Jot. Every tittle. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus Christ. The eviscerated goats on the altar. The weeping prophets. The immaculate temple. The lovesick king in Songs of Songs. The unlikely shepherd boy who slayed a giant for his people.

The Bible is a progressive unfolding of the person and work of Jesus. The Old Testament had veils and shadows, we have the substance: Christ! If we study the Bible and miss Him we miss everything. That’s why I shake my head when I see a preacher endeavor to open the word, open his mouth and a few quaint stories, funny jokes, principles only, and practical vignettes come out.

People don’t need a little humor and new laws, they need Jesus. Period.

The grace He freely gives will both humble the proud Pharisee, and lift up the perplexed Bible drill loser.

I don’t know where that girl is today. She may not even remember that night as vividly as I do.

I do know this:

She won’t have to find Jesus in a fit of staged performance anxiety.

The Jesus the Bible testifies of can find her just fine. Right where she is. He already won the only victory that matters in her life.

Bible drills be damned.

What “unique” traditions did your childhood stream have growing up?

Bryan Daniels

Hug, Don’t Hate, The Pharisees In Your Life

There are some modern groups in which it is still politically correct to hate. For instance:

Westboro Baptist Church.

Dallas Cowboys.

The Kardashians.

Nickelback.

In Christian culture there is one biblical group in particular that gets our self-righteous blood boiling more than any other:

The Pharisees

They were the most religious, prestigious and openly critical Jewish sect towards Christ’s brief public ministry. They wielded their knowledge of the Law like a battle-axe. They held people captive and enslaved under the crushing weight of the meticulous ceremonial law. They would hold immaculate banquets to honor their own religious devotion before Israel’s upper crust, while locking out the broken, poor and unclean from their sight.

Ancient Jewish religious culture was married to the political establishment. Pharisees weren’t just the religious elite. They were the social elite. Political elite. Educational elite.

Jesus definitely had hard words for this particular religious opponent: They were called bleached tombs housing rotting corpses on one occasion (Matthew 23:27); on another, he accused their mothers of shagging the devil (John 8:44).

Everyone ELSE is a Pharisee

Some modern Christian groups commonly get compared to those ancient hypocrites: The red faced Fundamentalist who shuns sex, drugs and rock & roll. The Theological nitpicks and watchdogs, who commonly accuse other Christian groups of heresy. Any pastor who may say any word of exhortation on the matter of homosexuality, abortion, or anything deemed a political issue.

We love to hate on the Pharisees. And we love to ascribe that title to every other group but the one we happen to identify with. It may sound like this:

“Sure, grace is for tax collectors, prostitutes, gang bangers, drug addicts, etc….But don’t get me started on that old fart deacon who gave my wife an ugly look when she raised her hands during worship…I can’t stand that guy!”

Do we really think we’re gonna reach that crazy dude with the megaphone, who is thumping nothing but the law to deaf masses, by shouting “SHUT UP!” out our window as we screech by in our car?

Modern pharisees need grace as much as the anguished teenager considering an abortion.

I know this because they are human. And we all happen to be in the same sinking ship by nature (Romans 3:23).

Hugs Not Drugs….Or Hate

I also know this: The apostle formerly known as Saul was a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). And a dang good one. Before Christ knocked him off his donkey, Paul was notorious for his ability to hunt down men and women of “The Way” and see to it they were murdered for their faith (Acts 7:54-60). The blood of the saints was all over his hands, and he was quite proud of it (Acts 22:4)

A Pharisee of Pharisees
Paul, a “Pharisee of Pharisees” murdered Christians

Think:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be murdering Christians in Sudan.

Maybe more shocking to you:

The next modern-day apostle Paul may, at the moment, be the church deacon you’re cursing underneath your breath.

If we have any reservations over those statements it is because we don’t believe in invincible grace. One thing is for sure: The only force that changes the heart of a murderous or judgmental Pharisee, is the grace of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Next time you’re shocked by their critical spirit and blind religious hubris: stop, take some deep breaths, smile and say something like:

“Is there anything I can pray for you about?”

“You wanna go for coffee some time?”

“Tell me your story.”

or even, God willing:

“Can I give you a hug?”

If God’s kindness brought Pharisees like us to repentance (Romans 2:4), you never know what similar grace will do to the hearts of those bound in legalism now.

Stop the hate. Try a hug instead.

What are some ways you could express greater grace towards the “Pharisees” in your circle?

Bryan Daniels

What The Heck Does “Chief of The Least” Mean?

The apostle Paul never appreciated the suped up title of “super-apostle.” That doesn’t stop us from putting him on that pedestal today. But if we read the NT carefully it’s plainly apparent:

Paul wasn’t all that impressed with himself

We praise him for his perseverance in mind-boggling persecution: stoned, five times whipped, shipwrecked thrice, beaten and imprisoned mercilessly and more (2 Cor 11:23-29). Paul said it wasn’t his true grit, but Christ alone who strengthened him in these things (Phil 4:11-13)

We hold studies searching for the nature of Paul’s notorious “thorn in the flesh.” Was it poor eyesight? Ugly face? Lingering torture wounds? Celibate life? Bad case of hemorrhoids? Paul didn’t point to the nature of the thorn, but rather the nature of sufficient grace was the focal point of the story (2 Cor 12:9).

Some pastors call Paul the most brilliant Christian mind in the church era. He had the modern equivalent of three Ph. Ds and oratorical powers that made peasants in Lystra call him a Roman god (Acts 14:12). Paul calls all of his extensive formal educational training a big steaming “pile of s—” (literally in the Greek) compared to the knowledge of Christ (Philippians 3:8).

What Spiritual Progress is For a Chief

We shouldn’t be surprised when Paul turns our view of Christian maturity on its head.

Indian Chief
Not that kind of Chief, guys.

We hope maturity in faith and sanctification would mean grappling less with the pet sins and shortcomings that rack our conscience daily. It may mean some of that. “Progress” is a nice clean catchword for politics and spirituality. But watch how Paul views progress in his Christian walk (Chief of the Least comes in here):

In the beginning of Paul’s ministry he called himself (1 Cor 15:9)

“the least of the apostles”

The least of the small select group of New Covenant Church founders. In the middle of Paul’s ministry, he called himself (Eph 3:8):

“the least of the saints.”

The least member of the growing New Covenant Church. In the end of Paul’s ministry, in his letter to his spiritual son Timothy, he called himself (1 Tim 1:15):

“Chief of Sinners”

The guiltiest and greatest sinner in the Whole. Wide. World.

This is what progress in holiness looks like: As we mature in our faith we become more humble and more broken over the sin still latent within us. As we realize we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies our faces are brought lower than dirt in servant gratitude. Paul wasn’t the greatest sinner in the world compared to other Roman dictators and miscreants.

True.

Paul was convinced He was the greatest sinner because he was in a prime position to be more aware of his own sin than others. One of the greatest works of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to us the depths of our own sin, not the sins of others.

So we find true progress to be an ever growing cyclical progress in brokenness. In humility. In gratitude.

In more brokenness.

In more humility.

In more gratitude.

A greater awareness of our sin brings an even greater awareness of the gospel that killed its grip in the person of Jesus Christ. “Chief of the Least” is a merging of Paul’s self titles.

I’m applying it to me.

But it is not just for me; It’s for anyone acutely aware of their broken estate on one hand, yet caught up in greater grateful flood for the Savior that utterly repairs and restores it on the other.

We fellow “Chiefs” adhere to this simple lifelong confession:

Yes, I am a great sinner. But I have a much greater Savior in Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Bryan Daniels

A Child Sees “The Moon!” and “The Son!”

Children have a winsome way of instructing adults.

My son, Gideon, not yet two years old, teaches me a lesson about worship and the wonders of God.

If we walk outside right after dusk it’s not very long until he lifts an expectant gaze upward. With an awe-inspiring wonder in his eyes he exclaims, “Moon!” (sometimes pronounced “Boon!”)

It never gets old to him. He sees it near every night, but each time he is caught by complete surprise when earth’s companion reveals itself. He points to the heavens with a tiny index finger, gasps, and exclaims it again with more emphasis, “Moon!” He’ll then look to me to make sure I’m not missing out on this exquisite display of the cosmos. And I can’t help but look up with him and force the amazement in my voice while joining with him,

“Moon!”

When his brother, Josiah, was this age we had the same ritual.

The wonder of a glowing orb perfectly suspended before a pitch black backdrop is a mystery we “refined” adults rarely recognize anymore.

My son knows nothing of Cosmology or Astronomy, tidal forces or Neil Armstrong. But he knows the proper response to divine phenomena when he sees it (Psalm 19).

We should be more like children (Mat 18:3). Sophistication, tradition, materialism, and blatant worship at the altar of fallen reason have left us cold and dead inside. Our blind dedication to theoretical principles has left us passionless and purposeless.

As GK Chesterton once intimated: the problem is not that we are so advanced as a species but that we are so dull. One defining mark of spiritual maturity is when the curious marvel that is a blade of grass or tad pole can bring us to our knees in worship. The splendor of God’s power in those simple things rarely grips us anymore.

 The Halo of God I Took For Granted

A few nights ago there was a great halo around the moon that extended down into our stratosphere with epic brilliance. Around 10:30 my wife woke me up from a near dead sleep so I could go outside and witness it with her. She was as giddy as a schoolgirl about the sight, calling up her dad to awake and see the spectacle too.

ring around the moon
The moon I took for granted.

I was impressed. But standing in my chilly driveway with my boxer shorts on my demeanor was a little more reserved. The killjoy left side of my brain took over as I said:

“It’s just light from the moon refracting off ice crystals…”

And there I was, trying to be more than a child. I would have been much better off if I took notes from my one year old and just pointed up while exclaiming,

“MOON!”

The wonder of the gospel will make us children again (Mat 19:14). May we never view the empty tomb as some abstract historical fact or ecclesial tradition. There is an eternal chasm of difference between assenting to information about God and being ruined by a revelation of God.

The Christian paradox: Be mature in faith yet childlike in trust.

Today: may we look to the gospel of Jesus Christ with childlike astonishment, point to His cross and empty tomb and cry out to God and man, “The Son! The Son! The Son!”

What areas in life do you feel you need to be more “child-like”?

Bryan Daniels