All posts by Justin

Hong Kong | London | California | Washington, DC Christian | Theologian | Musician | Activist | Sojourner

Ferguson, a broken world, and the authority of Jesus

On Sunday, I preached from Luke 4:31-44 on Jesus’ authority and healing. Last night, the grand jury returned a decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. I’m still processing and praying through this, still figuring out how I’m supposed to respond. I didn’t write my message or preach with the Ferguson decision in mind, but I guess there was a reason God wanted me to be thinking these things through before yesterday evening. What I do know is that we live in a fallen world, where authority is not always exercised justly and healing is an ever-present need.

So here’s an excerpt from Sunday’s message — “The Authority of Jesus, a.k.a. Kicking Butt and Taking Names.” (You can listen to the full sermon here.)

Preaching, Nov 23, 2014

I’m sure we can all call to mind people in positions of authority; we might think of the President, Members of Congress, judges, police officers, teachers, or doctors. And we might also be able to call to mind what it looks like when folks abuse their authority—the Watergate scandal, for instance; corrupt government officials who line their pockets at the expense of those they’re supposed to be serving; doctors who take advantage of their patients or teachers who take advantage of their students.

But just like sin is not just the things we do but also the things we should do but we don’t, when those in authority don’t exercise it when they should, that’s also a problem: recently, the police in Hong Kong chose not to intervene when peaceful protesters were attacked; or the last four years have seen the most unproductive sessions of Congress in recent history—and, given that there’s so much still to do, I think we have the responsibility to call our elected representatives to use their authority to better serve the common good. Because, in fact, everyone exercises some sort of authority: parents over their children, celebrities over their fans, pastors over their congregations, voters over their representatives, and so on.

The biblical understanding of authority is much like the non-biblical understanding of authority, in that it’s connected to power, particularly to the legitimate use of power, and it could simply be defined as the “right to effect control over objects, individuals or events.” But the biblical understanding of authority is much more than that, too. It goes right back to creation, when God created human beings in his image—to be like him—and said to them, in Genesis 1:28:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

That’s God delegating power so that the world might flourish, so that God’s kingdom might be seen on earth, so that all might be in right relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

That’s the purpose of authority: that humanity might flourish.

That’s how authority should be measured: does it move us closer to God’s kingdom on earth?

In Jesus, we find the truest embodiment of authority rightly and responsibly exercised. Everything Jesus said and did brought more of up there down here. Theologian Darrell Bock writes:

Evil has severe angst in the presence of righteousness ready to be exercised.

When authority is rightly and responsibly exercised by a president, by a legislator, by a judge, by an officer of the law, by a teacher, by a doctor, by a nurse, by a famous person, by a parent, by a pastor, by you in whatever capacity you have been given a measure of control—when authority is rightly and responsibly exercised to bring more of God’s kingdom to earth, evil has severe angst.

Think about that: what you do matters; what you do with your life on the big picture level as well as what you do in your everyday has bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. How you treat the homeless person you pass on the street; how much effort you put into your work; how much attention you give to your spouse; how you respond to people who are different from you or who disagree with you; how you forgive those who wrong you; how you deal with messing up—these are all instances where you can exercise the authority you’ve been given, and they all have bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. What you do matters.

We inhabit what some theologians call the already-but-not-yet. See, the kingdom of God is at the same time past, present, and future. We know that Jesus came to earth, 2,000 years ago, and at that time, the kingdom of God entered into human history in a way it had never done before—the demons were cast out, the sick were healed, the truth of God and the word of God were embodied in a living, breathing human being—that’s the already. We know that Jesus will come again, to finish the work he started, setting all things right, reconciling all things to himself, bringing the fullness of heaven down to earth—but that is not yet here. And so in the present, in the here-and-now, the Holy Spirit is at work in us and through us—as the people of God and the body of Christ—revealing more of that same kingdom, proclaiming the good news of that kingdom, in the midst of the ravages of the Fall in sin and sickness and death.

Any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return points toward the story of the gospel and the renewal that has not yet come but is promised. But any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return will always be incomplete. We and our loved ones will still get sick, we will not always be healed, we will still die. But God’s story moves toward ultimate healing—no death, no sickness, no tears. It’s coming.

Lord Jesus, even as we give you thanks for living the life we could not live and dying the death we could not die and being raised to life that we might be made new, we long for you to come back.

In the here-and-now, break the chains of our sin and sickness and death. Heal us from the ravages of our wounds both physical and psychological, both mental and emotional. Liberate us from our addictions. Be the light in our darkness; be the hope in our disappointment; be the joy in our loss.

Set us free so that we might walk in the life you desire for us to live—life to the full, eternal life. Remind us that we live and move and have our being in Christ, that we have been given authority as image-bearers of the Most High, authority as redeemed children of our Father in heaven, authority as ambassadors of Christ in a hurting and broken world.

We pray these things in the name of the One who was wounded so that we might be made whole, in the power of the name of Jesus. Amen.

Being married: lessons learned so far

WH Fall Garden Tour

Yesterday marked four months of marriage for Carolyn and me. We had a conversation the other day about what we say when people ask us how things have been. Because, on the one hand, we don’t want or need to air the ins and outs of everything we’re going through; but, on the other hand, we don’t want or need to over-extol the joys or present an untrue picture of married life.

So … here are a few things I’ve learned in the last 124 days:

Some things are awesome. 

  1. I get to spend almost every day with the person I love the most.
  2. I get to share daily goings-on, little and large, with my best friend.
  3. I have someone who loves football as much as I do and will understand when a Seahawks loss makes me irritable.
  4. One of the things that drew me to Carolyn was that I wanted to see how God would continue to be at work in her life, and I get a front row seat to that — I get to experience the times of revelation and growth, and that is tremendously exciting to witness.

Some things are challenging.

  1. I have to spend almost every day with the person who knows me the best. I’m learning that I’m not as gracious or patient as I thought I was, not as good a communicator, not as unselfish as I hoped I was, and that there’s far more that God needs to do in me than I would like!
  2. When two people, who’ve been single for almost 60 years (combined), with two separate lives, two sets of friend groups, two very distinctive and different backgrounds, upbringings, educations, experiences, and schedules, come together, there’s a lot of give and take. It’s easy to have the presumption (or even the unconscious, unspoken expectation or hope) that being married will simply mean the addition of a best friend to your pre-existing schedule, but I can attest that that isn’t the case — and that’s been a teachable moment!
  3. Being someone who’s married rather than someone who’s single means learning a new way of understanding other relationships and communicating and being intentional in hanging out or catching up — with friends, with our church community, with family. Part of this means redefining expectations (on all sides) — and as my counselor has taught me: “Change = Loss = Grief.” But when one or both sides aren’t aware that there’s something to be grieved, we can be surprised by how we react (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance).
  4. Learning how to prioritize growth over winning is refining in itself. There’s a strong desire toward self-preservation, which can express itself in putting self first. In disagreements, my inclination is to try to win, to articulate my points, to make sure that I’m understood. But trying to understand more than I’m understood, trying to properly listen to and hear what the other person’s saying, trying to seek her good and the good of our relationship — this is something I’ve tried to do throughout my life, but in a marriage it’s that much more magnified.

Of course, just because something is challenging doesn’t mean it’s bad — indeed, many of these challenges are part of the growing and maturing process, and for that I’m glad. So grateful to be figuring all this out in community — I can’t tell you how encouraging it is to have folks we can text to be praying for us or to talk through the hard times or to celebrate the joys of life.

 

I’m giving my birthday away for Iraq and Syria

In just under two weeks, I turn 32. (That’s weird to see.)

Anyway, this year I wanted to do something a little different for my birthday, and I need your help to do it. Many of you already know my friend Eugene Cho, and the organization he started, One Day’s Wages, “a grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.”

One of the options ODW makes available is donating one’s birthday for a cause. And so that’s what I’m doing.

My goal is to raise $2,500 for One Day’s Wages’ IRAQ & SYRIA RELIEF FUND by the end of November, and I need your help. Will you join me in giving?

The United Nations estimates that, since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2011:

  • almost 200,000 people have lost their lives;
  • about 4,000,000 people have been forced to flee their homeland;
  • with millions more displaced within Syria.

As the threat of the so-called Islamic State has spread from Syria to Iraq, ODW has expanded their efforts to respond to the plight of Iraqi refugees as well. And every cent of your donation will go toward providing aid and respite for these refugees.

As we say at The District Church, every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story is precious to God. The plight of displaced Syrians and Iraqis doesn’t often make the front pages any more, but their lives and livelihoods are no less important.

CLICK HERE TO DONATE

* 100% of your donations will go straight to the cause.

[Photo: Khalil Mazraawi – AFP/Getty Images]

The first battle of the day

Meadowkirk Tree at Sunset

It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other Voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussing and frettings; coming in out of the wind.

- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

God says, “You are mine. I love you.”

Lord, let that be our perspective throughout our day. Amen.

[H/T to John Sowers’ The Heroic Path.]

Who you are

[Adapted from Sunday’s message: “The Vital Importance of Knowing Who You Are.” Listen to the full sermon here.]

A couple weeks ago, I was with some new friends, and we were introducing ourselves, and the cue was

What do we need to know about you to know you?

That’s another way of asking, “Who are you?” If someone were to ask you that question, how would you respond? How would you identify yourself?

  • By your job?
  • By where you’re from?
  • By whether you’re married or single, a parent or a grandparent?
  • By how old you are?
  • By what you like to do?

How would you talk about your identity, about who you are?

Psychologist James Marcia proposes that there are four statuses (not stages) in identity development:

  1. Identity diffusion is when a person is unable or unwilling to explore or commit to any particular identity. The least complex and least mature position. Apathy.
  2. Foreclosure occurs when a person embraces clear commitments, but they’re just inherited from parents or culture, chosen without serious thought or exploration.
  3. Moratorium (sometimes referred to as “crisis”) is a time of exploring options of who a person wants to be.
  4. Achievement occurs when a person resolves their explorations, works through crisis and make clear commitments.[1]

Sticky FaithAccording to psychologists and sociologists, young people nowadays are taking more and more time to commit to who they want to become, more time to cultivate an identity. Kara Powell and Chap Clark, who work at the Fuller Youth Institute and interact with a lot of adolescents and teenagers, write:

The breadth of peer relationships that young people experience means they get a wider variety of feedback about how they are perceived. Because friends’ opinions matter so much during adolescence, the result is a delay in identity formation. Quite simply, kids receive inconsistent and too much feedback in response to what they say and how they act, so they often postpone committing to who they want to become.[2]

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some great conversations with the guys in my small group about what it means to follow Jesus—what it means to be a guy who follows Jesus, what it means to be a 20-something or a 30-something or a 40-something here in DC who follows Jesus, what it means to be a single person or a married person who follows Jesus. All of these conversations revolve around that issue of identity—of who we are.

Because here’s what I think:

who we are determines how we live.

Who you are will determine:

  • how you respond when something bad happens—whether it’s small like losing a key or stubbing your toe, or whether it’s big like having your heart broken, losing a loved one, getting sick;
  • what you feel called to, what you are willing to do, and what you will do even if you don’t want to do it;
  • what you do with your money, what you spend it on, how much you give away, and whom you give to;
  • what you spend your time doing and who you spend it with;
  • how you engage in friendships and in dating relationships;
  • how you think about marriage and whom you choose to marry.

Who we are determines how we live.

PaintBut the thing is, many of us don’t know who we are. That “delay in identity formation” feels like it applies not just to teenagers nowadays, but also, still, to some of us: there are so many voices clamoring for our attention, so many opinions, so many perspectives, so many people telling us so many different things, and because we want people to like us, because we want people to affirm us, because we do what we think they want us to do, we end up not knowing who we are, and so we end up not knowing how to live … at least not with consistency and stability.

Pastor and author John Ortberg says,

The soul without a center finds its identity in externals.[3]

Maybe you’ve tried to find your identity in your work, in romantic relationships, in how many people you’ve slept with, in athletic ability, in your families, or in educational achievement.

Maybe you’ve crafted an identity: a work identity—the hard worker, the one who gets things done; a relationship identity—the smooth talker, the one who’s hard to get; a social media presence that doesn’t quite match reality because you only post about the good times; an online dating profile in which every picture of you is flattering or you say you love sports (which is technically true but honestly you’ve watched more sports than you’ve played sports); a LinkedIn page that makes you sound a lot more accomplished than you are or feel—especially because now people can recommend you for the skills they think you’re good at.

Maybe you’ve distracted yourself so you don’t have to figure out who you are (at least that’s what you’re telling yourself): serial dating, assuming every time it breaks down that it was the other person’s fault; sleeping around or just “hanging out” so you can get some sort of affirmation—they may not love me but at least they like having me around and that’s better than nothing, isn’t it?

If we don’t know who we are, we won’t know how to live with consistency and stability and integrity. That word “integrity” carries notions of wholeness, of not being divided. That is the kind of life Jesus lived—where his words and his deeds lined up—and that, I believe, is the kind of life Jesus invites us to live with him.

And so, in talking about our identity, I want to talk first about Jesus’ identity—who Jesus was, who Jesus is—because who Jesus is has everything to do with who we are, and in three ways in particular:

  1. we are humans, created in the image of God, created to show God to the world, and Jesus was the most human of us all, the truest image of God, the fullest embodiment of God the world has ever seen—so if you want to know how to live fully, look at Jesus;
  2. we are redeemed by Jesus in order to work with Jesus to reconcile all things to Jesus—so if you want to know your purpose in life, Jesus is pretty important to that too;
  3. for those who have made the decision to become a Christ-follower, to acknowledge Jesus as Savior and Lord, we are called to be like him.

So knowing who Jesus is, is an indispensable part of knowing who we are.

Let’s look at Luke 3:21-23:

When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry.

Francesco Alban’s Baptism of Christ

Many of your Bibles probably label this passage as “Jesus’ baptism,” but the funny thing is, the baptism is not the main point here. Matthew and Mark, in their gospel accounts, spend more time narrating what actually happens at Jesus’ baptism; Luke just says, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too.”

John the Baptist was calling people to repent and be baptized as a symbol of cleansing and entering into a new way of living. People were coming to John to repent of their sins and be baptized, and Jesus was baptized, too. Only … he didn’t have any sin; he didn’t sin—that’s part of why, according to the Christian story, Jesus was able to be the One to save us, because he was without fault, because he never did anything wrong, because he lived life as truly and as fully as a human being was created to. So why, you might ask, did Jesus come to be baptized when he didn’t ‘need’ to be baptized? This is what Scottish theologian William Barclay wrote—and I like this a lot:

In the life of each of us there are certain definite stages, certain hinges on which our whole life turns. It was so with Jesus, and every now and again we must stop and try to see his life as a whole. … When John emerged the people flocked out to hear him and to be baptized. Throughout the whole country there was an unprecedented movement towards God. And Jesus knew that his hour had struck. It was not that he was conscious of sin and of the need of repentance. It was that he knew that he too must identify himself with this movement towards God.[4]

Jesus was saying, “This is my life-direction. This is the time to make public my identification with what John has said, with what John is doing, and, more importantly, with what God is doing at this time and in this place.” It was a hinge-point in his life, a juncture at which he sensed God’s calling to a new chapter.

Luke tells us Jesus was about thirty years old. Thirty meant something for the people of Israel: thirty was

  • how old you had to be to become a priest;
  • how old Joseph was when he entered the service of Pharaoh (in Genesis 41);
  • how old the prophet Ezekiel was when he was called to ministry;
  • how old David was when he became king.

Now, you may be thirty—or you may not be. Either way, maybe you’re at a juncture in your life where you’ve sensed God calling you to step out in faith: maybe to trust in him for the first time, maybe to commit your finances to him by giving to the church or another organization that’s seeking to see the kingdom of God here on earth—more of up there down here, maybe to commit your future to him by breaking off a dead-end relationship situation or by making a lifelong commitment to somebody.

Wherever you are, I pray that your ears and your heart will be open to what God is saying, and that, like Jesus, you’ll respond and move into that.

Throughout his gospel, Luke presents Jesus as a man of prayer, pointing out many incidents when Jesus would withdraw to commune with God. That’s all prayer is: taking time to talk with God about what we’re doing together.

I want to be a man of prayer; I want to be in constant contact with the One who knows what’s going on—because much of the time, I don’t! I want our church to be a place of prayer, a place where people commune and communicate with God. I want our community to have a culture of prayer: in the midst of the busyness and activity of DC, I want The District Church to be and be known as a haven of consistency and stability and integrity and peace—“the rest of will that results from assurance about how things will turn out,” as Dallas Willard puts it, because it knows and trusts the One who, in all things, is working for our good. That’s why prayer is important; that’s why, even though I think I’m terrible at praying, I keep working at it, I keep trying to grow in it, I keep asking God to help me be a better pray-er—and even that is praying!

So Jesus, after he’s been baptized, prays; after this definitive moment in his life, he talks with God … and “heaven was opened.” The opening of heaven was symbolic of God’s revelation, God’s showing of himself to his people; it was an indicator that God was about to do something big. After hundreds of years of silence, a voice comes calling in the wilderness; John comes as a prophet of the Lord, having received the word of the Lord, to call all people to the Lord. That’s a sign that something is stirring. And now, after the baptism of Jesus, heaven is opened. Something is happening. Winter is coming. (That’s a Game of Thrones reference, in case you didn’t get it.) The King is returning. (That’s from Lord of the Rings … and from the Bible.) God is about to do something amazing.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this happens as Jesus is praying. There have been times in my life where I’ve wondered why I haven’t heard from God, and then he reminds me that I haven’t been listening, that I haven’t been spending much time with him lately. It’s hard to hear when you aren’t listening; it’s hard to have a conversation if you aren’t willing to make time for it.

Verse 22:

the Holy Spirit descended on [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove.

Jesus is anointed by the Spirit of God. It’s a sign that he has been chosen by God for a mission, an indicator that he has been commissioned by God for a task and equipped by God for this purpose. It was the Spirit of God that would enable and empower Jesus to do everything he did—signs and wonders; words of truth and love and grace. It was the Spirit of God that would raise Jesus from the dead. And that same Spirit of God, if you put your trust in Jesus, that same Spirit of God lives in you. That same Spirit of God is part of who you are, part of your identity. That same Spirit of God continues to be at work in and through and with you and the larger body of Christ—the Church—to bring life to the world. None of what we want to do—seek the renewal of our city; live good, Christ-imitating lives; love God and those around us with integrity—none of that is possible without the Spirit of God.

And yet so many of us try. So many of us try to change the world/ourselves/other people through our own efforts, apart from God. But God is already working, by his Spirit, in and through people who have dedicated themselves to see God’s renewal on earth—and sometimes even through those who haven’t. What we’re asked to do is be a part of that, to partner in that, to open ourselves up, to trust in Jesus—to trust that what Jesus says is true, to trust that what God says is true.

And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

This is the foundation of Jesus’ identity: Son of God. Beloved by God. Pleasing to God. The language harks back to Psalm 2, the royal psalm, where God says to the king, “You are my son …” It harks back to the words of the prophet Isaiah in 42:1:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,

my chosen, in whom my soul delights;

I have put my spirit upon him;

he will bring forth justice to the nations.

This is who Jesus is: Son. King. Beloved. Servant. Chosen. Spirit-empowered. Justice-bringer. This is who Jesus is, and this is what Jesus is about. Who he is determines how he lives.

I don’t think this was the first time he had heard the voice of God. I don’t think this was the first time he realized that he had a higher calling. In Luke 2, we read about him spending time at the Temple as a boy and telling his parents, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)—he was twelve; it was another hinge-point in his story.

We don’t hear from him for another 18 years, during which time he is presumably taking up his father’s trade as a carpenter in Nazareth, being faithful in the mundane, being faithful in the small things—plugging away at work, taking care of his family, loving his neighbors—just as he would later be faithful in the big things. Next week we’ll hear about the temptations Jesus faced before he began his public ministry, and there as well he was faithful because he knew who he was. Or to put it another way, he knew whose he was. Because God had told him: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

You know, Jesus is the only person in the New Testament of whom God says, “I am pleased with you.” That’s because even at this point in his life, even before he embarked on his public ministry, even before the public acclaim and the crowds flocking to hear him speak and see him do miracles, even before all of the celebrity, he was completely faithful—he had loved God with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength; and he had loved his neighbor as himself—throughout the course of his life thus far; and that’s why God said to him, “I am pleased with you.” Paul wrote, in his second letter to the Corinthians, about making it his goal in life to please God.

I also want to please God; I want to be faithful; I want to do things that make God happy. But I also do things that I know don’t please God—that’s where repentance comes in; that’s where forgiveness comes in; that’s where grace comes in.

Let me be clear here: I don’t try to please God in order to earn his love; I try to please God because I already have his love. Grace is not opposed to effort; it is opposed to earning. For instance, I don’t do things for my wife so that she will love me; I do things for her because she loves me. It’s a very fine line, but it’s a crucial distinction.

God loves us—more than we can ever know—and nothing can change that; but that doesn’t mean God is always pleased with us—especially when we do things that run counter to what he knows is good for us, or when we turn away from him, or when we hurt ourselves or other people. That’s why it does matter how we live. That’s why it does matter whose we are.

Pastor and author Jo Saxton writes:

Contrary to the many mantras of our day, our identity is not found deep within us: it’s given.[5]

It’s given by God, our Creator, the One who made us in his image, the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb, the One who knows what’s best for us. It should not be a surprise, then, to discover that what God says about us and who we are in relation to God are the most foundational aspects of our identity. And yet … global activist Lynne Twist says:

For me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is “I didn’t get enough sleep.” The next one is “I don’t have enough time.” Whether true or not, that thought of not enough occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it. We spend most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don’t have enough of. … Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds are racing with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to that reverie of lack. … This internal condition of scarcity, this mind-set of scarcity, lives at the very heart of our jealousies, our greed, our prejudice, and our arguments with life.[6]

What these voices, this culture, this world, maybe even our loved ones, have said to us about our identity is that we are not enough, that at the foundation of our identity exists a lack, a not-enough, and therefore we must strive—for affirmation, for acceptance, for all that we don’t yet have.

But because of what Jesus did on this earth, because of what Jesus did on the cross, because of what Jesus did in overcoming sin and death, the Apostle John is able to write, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Because of Jesus, God says to those who say yes to him: “You are mine. I love you.” And then as we get to know him, we learn more and more how we can please the One who not only loves us but the One whom we love in return.

The words that God spoke to his Son:

You are mine. I love you. With you I am well pleased.

These words grant identity; these words speak of home; these words tell you where you belong and whom you belong to. We seek those words too; we desire to hear them; we glean affirmation from them. We wish we heard them more often.

  • Maybe from your father or your mother: “You are mine. I love you. With you I am well pleased.”
  • Maybe from your husband or your wife: “You are mine. I love you. With you I am well pleased.”
  • Maybe from an ex or a significant other: “You are mine. I love you. With you I am well pleased.”
  • Maybe from an older brother or sister: “You are mine. I love you. With you I am well pleased.”

In some form or other, from some person or other, we seek these identity-affirming words—“You are mine. I love you. With you I am well pleased.”—because we want to know who we are and whose we are. But the only person who will tell it to us in a way that will bring lasting peace and assurance to the very core of our beings is God. It doesn’t matter how many hundreds of other people tell it to us; the only person whose voice carries eternal weight in this regard is God.

Graduation from UCL

When I was in college, I recommitted my life to Christ; and for the first year or so after that, when I would pray, what I sensed God saying to me most often was “I love you.” And I would be puzzled; I’d say to God,

I know that! Everybody knows that. Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so. Tell me something new! Tell me what to do!

But the same thing: “I love you.” Day after day: “I love you.” Week after week: “I love you.” And one day, I realized that God was telling me he loved me so often because that was the most important thing about who I was, and that was the thing that was most easy to forget.

When something goes wrong, when something bad happens, when someone gets mad at you, when someone hurts you, when things don’t go the way you want them to go, when things are out of your control, or even when things are going really, really well—any time, any place, the thing that’s easiest to forget is also the thing that changes everything: God loves you. You belong to God.

Marguerite Shuster, a preaching professor at Fuller Seminary, wrote about a Christian kindergarten teacher she knows. In her class there was a young girl, whose parents were in the middle of a vicious divorce. “Climbing into my friend’s lap, the girl said, ‘Tell me again that Jesus loves me. I keep forgetting.’ The girl knew in her head that Jesus loved her, but she still needed to hear it from the outside.” C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

People need more to be reminded than to be instructed.

God loves you. Whatever hand 2014 has dealt you; whatever hand your life has dealt you; whatever has happened to you, in spite of your best efforts; whatever this week has thrown at you; whatever today has dumped on your doorstep—he says to you, “You are mine. I love you.” Even if your work colleague hates your guts, even if your students don’t pay attention to you, even if the patients you treat couldn’t care less about you; even if you aren’t sure if you’re in the right job or the right place or the right relationship or the right marriage—he says to you, “You are mine. I love you.” Because Jesus is who Jesus is, we can be who we were made to be. God says to you, “You are mine. I love you.”

Maybe you aren’t seeking God, or you wouldn’t call yourself a follower of Jesus, but you too know that longing for affirmation, which you’ve sought

  • in the arms of the next guy or the next girl,
  • by throwing yourself into work,
  • by crafting an identity that people think is you but you know, deep in your heart, is not even close to being true, and certainly not close to where you want to be.

Your Creator God longs to be in relationship with you; the One who loves you and cares for you, desires to call you his own. The God who knew you even before you were born yearns to establish you in the unshakeable, consistent, stable foundation of his love.

In Creation, this God made all things to be good, with a purpose; after we turned away at the Fall, he sought us; he sent Jesus to show us the way—to be our Way and our Redemption; and he desires that all would know him, that all would love him, that all would discover the life and beauty and power in the connection for which we were all made—the connection with the one true God, the God who said to Jesus, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased,” the God who whispers to us, sometimes with tears and sometimes with great barreling laughter, “You are mine. I love you.” And he longs for us to join with him in the work of Renewal, which is that all might know him and that all might be made right, and as we do this, the Father may one day say to us too,

Well done, good and faithful child. With you I am well pleased.

[1] Powell, Sticky Faith, 56; quoting from “Development and Validation of Ego Identity Status” and “Identity in Adolescence.”

[2] Powell, Sticky Faith, 54.

[3] Ortberg, Soul Keeping, 103.

[4] Barclay, Luke, 45.

[5] Saxton, More Than Enchanting, 29.

[6] Twist, The Soul of Money, 43-45.