a reluctant prayer

Have there been prayers you’ve been reluctant to pray because you don’t know exactly how God will answer?

I know I have.  Today, I share a prayer from a ol’ prof of mine from college.  In the past year he has lost his best friend and soul mate.  In many ways he’s living out the answers to his prayer with a fitting title.  Before reading the prayer, it may help to have the back story from the author himself,

Was looking for a mailing envelope this morning to send a copy of Donna’s death certificate as part of what I hope is the last annuity transfer. Every time I do something like this, as I have said before, it is like erasing her a little at a time. Her name comes off the annuity, and now it’s just my name. All by itself. Looks very wrong, somehow, for it’s always been “Ed and Donna Chesley.” Simply “Ed Chesley” looks to be incomplete–and lonely. At any rate, in the course of looking for that envelope, I ended up looking through some of Donna’s teaching files. These files contained outlines and other material she used in speaking engagements and ladies’ group devotions. Shed quite a few tears, but I was impressed all over again at her spiritual wisdom and insight, presented clearly and simply. She used Chris and myself in one or two of them. She loved to teach kids and share with ladies but never felt she could do a good job or had anything of substance to offer. In that, she was very wrong. Donna was indeed a Proverbs 31 wife and a great servant of Her Lord. I was proud of her then; I am doubly proud now as I read through these notes. I also found in her files a prayer I had written years ago. It is not dated, but according to the material with which it was filed, I wrote it in 1995 or 1996. She must have used it in at least one of her speaking opportunities. Given my present circumstance, I thought I might be bold enough to share this with you. File it under the category “God may take you at your word.”

A Reluctant Prayer

Lord, I want you to be my Lord.

I want you to have all that I think is mine, but what, in fact, belongs to You.

If you need to break my heart by taking whatever I love but should not . . . then break it.

If you need to turn that at which I think I should succeed into failure . . . then make me a failure.

If you need to frustrate me by withholding the one thing I want most in this life . . . then disappoint me. But please forgive my bitter tears!

If you need to take all the time I have and give it to others . . . then take my time.

If what you need is my foolishness rather than the wisdom of which I am so proud . . . then make me a fool.

If you want in my life the thing I fear most . . . then frighten me. But please hold my hand!

If you know that I need trouble in my life more than comfort . . . then trouble me.

If you want my attention, then take those things that so easily distract me . . . and replace them with Yourself.

Lord, I do not ask for these things because I am noble . . . Oh, no! I will not insult you by saying how much I want these things. You know me better than that–better than anyone, for You know my heart. You know how reluctantly I pray this prayer.

But I know that what you want for me is best . . .so help me to trust you, please!

All I ask is that none of your faithful ones be shamed by me and that you give me the sustaining grace to accept whatever You give or take.

Thank You, Lord, for Your good and perfect intentions toward me.

Amen.

–eac

Used with permission from the author. Image source.

Advertisements

what God asks of you

A good friend recently asked me, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide it?”  That is a good question.  How would you answer that?

I paused for a long moment before answering.  At first I responded by answering, “Yeah, he can hide, but not for long if he really is a Christian.”  Then I followed up by sharing some of Christ’s words about shining the Light within a dark dark world,

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Jesus said many interesting and hard things, especially to those who followed him (see Luke 14:25-33; 9:57-62).  He knew if his followers really would follow him it won’t be easy.  In fact, he said if you follow me you will still face temptation and inevitably you will face fierce suffering.  For the light shines into hidden places that most people would rather fight to remain hidden.

The idea of a light shining in darkness is a theme in Scripture.  Israel was chosen to be a light to the nations.  God chose them from among all the nations of the world to show all people his purposes.  He just asked Israel to trust him, to walk with him, and not mingle with the gods of other nations.  It wasn’t easy for Israel.  And their story isn’t secret.  It’s recorded for you and I to read today.

When Isaiah was called to be prophet of Israel, they were already on a downward spiral away from God.  They forgot everything God had done for them.  They already adopted the gods of other nations and prided themselves on what they could do with their own hands and minds.  Their light was dimming.  And Isaiah’s task was to bring Israel back to God.  That was no easy task.

Are you starting to catch a theme here?  What God asks of us is not easy.  In the final verses of Isaiah 6, God gives Isaiah both a command (what he is to say) and a consequence (what will happen if the hearers don’t listen).  If you were in Isaiah’s shoes would you do what was asked of you?

The Command: “Go and Tell”

“And [God] said, “Go, and say to this people:
“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive. ’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

Within God’s command he gives three imperatives that will characterize the Israelites: they 1) do not perceive, 2) do not understand, and 3) render hearts insensitive.  In other words, God says, “Tell my people that they will be just like the idols they love: blind, deaf and dumb.”

G.K. Beale in his book, A Biblical Theology of Idolatry says, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.”  It’s true, you become like what you worship.  As kids you learn to mimic parents, actors, singers, or whoever we idol.  Children see. Children Do.  From Simon says to being a Copy Cat.   The question is what do you imitate and resemble?

In high school, I really wanted to have a Volkswagen Jetta. It was the hottest car for college students.  So I took one out for a test drive.  The sound system was thumping and the accelerator had some get up and go.  I not only wanted one, but the car dealer convinced me that I needed to have one.   I couldn’t afford one as a poor college student, but my desire to have a Jetta lingered.  That was until a family member offered to sell me their 10-year Jetta.  It was within my budget so I bought it.   As I drove away I though I was hot stuff.  But you know what?  In a matter of months the luster wore off, I had maintenance bills, and newer models of the Jetta rolled off the line.   My desire to drive a Jetta wasn’t sinful, but my identity tied to a Jetta was.  I became the Jetta guy.

Isn’t that how idols work?  They disguise themselves as needs, but when you have it they become yesterdays news, even nuisances.  You love idols, but thy never love you back.

John Calvin was in tune with the problem of idols.  He said,

“Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.  Man’s mind, full as it is of pride and boldness, dares to imagine a god according to its own capacity; as it sluggishly plods, indeed is overwhelmed with the crassest ignorance, it conceives an unreality and an empty appearance as God.” Institutes, 1.11.8

The heart longs for what only God can completely fill (e.g. approval, control, success, pleasure, security, knowledge, relationship, comfort, entertainment, etc.).   Idolatry is whatever your heart clings to and relies upon, other than God.  Often idols are really good things, but they take the place of the greatest thing.  They seem tangible, when God is invisible.   Yet they rob us of a heart reserved for God.  In fact, they make us blind to God, deaf to God, and dumb to God.

Think about the command to go and tell.  God tells Isaiah to go to his people–his family, friends, neighbors, tribe–and tell them about their hearts that are like factories pumping out idols.  On top of that God let’s Isaiah know ahead of time that nobody will listen or respond.  Sure, they will recognize Isaiah as prophet from God, but for 40+ years Isaiah would preach without a response.  Talk about difficult and discouraging ministry.  Yet it isn’t that much different than the world you and I live in?  Isn’t the command God gave us to make disciples of all nations just as difficult and at times discouraging when people don’t see a need for God because they think that they are fine on their own?

Isaiah is no Debbie Downer.  Yes, his message is grim; if the Israel won’t turn back to God their judgment will be to become just like the idols they worship.

Many get in a huff when God dishes out judgment, but one must consider God’s character.  All his characteristics are balanced and he never ditches one to feed the other.  In Hebrews 6:1-3, it teaches how God’s grace and justice are in balance.  God is both gracious (slow to anger) and just (character demands consequences for sinfulness).  God never makes snap judgements.  He doesn’t go through middle school mood swings.  Rather he is slow to anger and patient.  However, Isaiah’s generation broke the last straw and His patience finally ran out.

  • Isaiah 1:29-31 “Surely you will be ashamed of the oaks which you have desired, And you will be embarrassed at the gardens which you have chosen. For you will be like an oak whose leaf fades away or as a garden that has no water. The strong man will become tinder, His work also a spark. Thus they shall both burn together And there will be none to quench them.”
  • Isaiah 2:12, 17-18 “For the Lord of hosts will have a day of reckoning Against everyone who is proud and lofty And against everyone who is lifted up, That he may be abased….The pride of man will be humbled And the loftiness of men will be abased; And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, But the idols will completely vanish.”
  • Isaiah 3:8-9 “Jerusalem is about to fall. And so is Judah. They say and do things against the Lord. They dare to disobey Him to His very face. The look on their faces is a witness against them. They show off their sin, just as the people of Sodom did. They don’t even try to hide it. How terrible it will be for them! They have brought trouble on themselves.”
  • Isaiah 5:13  “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge.”
  • Isaiah 43:8, 10 “Bring out the people who are blind, even though they have eyes, And the deaf, even though they have ears… “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “And My servant whom I have chosen, So that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He.  Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me.”
  • Isaiah 42:18-20  “Hear, you deaf! And look, you blind, that you may see. Who is blind but My servant, Or so deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is so blind as he that is at peace with Me, Or so blind as the servant of the Lord? You have seen many things, but you do not observe them; Your ears are open, but none hears.
  • Psalm 135:14-18 (cf. 115:3-8) “For the Lord will judge His people And will have compassion on His servants. The idols of the nations are but silver and gold, The work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; They have eyes, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear, Nor is there any breath at all in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, Yes, everyone who trusts in them.”

When it comes to the the first and second commandments, God is serious: Don’t worship other gods or make imitations or substitutions of him.  If so, you will become just like them: deaf, dumb, and blind.  This is the message God commands Isaiah to go and tell Israel and if they don’t turn back to God there will be a consequence.

You might be thinking, “Wow, Isaiah doesn’t have an easy task.”   Yeah!  You’re right!  It would be as if you are a manager and you are given the task of turning around a failing company, but the company is bound for bankruptcy anyway.  Or you are a teenager and you given the task to stand against the flow of peer pressures even though you will be outcast.   Or you are a carpenter and you are given the task of fix a fixer upper, but the house is doomed for foreclosure.  Who wants a job like that?  What reward is there in that?  What is in it for Isaiah?  The benefit is that he is doing exactly what God asks of him and he does it willingly because he has seen who God is and he has come to know how sweet his forgiveness tastes.  Faithfulness to the command is what God asks of you, even when it is hard and no one around responds and everyone things you’re nuts.

The Consequence: Become “Stumps”

stumpsIsaiah thinks for a moment about what God is asking him to say to the people and he asks an honest question, “How Long?” (v.11a)  Could he be wondering if this is a short-term job assignment or a career?  How will he know when the job is done?   God’s response is grave, “until there is complete devastation.” (v.11b)  He goes onto say that Israel—His chosen people—will be like stumps.

What comes to your mind when you think of a stump?  Can you think of a so-called follower of God who is now stumps?  Why would God call them stumps?  Isn’t that a little harsh?  A stump is a memory of a tree.  It shows you where a tree once stood, but now it’s gone..  In essence what God is saying it that Israel will be an illustration to all nations of a ruined life because idolatry is wasted worship and God is jealous for his children to worship him.

shutterstock_205490491_stump_sapling_1920x1280_39percentDid you catch the glimmer of hope in the midst of the smoke from the chainsaw.  With God there is always hope.  There is hope of a remnant (v.13).  Although God judges, burns, purges, prunes, chops; the stump will sprout again.  God promises restoration.  In the chaos there is always Cosmos.  God is a Restorer.  He is a Redeemer.  See the glimmers of hope God gives Isaiah,

  • Isaiah 7:14 “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel [God with us].”
  • Isaiah 9:6  “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
  • Isaiah 11:1-2  “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”
  • Isaiah 53:5  “But the servant was pierced because we had sinned. He was crushed because we had done what was evil. He was punished to make us whole again. His wounds have healed us.”
  • Isaiah 53:8  “He was arrested and sentenced to death. Then He was taken away. He was cut off from this life. He was punished for the sins of my people.”

Remember, as G.K. Beale said, “What you revere you resemble for your ruin or restoration.”  Idols ruin, but God restores.  Idols blind, deafen, and dumb, but God heals.  Idols enslave, God forgives.  Idols stump, but God sprouts growth.

The stump would sprout.  That young sprout would be none other than Jesus Christ.   He displays for the world what it looks like to be loyal to God.  He models what it looks like to love God and have no other God’s but God Himself.  He even came to heal the blind, deaf, and dumb and free you from the idols of our hearts.

Isaiah is a warning to us all: don’t become a stump, run to the sprout.

Today the same truth rings true.  While God may not send a prophet to warn you, you do have a community called the church.  Just as Israel was asked to be a light to the nations, God also asks you to shine the light and encourage one another to shine through the church,

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest. ’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:7-13)

God is seeking followers to send into a dark world on a difficult task.  He doesn’t promise it will be easy.  But he does promise to go with you.  Will you go?  Will go and tell the nations to turn back to God?

Going back to my friends question, “If someone becomes a Christian can he hide?”  Yes, but not for long if you you follow the Light of the world.”  Stand in the light.  Shine the light.  Go and tell about the Light.  Warn others the darkness.  Encourage one another to be in the Light.  This is what God asks of you.

 

Previously in this series: God is and what is your response to who God is?

 

DOWNLOAD QUESTIONS:

What did God ask Isaiah to say or do?  How did God say the people will respond?  Would you be up for this task if you were Isaiah?  How does Jesus ask Christians to do a similar task?

What is an idol?  How is the heart an idol factory?  How do people become like what they worship?  What examples of this have you seen?

As you read verses 8-13, how does it describe the spiritual climate of the people?   How is this same spiritual climate often seen in your community or church?  What hope is there to overcome this spiritual state?   How can you encourage or help your fellow brothers and sisters?

Cover photo from: http://signafire.com/

 

backwards boasting

backwards boasting

The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And one of my biggest problem among many is my gravitation toward self-defense or self-justification. I have an inner defense attorney from the firm of Flesh & Associates who is always there challenging the case in my favor. Well, not exactly for my favor. I am grateful for the Spirits work in me in this area, but I still have a long way to go.

When was the last time you defended yourself? Why did you feel the need to do it? Often times one is feels the need to defend themselves when confronted or attempting to protect an opinion or reputation.

Ironically, in 2 Corinthians 10-11, Paul is in the middle of defending himself and his ministry. Why does Paul feel the need to defend himself? What could be such a big deal that he feels the need to protect his reputation? Well, some in Corinth are discrediting him as an apostle. They say he is tough on paper, but in person he appears weak and doesn’t speak quite like the pros. Paul not only defends his ministry, but in doing so he defends the gospel message. It’s a big deal because he is protecting the reputation of Christ.

To defend himself Paul does a little boasting (v.1). Doesn’t that sound backward for Paul? Shouldn’t he turn the other cheek or be more humble? Instead Paul sees it is necessary to exercise “a little foolishness.”

Why is boasting foolish? It is foolish because no one likes listening to a boaster. Boasters are so full of themselves (show Packer shirt). If we do like people who boast, how much does God like it?

  • “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches,” (Jeremiah 9:23)
  • “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” (Proverbs 27:1)
  • “Like clouds and wind without rain is a man who boasts of a gift he does not give.” (Proverbs 25:14)
  • “These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.” (Jude 1:16)
  • “The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” …For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:11-12, 14b)

God doesn’t like boasters. So why is Paul stooping to that level? Now to be fair, boasting was anathema to Paul too, but he engages in it to show the church just how foolish it is and how foolish his opponents are. Here are three justified boasts of Paul.

1.  As a father of the Bride, he is jealous for the church’s purity (vs.2-4).

What is the responsibility of the father of the bride? One of the most emotional moments for me when I married Sarah was the moment when the doors in the back of the church opened and my wife dressed in a white dressed walked down between our friends and family who were standing all looking at her. I was speechless. As so was her father. He was walking his daughter to me. For 27 years, he had been teaching her, giving her counsel and presented her to me as a pure bride.

How does Paul take his responsibility seriously as father of the church at Corinth? Paul, knew just how vulnerable the church was (vs.2-4). Like a faithful father he has boasted in his daughter and wants to keep the her pure and protect her from other lovers (deceivers) and present her not to just any man but the Son of Man, the Blessed Bride Groom.

Paul was properly jealous about this. He had paternal jealously handed down from another Father. It is said that “Human jealousy is a vice, but to share divine jealousy is a virtue.” Our God is a jealous God. He is jealous for the truth. He doesn’t like people adding or subtracting things from the message of Jesus, the work of the Spirit, or the Gospel. If God and Paul are jealous for these things, so must we.

2.  As a faithful apostle, he compares himself to the super-apostles (vs. 5-15).

Here Paul takes the opportunity to boast in his authority. Remember, it is not his own authority, but an authority given to him from Jesus. And some were challenging his authority. Paul sarcastically refers to them as Super-apostles (v.5) because they made themselves bigger than Paul. We don’t know much about these super-apostles other than that they were skilled speakers and were paid well for their skills. I am sure they also had capes and sidekicks too.

How does Paul compare himself to the super-apostles? (v.6) First, he admits he is not a skilled speak. He doesn’t wow the crowds like the Greco-Roman speakers who were suave, spoke with a swagger, yet were synthetic. Second, he admits he excels in knowledge. In other words he says the main criteria you need to be a good preacher is a knowledge of God. This knowledge made him a powerful and persuasive preacher.

Third, Paul explains that he came to Corinth free of charge (vs.7-11). Paul didn’t take speakers fees like the skilled speakers or professional philosophers. Not that this is wrong, but it can be a temptation. Paul instead says he received support from Philippi and other churches in Macedonia so he didn’t have to burden to the church in Corinth. People misinterpreted this as if Paul was not charging for his services as a self-admission that he was a low caliber speaker and his message wasn’t worth much. That he gave away the gospel because no one would pay to he it, when he gave it freely as proof he loved them.

Paul will switch his tone from sarcastic to serious as he now calls these super-apostles false prophets, deceitful workers (vs.12-15). Why would he use such harsh terms? These super-apostles are changing Jesus, the Spirits work and the gospel message for their profit. That gives Paul grounds to boast. What Paul boasts in is the faithful, self-sacrificing efforts made on behalf of the gospel ministry in Corinth to the degree that his example serves to expose false apostles as what they really are, ministers of Satan.

This passage challenges all who take money and serve the name of Jesus. I must ask myself the question, do I consider the financial gain before you consider the glory of the Name? This is a real temptation. Remember, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (cf. 8:9).

3.  As a follower of Christ, he has counted the cost and carries his cross (16-33)

Paul boasts to prove a point to boasters, “Look, isn’t boasting really foolish?” If Paul must be forced to boast, it will not be in the things that are impressive from a human standpoint. Rather, he will boast in those things that put him in such a vulnerable situation that he has to depend utterly upon God. He takes great lengths to share all that happened to him for the sake of the name of Christ (vs.16-33).

Paul answers the question, When is foolish boasting acceptable? “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (10:17; cf. Jer. 9:23-24). Nothing, absolutely nothing trumps the Lord. It doesn’t matter what I say about myself, it’s what I say about God. It’s the essence of backward boasting. I am nothing. God is everything. When the foolish boasting is in favor of Jesus and the gospel message it is sometimes acceptable.

How might this chapter be applicable to your life and ministry? Can you embrace your weaknesses? Will you boast in your weaknesses? The answer to that question has everything to do with the authenticity of the gospel and the church and its mission.

home

home

How would you describe your dream home? Maybe like you, I find myself dwelling on this question often, especially now that I am house hunting in Africa. I think about sitting in air conditioning, having a green garden with shade trees, actually staying in a place longer than 4-years, and a sizable list of other things. Until then my thinking is preoccupied with fixing our home, making it more comfortable and more like home. All these thoughts are normal and not bad in and of themselves, but they often become an end. I find myself getting stuck making earth my home, when as a Christian I’ve been secured another home beyond.

there is more beyond this world (2 Cor. 5:1)

There is more beyond, right? That is a heavenly reality. The Apostle Paul writes, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

And he continues, “For we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (v. 1). Paul’s metaphor of the body being like a tent is fitting. First, Paul made tents. It was his side job. He knew tents well. He had good job security, since tents tore or wore out. Tents are both vulnerable and temporary dwelling places and therefore a fitting metaphor for the body. Second, “tent” is a biblical metaphor. When Paul switches metaphors from “tent” to “a building from God” he has in mind the tabernacle tent that was superseded by the temple building. Temporary became permanent, tent became Temple, thus earthly body will become resurrection body. We ought to pinch ourselves with exuberant joy for what awaits our bodies!

Paul talks a lot about a future body, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” (Philippians 3:20, 21) And  “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” (1 Corinthians 15:51-53)

Why does Paul talk so much about the future body? Why does he have death on the mind? Is he morbid? Is he as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. says, “Some people are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good”?

Ironically, the problem is precisely the opposite. The issue is not that Christians think too much about heaven, but rather that we think too little about it. The apostle Paul said,  “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2). Some translations use the word “affections,” instead of “minds,” which gives it the feel of saying: “get fixated on heaven, not on earth!”

Paul thinks about death because he is aging. He isn’t getting any younger. Also, he bears the scars, wounds and bruises of years of persecution. Life has been difficult for this Jesus follower. Paul, like most bold Jesus followers, knows there is more beyond this world.

a longing for home always dwells within you (5:2-5)

Have you ever really longed for something? Like Christmas to come or your next vacation or to see a friend or loved one? What does it mean to long for something? To long is to desire something so deeply often there aren’t words for it. How does Paul express his longing? He uses the word “groan” (vs.2-4; cf. Rom. 8:23). Paul’s groans are echoed by creation (Rom. 8:19-22), Christians (8:23), and the Holy Spirit (8:26). All are groaning over the present worlds nakedness, longing for the day when our groans will transformed into praises and our nakedness will be robed in the righteousness of Christ, just as God clothed Adam and Eve’s nakedness covering their shame (Gen. 3:21).

From the beginning, God intended humans to have immortal bodies and live in constant fellowship with Him. Since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the garden we’ve been longing for home. We are most at home with God. While we wait for home we have been given a guarantee, the Holy Spirit, “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (v. 5; cf. Eph.1:13-14) Our guarantee is that the Holy Spirit sets up residence in us as His temple. That’s a pretty good guarantee as we wait for our eternal dwelling place—God dwells within us.

Do you groan in this body, longing for heaven? If so, you’re not alone. C. S. Lewis said,

“There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven, but more often I find myself wondering whether in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else… It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, and which we shall still desire on our deathbeds when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work.”

take courage even when you haven’t seen home yet (5:6-8)

Paul’s faith was not weakened by his present pain and persecution, rather it made his faith stronger. Therefore he encouraged the Corinthians,  “we are always of good courage” (v. 6a; cf. 4:18), or, more precisely, “we are courageous.” Paul faced his present reality with cheerful optimism. “We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight” (vs. 6b-7). There is a day coming when we will not need faith anymore because we will see God face-to-face.

Paul has that in mind when he says,  “Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (v. 8). I remember, when I was a child, I would struggle the last few weeks of school before summer break because I knew I would soon go to my grandparents house on Alma Lake. I would drift away to that home and dream of it’s oaky smell, lakeside views through the birch trees, and familial comforts. Now think of what it must be like to be at home with the Lord. Paul has tasted a little bit of heaven and he hungers it more and more. Home is where God is and it is home sweet home.

home, here or there, the goal is the same (5:9-10)

Notice, the goal of “home” is not to escape this world or settle for a homecoming alone. The goal is to please God whether near or far from home. God is the goal. He is the main thing. This hope of imminent face-to-face communion with Christ naturally evokes an ongoing resolve to please Him. “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (v. 9). And if that is not enough to effect your resolve, there is one other eschatological component, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (v.10)

Like I said, we are house hunting in Africa. There is no Century 21 or Remax. Options are limited. I often compare life here to camping. So house hunting is simply trying to find the smoothest plot of land. We have no running water other than a boy who runs to get the water from a well. We have no consistent electricity other than what we brought with us. We sleep under mosquito nets. We cook over a gas stove. Not only that, many people do not respond to the gospel, we’ve even had people call us names and throw rocks at our house. With all that said, I like living in Africa because it makes me desire home.

C. S. Lewis, said in his book Mere Christianity,

“A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”

the best investment advice I ever received

Waters cover the eart

“What set you on this course?” This was a question an aunt of mine recently asked. Since she was curious, others might be too. Therefore, I thought I’d share some of what I said to her along with insights from a little known prophet named Habakkuk.

It is an encouragement to get emails from those interested in following our new course direction (or calling). I know there are a few who think we are a little nuts to take our munchkins to a place like Africa, but coming from a family that has traveled as much as ours it shouldn’t be a surprise that the next generations have caught the travel bug too. I have to admit, the slideshows my grandparents would show with unabridged commentary from their trips to Africa, and visits from the Park family, gave me a contagious desire to go to Africa.

So what set us on the course? If you were to ask me 10-15 years ago, I would have never thought this is where I would end up. I wanted to be an artist like my dad, but when I heard you don’t make much money in that type of work I then wanted to be a writer or journalist. That was until, in high school, my church harnessed my gifting. My youth pastor would say, “You can’t take a U-Haul with you to your grave.” He encouraged me to continue my future in college studying Scripture and shepherding (it’s was there I also met Sarah). And immediately after college I took my first voyage to Africa on 9-month apprenticeship to South Africa. It was my first trip to the continent and it wouldn’t be my last.

When I returned to the US, I was called as the assistant pastor of a church in Indiana. For 8-years, the church cultivated my passion for Africa and the local church. It takes a selfless church to consider losing a pastor to the field when calling him.

About 6-years ago, I got an email out of the blue from a former prof at college who went on to be a pastor in inner-city Philly. He hired Sarah to be their children’s ministry director. You might remember, she grew up in the Congo until she was a teen. Africa was in her blood (quite literally). The prof asked, “You remember Sarah? Well, you like Africa and she does too. You love Jesus, and she does too.” Then he gave me her digits and the rest is history. That same prof married us in 2009. Thereafter the itch to go back to Africa was one we wanted to scratch. Our first thought was to go to the Congo near the area Sarah lived and we did training for pastors and youth leaders. It was amazing work with people eager to learn. However, as we left we were moved to go to places more forgotten.

Little known Habakkuk records some very scorching words from God’s, “Behold, is it not from the Lord of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire.” (2:13a) In other words, “God says, all the things men work for (i.e. newer house, bigger car, longer boat, larger flat-screen, fatter paycheck) will one day burn or outdate.” It’s not that they are bad things to have or own, they just aren’t lasting investments.

Then God continues by saying, “nations weary themselves for nothing” (2:13b) We see this, right now, in the political situation in Egypt and Syria or in the economical situation of many places in Africa. The strength, safety, and history of nations can crumble in a moment. In Habakkuk’s day, it was Babylon that was making headline news. They were bringing terror upon God’s people, but God declared they would only be a blimp in history and would soon fade into oblivion.

That didn’t quite calm Habakkuk’s nerves at that moment, however, in the midst of some serious woe’s, God is answering Habakkuk’s question, “Will the sin that I see go unnoticed?” A good question. Especially, when you hear the news about the latest child abuser or murderer near home or the unjust rampage on the other side of the globe. To which each human has a God-given beacon that blares out, “Somebody do something about this!”

God will do something. It might not be immediate, but He will. He makes an “I will statement” in the next verse, “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (2:14) Do you want to invest in something that will return its yield and that will return on its investment? Trust in, and buy into, the promise that He will fill every nook, cranny, and crevasse of this earth with His glory. If He says it He will do it. History proves it. That is God’s best bit of investment advice.

Most people understand that money doesn’t fix everything and the newest or neediest thing doesn’t satisfy but for a fleeting moment. What people are searching for is a golden ticket, a system that works, a way to peace, or a thing that will fill the empty hole inside them that wonders, “Is what I am doing or living for mattering?” Most things fall short, but God promises that like water He will fills every possible hole with His glory. This can be a hard promise to believe when the glory that man can make for himself is so tangible. Man can build for kingdoms and castles and rule in them proudly. He can build portfolios and resumes that gleam with self-made glory. And God warns against this imitation glory,

“What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it” (2:18-19)

As God closes on his answer to Habakkuk’s question, He declares that a divine role reversal of Creator vs. creation must take place in every humans heart, “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (2:20) It’s as if God says to Habakkuk, “Shh. Rest. Lay your life here at My feet. I am in control. Trust Me. I will bring justice. I will restore what is broken. I will right what is wrong. I will judge the living and the dead. I will wipe every tear. I will fill this earth with my glory.”

In fact, God has given us a glimpse of His glory. He sent His beloved Son to walk this planet, who lived a sinless life, received the most unfair trial, suffered under the weight of the worlds sin and the wrath of God upon Himself in His death, murdered like a criminal, but three-days later, rose the grave, defeated death, and made your way to eternal glory possible.

You might wonder what Habakkuk has to do with our course direction. It has everything to do with it. It is the promise that God gives to Habakkuk that gives us reason to go to Africa with our munchkins. It is for fame and glory. Not our own. May He cover this dry land with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea.

Jesus, lion and lamb

Screen Shot 2013-06-24 at 9.14.10 PM
Let’s say that the end of your life was in front of you. You knew it wasn’t years or months or weeks or even days, but it was hours, and your life would be over. You knew you were going to die, and you were right on the threshold of death, and it was going to be a painful, brutal, difficult, tortuous, public, shameful death. What would you be thinking about? What would you be talking about?

In Luke 22, Jesus is hours away from of His own murder. It is the dark season of His life (cf. v.53). He’s going to die soon. He knows it. And what does He talk about? What is He thinking about? The Scriptures. What gives Him confidence, what gives Him courage, what gives Him clarity? It’s the Scriptures.

One of the statements coined from the Protestant Reformation was tota sola Scriptura. It’s a Latin phrase that means all of Scripture is alone our highest authority. God’s Book is better in every way than every other book. His Book is a perfect Book. Even the best books that men write don’t compare to the book that God wrote. Scriptures are the standard to measure other books.

Now, what Jesus is going to do in Luke 22 is give a test in tota sola Scriptura. And He actually begins in Luke 22 by referring back to Luke 10. Remember, the person of peace passage, where Jesus told his disciples not to take anything, but rely upon God for provisions as they journeyed from town to town? Now Jesus will say something interesting almost seemingly contradictory,

“35 And he said to them, When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything? They said, Nothing. 36 He said to them, But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: And he was numbered with the transgressors. For what is written about me has its fulfillment. 38 And they said, Look, Lord, here are two swords. And he said to them, It is enough.”

Well, which is it, Jesus? Pack supplies or don’t pack supplies? Be ready or don’t be ready? Wear shoes or don’t wear shoes? Pack weapons or don’t pack weapons? Which is it? It all depends on the mission. Jesus says, “On this mission, take nothing; on this mission, take everything.”

On a side note, as I read this I thought, “What does ‘sword’ mean?” Well I looked it up in my super nerdy Bible dictionary and “sword” means sword. Certainly, Jesus didn’t say pack a weapon. Oh, but he did. Fourteen verses later, Peter is going to grab a sword and will cut a guy’s ear off (v.50). Ironic?

Commercial over. The truth is, sometimes you should raise money. Sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should pack supplies. Sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should defend yourself. Sometimes you shouldn’t. Sometimes you should rely solely on God your provider. Sometimes you should have a plan and be prepared. It all depends on the mission. So, consider what God is calling you to in that moment.

Jesus is going deeper than talking about material you need for you mission, but the mindset you have while on mission. In Luke 10, Jesus encourages His disciples to be like a lamb and let God be your shepherd who provides everything you need. But in Luke 22, Jesus encourages the disciples to be tough. Not just Ford tough, but ninja fighter tough. Get your supplies, money secured, boots polished, sword in sheath, off to conflict, kind of tough. Tough like a lion.

There is no contradiction between Luke 10 and 22. Jesus is both lamb or lion. When you read through all of Luke you see that Jesus is lamb and lion or both at the same time. Check it out:

Luke 4: Jesus is tested by Satan and uses the Scripture to His defense. He’s LION.
Luke 5: Jesus heals a paralytic and leper. He’s LAMB.
Luke 6: Jesus heals man with withered hand despite the religious critics. He’s LAMB and LION.
Luke 7: Jesus heals servant girl and widow. He’s LAMB.
Luke 8: Jesus casts out legion. He’s LION and LAMB.
Luke 9: Jesus feeds 5000. He’s LAMB.
Luke 11: Jesus preaches the woes. He’s LION.
Luke 13: Jesus heals disabled woman. He’s LAMB.
Luke 14: Jesus heals man on the Sabbath despite religious critics. He’s LAMB and LION.
Luke 18: Jesus lets the children come to Him. He’s LAMB.
Luke 19: Jesus confronts money changers in the temple. He’s LION.

Do you see a pattern here? Jesus is tough and tender. He is servant and sovereign. He is lamb and lion.

Back to the Reformers tota sola Scriptura. The Scripture is about totally about Jesus. All the people, stories, and principles are part of the subplot connecting to the main storyline of Jesus’, the Savior of the world. The Book doesn’t make any sense unless it’s all connects to Jesus.

On Sunday, I was had lunch with Mark and his family. They’ve lived in Africa for over two decades. There youngest son was born there and is now a young man. Mark shared how his first few years in Africa were tough, but as he saw the Word of God transform lives he has become more tender to God’s calling him there. He’s seen many Muslims respond in faith to the Book that points to Jesus from beginning to end.

In Luke 22:37, Jesus says. “For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’” He quotes Isaiah 53:12. Jesus says the the whole book is now being fulfilled in His life. He came fulfilling everything that is written in the book that God wrote. Even on the brink of torture and death Jesus understands He is to fulfill what God has said. He came as the lamb of God slain for the sins of the world. And He has promised to come back as the Lion of Judah to restore the world. The Book says so. Tota sola Scriptura.

Questions for Reflection: How has Jesus made provision for you in your life? How does the fulfillment of the cross make provision for your sin? In what ways do you lack nothing and have everything? How does your worldly perspective affect your view of provision? In what ways have you submitted to the truth and power of Scripture in your life? What does it look like for the Scripture to be your tota sola Scriptura?

Jesus forgives risky women

Lightbulb

A few years ago, my wife served at Vision of Hope, a residential treatment center for women at risk. During her time on staff, we met many gals from backgrounds of horrific abuse, numbing addictions, and life-debilitating decisions. These gals came wrecked and desperate for change. Miraculously many of those gals intersected with Jesus, began listening to the Bible, and transformed from inside out. You would never know today the history many of these gals had because Jesus had forgiven them and set them free. Jesus loves rescuing risky women.

In the gospel of Luke, we see Jesus mingling with some risky characters like Levi the tax collector who invites Jesus to a party with his buddies (5:27-32), a leper (5:12-26), and a crazed demon possessed man (4:31-44). Jesus reaches out to people most would consider keeping at a distance. In Luke 7:36-50, Jesus intersect with a risky woman in the oddest of places, a religious leaders home. This story begs us to ask the question, which character do I most resemble?

Let’s meet Simon. Simon is a Pharisee. He’s an elite Jewish leader who is known for being a stickler about the law, sort or like the religious rules police. For an unknown reason he invites Jesus over to his house for a meal. Jesus accepts. As Jesus arrives Simon insults Jesus by ignoring to greet Him or give Him water to wash His feet. Simon has a some chip on his shoulder.

It’s not just Jesus he disrespects, he labels a woman. Sure, she’s an unexpected guest and a ‘woman of the city’ who would never be invited to Simon’s house or these kind of parties. He makes a rash judgment about the woman saying, “She is a sinner.” (v.39) Simon has no sympathy for sinners.

Religious people are slow to see others needs, but they are quick to spot others sins before their own

Simon thinks that since he keeps the rules he’s a good man. Compared to his uninvited guest he appears pretty good. Simon is good; good at seeing the flaws in others. He can spy a sinner miles away, all the while camouflage his soul to the public. He does not see himself as a sinner nor his own need of forgiveness. However, Jesus has x-ray vision and sees the condition of Simon’s heart. It’s inhospitable, unloving, irreverent, and unforgiven.

In what ways are you like Simon the Pharisee? Be honest. Is your standard of goodness comparing yourself to others? Have you held back the gospel from ‘sinners’? Are you quick to judge and slow to compassion? If you answered ‘yes’ to any of those questions you have some similarities to Simon.

Simon blew an opportunity to show grace and compassion to this woman. He could have said, “Welcome! I want to be the first to introduce you to Jesus!” Instead, he labels, judges, and belittles her. He despises both woman and Jesus. He despises her despicable reputation and Jesus’ growing reputation. He despises the way the woman worships Jesus because he doesn’t know who Jesus really is.

Those who know who Jesus really is are not ashamed to respond to Him with humble, generous, repentant worship

luke7This woman has a lot to be ashamed about, but she unashamedly approaches Jesus at Simon’s house. She risks her pride and already diminished reputation to see Him there in public, of all places. It is obvious she put thought her actions. She kisses Jesus’ feet, washes them with her tears, and puts ointment on them (vs.37-38). It might appear to be an awkward or offensive situation, but to Jesus it’s beautiful, generous, humble, repentant worship.

Jesus does not rebuke the woman, instead He approves of her humble extravagance. Jesus loves worship. The only thing that matters in worship is God’s approval. He created you for His glory and praise. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” (Romans 11:36) “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth…All things were created through Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1:16) “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory.” (Isaiah 43:7)

In response to the woman, Jesus shows love and gives her the most hopeful words, “Your sins are forgiven” (v.48). Can you imagine what those four words meant to her? How life-altering they would be?

In what ways are you like the woman of the city? She does not hold back from worshiping Jesus. She knows who Jesus is and what He can do for her. What she needs is forgiveness. She faces her sin. She does not run or hide. She finds forgiveness in Jesus.

Jesus came to earth to challenge the religious status quo and transform you from the inside out

As I said in the beginning, this story begs us to ask the question, which character do I most resemble? It is common to compare yourself with Simon or the woman, but in what ways are you like Jesus? Jesus is the main character of this story. He’s the star of the whole Bible. In this particular story there is a lot to be learned from Jesus. He accepts both the sinner and the saint. He gives both what they need. To the sinner He gives her forgiveness and assurance. To the one who thinks he’s a saint he gives truth in love. Jesus challenges the the religious status quo. Here’s how:

First, Jesus challenges our flawed perception of our own goodness (vs.41-42). Simon thought he was a good man, especially compared to the woman, but compared to Jesus he looked quite putrid. Jesus reveals the condition of Simon’s heart: polished on the outside, but tarnished on the inside. By the worlds standard’s the Simon is a good man and the woman is bad, but Jesus sees them both equally as sinful and needing forgiveness. Remember, Jesus is our standard of goodness not another sinner.

Second, Jesus challenges our shallow values (vs.44-47). The Pharisee sees himself as an important person. In contrast, the woman humbles herself to show what she deems important. The woman gives Jesus her most precious object in the world because she believes Jesus is the gift of forgiveness will be the most precious gift to her. By breaking the alabaster flask, she is handing over everything that is important to her. Jesus becomes her most valued treasure.

Third, Jesus challenges our sense of safety and certainty (vs.48-50). Simon finds safety and security in his religious system. Following rules is the easy part, but it settles for a lesser status quo than following the way of Jesus. Jesus sets the bar. He shows how you can love the law, yet love others who don’t measure up to it. Jesus’ love for the woman trumps the label Simon puts on her.

If you are into safety and certainty, you will miss God and will miss an opportunity to speak the gospel into a persons life. Religious systems call for conformity to the system, but the gospel calls for transformation through Christ alone. The one thing that is certain in this world is Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to God but by Him. He is the standard of goodness. And no one measures up. But by His grace you can be saved because Jesus took all your badness on the cross. Come to Him and be forgiven. Let Him change you from the inside out.

Who do you most resemble in this story? You are the pharisee when you forget you are like the woman. Do you believe you are a sinner, or do you think you’re basically a good person? Do you know that Jesus has forgiven your sins? If so, how can you be loving and serving Jesus, at home, at school, in your neighborhood?

Jesus breaks the rules

breaking the rules

Rules. Rules. Rules. They are everywhere. There are rules for school, rules for the road, rules for table manners, rules for marriage, rules for parents and children, rules for governing, rules for meetings, rules for church, written rules, unspoken rules, and even rules for rules.

Sometimes rules can seem nettlesome when we don’t understand their purpose. Like, why can’t we use #1 or #3 pencil for tests? Now, rules aren’t all bad. Think of a world without rules. It would be chaos. Rules are good. Rules are meant to protect us and help us. This is the heart behind a parents saying to their children, “Look both ways before crossing the street.” It’s a rule that could save ones life.

God has made rules too. His rules perfectly and lovingly protect us and help us. However, some people have seen God’s rules as overbearing or unreasonable and choose to rebel. Rebellious people break the rule by ignoring them altogether. Others have seen God’s rules as insufficient and needing additions to fit their religious system. Religious people make rules for God, themselves and others.

So is it ever okay to make or break the rules? In Luke 6, Jesus will answer this question as He’s being accused of breaking their rules. What rules does Jesus break? Certain religious leaders accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath rules.

What is the Sabbath? Literally, it means “rest” and is rooted in the seventh day of creation when God rested after six-days of creating (Genesis 2:2-3). God did not rest because He was tired, but He set an example for mankind (Mark 2:27-28). God knew in His infinite wisdom that man would be weak and need to take a day off from work and enjoy the day of rest. The Sabbath is a day dedicated to God (Exodus 20:9-11). So how do the religious leaders think Jesus breaks the rules of the Sabbath?

1) Jesus breaks the rules by helping His hungry friends (Luke 6:1-5)

no_food_or_drinkJesus and His disciples were hungry and there was no McDonald’s drive-thru available to get a quite bite to eat. In accordance with the law (Deuteronomy 23:25), they go into a field, pick grain, crush it with their hands, and eat it. The Pharisees catch wind of this and cry foul. They ask, “Why are you sinning on the Sabbath?” (v.2) Why do they assume Jesus and His followers are sinning? The Pharisee’s saw this as harvesting and threshing, and accuse Jesus of doing work on the Sabbath. Sounds like a stretch, eh?

The Pharisees were sticklers for law keeping. The took God’s law and added to it a man-made framework to give them the appearance of righteousness. So with such laws like, “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy,” (Exodus 20:8ff) they made-up a list of rules to look really holy, but the Sabbath became just another religious activity.

Isn’t that easy to do? Have you ever made the Sabbath a religious activity to boast in yourself? It is easier to keep your own rules of righteousness than measure yourself by God’s rules. According to their rules, Pharisees were on the Varsity Team and everyone else was on warming bench.

How does Jesus respond to the Pharisees accusation? First, He compares the situation to the example of David and his soldiers eating the bread of Presence from the temple, which was only to be eaten by the priests (1 Sam.21:1-6). Jesus points to the fact that God is more concerned about the person and the motivation of their heart than the particulars of the law. Jesus could see through to the hearts of the Pharisees and they were evil.

Second, Jesus doesn’t appeal to the religious leaders authority or accept their theology, instead He claims, “I am Lord over the Sabbath” (v.5). In other words, Jesus says, “I wrote the law and the Sabbath was my idea. Stop arguing with Me and start listening. Don’t fight Me, follow Me. Since I made the Sabbath, He define it.” Not only does He define it, He lives and fulfills it before their very eyes.

Sabbath is a wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed. Religious people suck the joy, passion, and purpose out of it (and everything they add rules to). They make the Sabbath as fun as going to the dentist on a free day. This particular Sabbath should have been the most unique, memorable, and joyful ones of their lives because they were in the presence of the Son of God.

2) Jesus breaks the rules by healing a man’s hand (Luke 6:6-11)

no peopleOn the Sabbath, Jesus goes to the synagogue for worship. He’s teaches. And Luke, the doctor, tells us there is a man present who has a withered hand. The Pharisees and scribes are listening critically to Jesus words and waiting with baited breath to see if He will heal the man. Like wolves ready to pounce on their prey, they were salivating at the opportunity to catch Jesus doing something they thought offended the law. Religious people are quick to tear apart and devour others.

This time Jesus asks the question, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?.” (v.9) No response is given because the answer is obvious. Jesus then has the man to stretch out His hand, in faith, he does what Jesus says, and Jesus heals him. In that moment, Jesus showed the religious people that helping someone in need trumps holding tightly to your rules. Jesus transforms this man life. Forever will he remember this Sabbath as the day Jesus healed His hand and healed his heart.

Religious people are not ruled by loving God or loving people, they ruled by a love for rules. Loving rules is legalism. Legalism is when people take the Bible and add to it. They make rules outside of the Bible that are equal to the Bible. Legalism is unbiblical, unloving, moralistic, man-pleasing, compromising, critical, judgmental, arrogant, self-righteous, and godless.

Legalism is an enemy of Jesus and His Word

Legalism is a dangerous enemy; it adds to the Bible and rejects Jesus as the only sufficient means to righteousness. Legalism denies something called sola scriptura, where Scripture alone are our highest authority. Sola Scriptura was first coined by the Protestant Reformers. All other authorities, like other books, teachers, rules, and leaders, are under, not equal to, Scripture. Religious people tend to elevate teachers and also other lists, and rules, and books equal to Scripture.

So dangerous is legalism that it kills Jesus. The Pharisees were so angry that they connived a plan to get rid of Him, “But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (v.11) Religious legalist don’t lose because they make their enemies pay. When they are angry they attack. Luke 6:11 will lead to Luke 23:46, which is the murder of Jesus.

Jesus summarizes the rules with two rules

Jesus doesn’t break any of the Bible’s rules, but He breaks certain religious rules. He does so because He values helping people more than following others expectations, traditions or religious rules. He knows that religious legalism is the default setting of every human being. So in Matthew 22:37-40, Jesus shares the two most important rules, often known as the greatest rules,

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

These rules show God’s heart for giving the law: love. God intends the law to protect and help you love Him and others around you. It’s not about loving the rules or loving to rebel against them. It’s about loving the God and others. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

Some of you need to repent of your religion. Enough with the legalism. Enough with the rule making. Enough adding to the Bible. Enough with the self-righteousness. Enough with the boasting and bragging. Enough with the criticizing and judging. Repent of your religion and come to Jesus. You can’t have Jesus and religion. It’s just Jesus.

Some of you also need to repent of your rebellion against Jesus’ rules. Enough with rebellion. Enough with rule breaking. Enough ignoring the Bible and subtracting from it. Enough with bashing the religious. Enough with reverse legalism. Enough with lawlessness and licentiousness. Repent and follow Jesus.

Come to Jesus. Receive His death for your sin, His righteousness for your unrighteousness, let Him do the work of grace and transformation in you. The truth is Jesus lived the perfect life. He died a substitutionary death, and He rises to give you the gift of righteousness. Stop trying to be righteous on your own and receive the righteousness of Jesus, and share that message of grace with those around you who need it too.

triumphant odiferous sacrifice

Staying on mission is tough. Even, as I prepare for the mission it’s tough. God has used the stories of missionaries like Hudson Taylor, David Brainerd, and Mary Slessor to keep me moving. These men and women lived on the front-lines suffering for the sake of the name of Christ. Today, I will look at one missionary’s testimony of how he pressed through tough times. His name is Paul.

In 2 Corinthians 2, Paul had just written a hard letter to Corinth and is anxious how it was received. So he sent Titus ahead to find out how they were doing. “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13) Although the door was open for Paul in Troas, He could not shake God’s moving to connect with Titus and the call to spread the gospel in Macedonia.

This is the context behind two illustrations Paul gives to help us understand how he presses on through tough times in ministry and stays on mission spreading the name of Christ, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2:14-16)

1) ARE YOU PLACING YOURSELF IN THE TRIUMPHANT PROCESSIONAL GIVING SACRIFICES TO THE NAME OF CHRIST? (v.14)

Paul’s first image is common to Rome, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.” After a great victory there would be a parade. It wasn’t a parade of candy and clowns, rather a huge triumphant processional with rank after rank of trumpeters, streams of soldiers and senators, wagons of spoil, prisoners to be enslaved or executed, and ended with the hero or conquering general dressed ceremoniously riding a chariot.  Along the route people cast flowers, burned incense or poured out perfume. Wonderful fragrances filled the air.

So why does Paul use this illustration? It serves two purposes. On the one hand, Jesus is triumphant and Paul is in His service. But on the other hand, Jesus is like a heroic general and Paul is conquered and called to suffer in His service—even die.

The word triumph is used one other place in the NT, Colossians 2:15, “[God] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.” In Colossians, Paul says God leads the devil in triumph, but in 2 Corinthians, he says that God leads Paul in triumph. Both have been defeated in their rebellion against God. Both are being led in triumphal procession and shamed for their rebellion. However, there is a great difference, Paul is “in Christ.” He was defeated and taken captive; but he was brought to faith and forgiven, and became a joyful servant of the greatest General who ever was. Jesus, the One who conquered sin and death.

Although Jesus was the one marched to His death, He rose victorious from the grave. He conquered death as the ultimate and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9). And it is Jesus’ sacrifice that gives Paul motivation to also give his life as a sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1-2). When you are finding ministry difficult, place yourself in the triumphant processional praising the name of Christ. Recognize your place in the parade and give thanks to your Hero.

2) ARE YOU SPREADING THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST EVERYWHERE YOU GO? (vs.15-16)

Paul second illustration is a continuation of his first, “And through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” Smells is a God-given sense that affect us all—for better and for worse. Smell alerts you to danger, such as, a building on fire. Animals use smell to survive.  Smell tells you when someone else is around. There are delightful smells like freshly bake cookies, meat on the grill, fields of lavender, the smell of a little baby, or a new car. There are also putrid smells like dirty socks, moldy cheese, Mosinee’s paper mill, skunks,1 or even worse, a dead skunk.

Paul thinks of his missionary life and ministry as spreading fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. He considers the gospel odiferous. Using OT imagery, Paul says we are like incense being offered to God or animals being burned upon the altar, “we are the aroma of Christ to God.” Notice our aroma is first to God, not man. It is to Him we give our first, best, most, and greatest sacrifices of praise. As God warns the children of Israel: “If you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me…I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas.” (Leviticus 26:27, 31)

Also wrapped up in Paul’s message to Corinth are heart-rejoicing and heart-breaking words about missionary service: spreading the name of Christ pleases God, but it does not please everybody. His fragrance divides the world, “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” To those on the side of Christ His smell is of victory and life (cf. Romans 10:15),2 but to those on the side contrary to Christ His smell is of defeat and impending death (John 15:18-25). As a bee makes sweet honey sweet to the taste, it can also sting too. So it is with the work of Christ and spreading His name to your neighbors and the nations. Don’t expect everyone to like the message or the you the messenger.

WHO IS SUFFICIENT FOR THESE THINGS? (vs.16-17)

Paul concludes by asking a crucial question—“Who is sufficient for these things?” Who can bear the weight of knowing that the aroma of a Christ-exalting life will lead some to eternal life and reveal to others death? The answer: no one. That’s why Paul says, “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.” (2 Corinthians 2:16-17) Paul carries out the mission by the grace of God. He is not sufficient—you and I are not sufficient—in ourselves. No missionary feels sufficient. And 2 Corinthians 3:5 Paul says, “Our sufficiency is from God.” (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12; Romans 1:5)

Staying on mission is tough. Each day you face the temptation to cling tightly to your life, comforts, treasures, and self-sufficiency. Are you willing to lay down your treasures to treasure Him? May God lift your eyes to see His incomparable worthiness and may you without reservation place yourself in the triumphant processional giving sacrifices to your victorious Savior spreading His sweet and putrid fragrance to your neighbors and the nations.

Cure for Spiritual Alzheimer’s

My wife frequently praises my memory. That’s coming from one who misplaces items or thoughts daily (and that’s a compliment). What she thinks is a blessing, I often think is a curse. There are things I wish I could forget that are hardwired into the recesses my brain. Now I don’t have photographic memory. That would have been handy for the French exam I had last week. But like most people, I have selective memory. I remember ridiculous things like: sports stats (especially about the Green Bay Packers), song lyrics to bands with big hair from the 80’s, and phone numbers to every house I’ve lived at since I was 4-years old (and that’s a lot of houses).

I dread the day when my memory will decline. As a young child I’d visit my great grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. A once strong and jovial woman was now being spoon-fed from her tender-loving husband whom she had long forgotten. The pain of watching someone you love and care for deteriorate can sometimes be too much to bear.

I am not going to talk about Alzheimer’s today nor am I aiming to offend an elderly crowd. But I do want to talk about a spiritual form of Alzheimer’s that many Christians seem to be suffering.

Problem 1: Forgetting God

Remedy: Repentance

While wandering in the Wilderness, Moses told the children of Israel over and over again, “Whatever you do, do not forget God.” They had the attention span of a toddler. They had the best seats to God’s miracles and were still wishing for slavery in Egypt over the Promised Land.

There is a spiritual Alzheimer’s that sets in when you forget that God made you free but you are still live in bondage to this world. The Lord told the church of Ephesus, “But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:4-5). This warning comes less than 40-years after the gospel first came to them. How quickly have you forgotten what the Lord has done? The good news is that while there is no cure yet for the disease of Alzheimer’s, the cure for forgetting God is repentance.

Problem 2: Forgetting God’s Word

Remedy: Rehearse it

There is another form of spiritual Alzheimer’s; it’s forgetting the Scripture you just read or heard. James the apostle said, “If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was” (James 1:23–24).

My wife and I are in our 2nd month of French language school at Parole de Vie Bethel. We are learning French in preparation for serve in Chad. One of the aspects I really enjoy about our studies is the requirement to memorize Scripture, yes, in French. I began memorizing Bible verses as a teen after a challenge given by my youth pastor. Later I memorized a section of Psalm 119 each week with my South African friend Cal. Again, I am being reminded of the importance of treasuring God’s Word.

Speaking of Psalm 119, David understood the benefit of memorizing Scripture for the sake of his spiritual health. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored (treasured) up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9-11) According to rest of Psalm 119 the Bible helps guard against sin (vs. 9, 11), brings life (25), strengthens (28), produces hope (49), comforts in affliction (50), gives good judgment and knowledge (66), gives understanding (99, 104, 130), gives guidance (105), and peace (165), and more.

Do you believe Word of God is a priceless treasure? You may doubt that you can put Scripture to memory, especially if you are older. If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10-11, “They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” The real value of the Word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The cure for forgetfulness is to treasure reading the Bible and proactively rehearse it often.

Problem 3: Forgetting your need of God

Remedy: Daily Dependence

God creates you; He knows you have a finite memory. That is why He has given the greatest tool to aid your memory–His Spirit. Jesus said to the disciples in the Upper Room before His death., “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26; cf. 15:26; 16:14) Do you remember how quickly they forgot it? Soon after Jesus’ death they were back to the boats fishing, and not for men.

One of the greatest joys in the universe is knowing that you are not alone–the God of the universe is your Helper. He is with you forever (John 14:16). And when you read and study Scripture He helping you understand and remember it. The more you read the more He will help you remember. Isn’t that amazing? He uses the Word to give you His peace (John 14:27), His love (John 15:9, 10), and His joy (John 15:11). These are profound truths that comfort and strengthen your hearts and minds in a troubled world.

Proverbs 22:18-19 says: “It will be pleasant if you keep [the words of the wise] within you, that they may be ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the LORD.” How is your trust? Your confidence? Your peace and joy and assurance? Your faith? Your faith rises or falls to the degree that it feeds hourly on the treasure of God’s truth stored in the heart. The cure for forgetting your need of God is having a joyful dependence each day on His Word for your spiritual sustenance.

Forgetting God, His Word, or you need of Him happens. That why it is important to ask yourself often, “Do I have Spiritual Alzheimer’s?”

opulence, philanthropy, and giving

Image from Forbes.com

In the photo above you have a gathering of $126 billion dollars. It is probably the single richest gather in modern history. These men and women have given money and time to make the world a better place. These peoples lives are marked by giving rather than receiving.

It is indeed honorable what these billionaires have done with their pocket books. You truly see what one values by the way they spend their money and time. These billionaires have set a high standard for those of us who have less to consider.

As I pursued Forbes 400 Summit articles a few questions teetered in mind: Is he who give the most always the most honored? What about the little old lady who lives below the poverty line that gives kisses and cookies to cheer children? Is giving money the most helpful solution to the worlds issues? What does money buy? What is the definition of “better” in making the world a better place?

When I consider the most opulent Giver of all time, he was not rich with monetary wealth, he did not own a large corporate empire, he was not well liked even by religious persons. Rather, he lived a frugal life, the son of two teenage parents. His hands were calloused from carpentry. He did draw crowds and heal many sick. He did make outrageous claims, like, being God and the universe was his inheritance. He was considered a criminal and blasphemer. Ultimately he sacrificed his life, ending it in public humiliation, giving it up for the sake of the name and glory of His Father’s.

His name: Jesus. Without his divinely foreordained gift to humanity, no one in the world would have enough brains, bucks or brawn to conger up a better solution to the problems created by sin. His gift of forgiveness and reconciliation is free for all who believe. It won’t cost you 99% of your accumulated wealth, but it might just cost you to die to yourself.

I am not sure I’d ever see Jesus picture or name mentioned in Forbes, but I will surely hear and see Him worshiped throughout eternity.

those who are given Grace give no excuses good enough to keep sinning

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 ESV)

Grace gives no excuses to sin. If you give excuses for sinning after you’ve been given grace you do not completely understand grace. You don’t understand the grossness of sin. You don’t understand the glory of Christ.

Sin might look cute in kids. Sin might be expected in teens. Sin might be hidden by crafty adults. But that gives not excuse to sin. That only abuses grace.

righteous extravagance

What would you do if you had one week to live? This is a question posed in the movie, One Week, in which a young man named Ben is faced with the reality from doctors he has end-stage cancer and will soon die. He impulsively buys a motorcycle, leaves his job and fiancée, and takes off on a solo trip across Canada. In a scene with his fiancée he argues, “It’s not about the cancer; it’s about the life I built for myself. Why am I over-insured? Why do I care so much about being responsible all the time? Why do I give a $%&* about the appliances we’re putting into our kitchen?”

Society conditions us to believe life is about a nicer house, a prestigious high paying job, and granite countertops. Yet when you are faced with the reality that you only have one week to live those things you use to covet, fear, worry about, or fixate upon take a backseat to what’s most important.

What would you do if you had one week to live? Would you live extravagantly? When we think about extravagance we think of money and spending lots of it. There is a Facebook page dedicated to asking people what they would do the last week of their life. The answers reveal what we value. Here are some of the responses:

  • I would quit my job, buy a boat and get a tattoo. I would get married as quickly as possible.
  • I would travel by helicopter to Ireland, the Grand Canyon, and end at a beach spa on Bora Bora.
  • I would pig out on all the cheese fondue and chips and guacamole I could stomach.
  • I would max out my credit cards and spend it on frivolous things like renting a convertible Ferrari.
  • I would write letters to all my children or people who touched my life and spend time with them.
  • I would go out and get a second opinion from another doctor.

Today is Palm Sunday. It is the day we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ last week of earthly life. Within a week He is praised by the crowds, lynched on a cross, and raised from the grave. Like Ben, Jesus knew He had one week to live. What do you see Jesus do differently the last week of His life compared to the 33 years before? Nothing. What you do see is an expectation of His followers to live extravagantly the remaining days of their earthly life. Not extravagant, as in spending frivolously or living recklessly, but extravagant as in living out your faith with excessive elaborateness that people are sure to hear and see the Savior in your speech and actions.

1. If you truly know Jesus, you will respond with extravagant worship [John 12:1-8]

Within 6-days Jerusalem will celebrate the Passover. People are flocking from all over the region. This Passover will be different. Jesus will die. He will become the Passover lamb. Jesus is moves towards danger not away from it. He does not hide. In fact, He goes to the Bethany—the location of one of Jesus’ greatest miracles—the resurrection of Lazarus. He knows His time is near. The chief priests and Pharisees have already sent out a warrant for Jesus’ arrest [11:57].

When Jesus arrives in Bethany He is honored with a sinner party. It is a thank you celebration for Jesus miraculous power raising Lazarus from the dead. Gathered are the disciples. Lazarus is reclining at the table with a big smiling to the one who gave him new life. Martha is in her usual place organizing the meal and making sure it’s well served. And Mary is about to express her heart to Jesus in a lavish way. This is the same Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet soaking in every word He said and to whom He said, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.”

The time comes when Mary presents Jesus with an extravagant gift. Perhaps the whole family planned this moment. Perhaps they pooled their savings together to buy the gift fit for a king [Songs 1:12]. Perhaps it’s a family heirloom that has been passed on for years. Or perhaps Mary heard about the “sinful woman” at Simons house who poured perfume at Jesus feet and also desired to honor Jesus [Luke 7:36-50]. We are uncertain her reasons, but Mary poured out about 11 ounces (the size of a soda can) and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped His feet with her hair. The fragrance filled the house. It’s an unforgettable moment of extravagant worship from hearts filled with gratitude.

Not all who were at the party thought Mary’s scene of extravagant worship was such a wise idea. Judas Iscariot thought it was a waste of good perfume. And as if he were ‘Mr. Spiritual’ asks why the expensive perfume was not sold and given to the poor. This is quite the blow coming from the tightwad who is robbing from the disciple’s moneybox.

If Judas wasn’t over exaggerating the 11-ounce flask of spikenard was worth about $26,000 (300 days pay at minimum wage). Judas makes us aware that it is easy to be the judge of another persons worship, rather than just worshiping Christ. His values were so deeply different from Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ that in a few days he would do the opposite. Instead of giving $26,000 for Jesus he would sell him for a thousand bucks (30 pieces of silver). Judas’ heart is full of dollar signs, but Martha, Mary and Lazarus’ hearts valued what money could not buy, a relationship with God.

What do you treasure? If you treasure the things of this world you will hang by them, as did Judas. If you treasure Christ above all things you will live. Jesus said to Martha after He raised Lazarus, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.” [John 11:25–26] Jesus wants to make sure that in six days at another grave—His own—they do not lose their sense of worship that He is indeed the Resurrection and the Life, but that they would “keep it” even on the day of His burial.

Jesus does not rebuke Mary’s gift, instead He approves of her extravagantly beautiful worship. Jesus loves extravagant worship. The only thing that matters in worship is God’s approval. He created you for His glory and praise. “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.” [Romans 11:36] “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth…All things were created through Him and for Him.” [Colossians 1:16] “Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory.” [Isaiah 43:7]

According Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But Jesus has come to live to die so that you might give Him “praise for His glorious grace” now [Ephesians 1:3-14] and throughout all eternity.[1] He came to be worshiped. He created you as a worshiper. And He has called you to make worshipers. Worshiping God is your mission.

“Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship is, therefore, the fuel and the goal of missions.” – John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad. Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI. 2003. p.17

2. When you worship extravagantly, you are Jesus’ witness to the world [John 12:9-22]

Palm Sunday was an event of great understanding and misunderstanding. The great understanding is that this Jesus really is “the King who comes in the name of the Lord” [Luke 19:38]. He is the Messiah, the Son of David, the long-awaited Ruler of Israel, and the fulfillment of all God’s promises. But the great misunderstanding was that He would enter Jerusalem take His throne and make Israel free from the oppression of Rome.

The understanding of the crowd that day gave joy, but the misunderstanding brought about destruction that led to the murder of Jesus a few days later and the destruction of Jerusalem 40 years later. Jesus saw it all coming as He came into Jerusalem. And as Jesus entered into Jerusalem there were a two interesting cultural nuances to the event:

First, Jesus makes a kingly entrance. Why did Jesus choose a donkey? It demonstrated Jesus’ humbleness; and it showed that Jesus’ entry was part of God’s plan [Zechariah 9:9]. During Jesus’ day, donkeys were part of the peasant life. However, Hebrew kings rode the ‘beasts of burden’ when they traveled throughout their kingdoms in times of peace [1 Kings 1:33–35]. And the king always had a donkey reserved for him that no one else had ever ridden.

Second, the people proclaim Jesus as king. Not only are the people singing Messianic psalms. According to Luke 19:35–36, the people spread their cloaks on the donkey and the road. Cloaks were of great importance. The cloak was so important to the owner that it would never have been loaned out to someone else. Compare it to something important to you like your home, car, or favorite dress or suit. Hence the parable when Jesus says when one asks for you tunic, give him your cloak as well [Matthew 5:40-42].

The disciples did not understand the purposes of the events that day, until after Jesus death and resurrection. Now the Pharisees completely misunderstand what is happening. Their pride blinded them, and they refused to bow to Jesus ‘the blasphemer.’ In disgust they mumble to each other, “Look, the world has gone after Him!” [12:19] In the crowd, Greeks gathered with the join the crowd, which is ironic proof that the world had come to see Jesus.

The idea of world (kosmos) in John is not a negative term [3:16–19]. Neither is it just geographical, but it’s a reference to the population or people of the world. Jesus is called the light of the world [1:9; 8:12] and “the Savior of the World” [4:42]. His coming into the world [1:10] was to take away the sin of the people of the world [1:29]. But because of hard hearts and rejection, the coming of Jesus also meant the judgment of the world [9:39].

Within a few days those same crowds shouting “Hosanna!” would shout, “Crucify Him!” Jesus knew what was about to happen. The Pharisees would get the upper hand. The people would be fickle and follow their leaders. And Jesus would be rejected and crucified. And within a generation the city of Jerusalem would be obliterated,

“Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying,  “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, 44 and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.” [Luke 19:41-44]

This is sobering news for Jerusalem. But it made way for the good news to reach the ends of the earth [John 3:16].

In Luke 19:39 the Pharisees ask Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But He answered and said to them,  “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.” [Luke 19:40] How can stones cry out that Jesus is Lord? All nature, just by being, testifies about the God who made the world.

Do you remember pet rocks? Companies must have made a millions selling rocks with felt feet and beady little eyes. It’s silly to think that a rock could talk, much less shout the praises of Christ. But if you’ve ever been to the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains, you realize that the rocks do cry out praises to their creator. All of His creation makes His presence and praise known. Why would mankind, the crown of His creation, choose to be silent? He’s called you to be His witness to the world!

3. As a witness of Jesus, God honors your service with unfathomable extravagance [John 12:23-26]

These verses mark a turning point in Jesus ministry. He sounds the alarm saying, “My hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified.”[2] Using an agricultural story of a dying seed that gives life to the following years harvest, so Jesus must die in order for the world to have eternal life. Only by understanding Jesus’ death and resurrection can you make sense out of what seems to be the senseless waste of life. Jesus will sacrifice His life so that all may have life.

Jesus is not just talking about Himself but is giving a template for everyone of His followers. Following Jesus may involve the ultimate cost of discipleship, namely the death of the disciple. There are hard things in these verses for Jesus followers. It is not easy to die to sin and self, hate you life in this world, follow Christ, and serve Him. But there are glorious things for followers who do hard things for His name sake. If you die, you bear much fruit. If you hate your life you will keep it for eternity. If you follow Christ you will be where He is and He will be there too. And if you serve Christ the Father will honor you.

If you had 7 days to live how would you make His name known? How would you spend and be spent for the sake of His fame? The way you live the last week of you life reveals your priorities or what you value. When Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew when he would die he responded, “If I thought the world were going to end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.” He gets to the heart of the matter, that when the end comes the Lord should catch you doing the things you were called to do all along.

There is great honor for serving in your church. No matter if you are a deacon, Sunday school teacher, nursery helper, or sanctified toilet scrubber, God is honored with selfless service. There is great honor in sharing your faith out loud to your unbelieving classmates, coworkers, and family members. As Jim Elliott said and lived to his death, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

Mark was part of a team of two families serving Muslims. Late in August, the team received death threats. The families were evacuated, but Mark stayed for one last meeting with believers before joining them. The night after the meeting while at home preparing his dinner, Mark was shot. He was discovered the next morning in his home, but he had lost too much blood to survive. At his passing, Mark left a young wife and two infant twin daughters. Mark’s agency feared the possibility of legal action from Mark’s father, who was not a believer and who vocally opposed his son’s service among Muslims. But at Mark’s funeral, Mark’s father was among fifteen people who gave their lives to Christ. His wife plans to minister in the same region where her husband was killed.

I think of the five men who lost their lives in Ecuador to reach the Auca Indians. A wife and a sister returned to the village and the wife raised her daughter among the tribe that killed their husband. Many in the tribe converted because of the similarity between Christ sacrifice and the five men. The risk versus rewards for extravagantly following Christ is literally out of this world. You are guaranteed to be an heir of everything that God has created and eternally be at home with Him. God is lavishly, excessively, exuberantly, graciously, outrageously loving. In a word, He is extravagant. When His extravagance registers in your hearts and minds, extravagant devotion flows towards Him.


[1] Cf. Revelation 4:11; 5:8-14; 7:9-10; 15:4

[2] Cf. 2:4; 4:21, 23; 7:30; 8:20; 16:4; 13:1; 17:1

homeless

The Hutts are homeless. Two weeks ago we official closed on our home. The little plot of land on Battleview Dr in central Indiana that we owned (well that the bank owned) is no longer ours to claim as home.

It was a joyful yet sorrowful day for us. Sarah and I have really been missing home. We loved that house. Selling it encourages me to yearn all the more to my eternal home.

It will be a day I will not have to live out of a suitcase anymore! For the past 5-months, we have lived out of suitcases and our Honda Element [aka: the toaster]. I am reminded that it’s only the beginning of our travels, but in the span of eternity it’s only a blade of grass in prairie. Home is truly an organic idea. It is an idea that is continually growing and changing in my mind:

Home is where your heart is

As Sarah and I now have our sights less on our earthly plot and more on our eternal kingdom the idea of having an earthly castle lacks luster. As Jesus says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” [Matthew 6:21]

Although we have sold our home we still have over 12 large tubs of keepsakes in storage. The tubs are filled with items we have grown to love and hold dear. As important as it is to us we cannot take it with us. And as my youth pastor said growing up, “You don’t see hearses pulling U-Haul’s behind them.” My stuff will stay behind. I learned this lesson the hard way last month when my external hard drive was dropped and I lost all our family photos and videos. In a moment all those memories vanished. I suppose it would have happened later through disaster or death. Stuff stinks, but it does give clues to where your heart is. Or where you are at home.

Home is now and later

Paul considered himself a citizen of Rome [Acts 16:37, 22:25-29; cf. Romans 13:1-7] and Heaven [Philippians 3:20; Ephesians 2:19]. Although being a citizen of Rome had meaning, being a citizen of heaven was of more importance. You could say he was a patriot of Rome, but the banner he waved was of the kingdom of Christ. Jesus also honored His earthly authority [Matthew 22:15-22; 26:50-68], but ultimately submitted Himself to His Father in Heaven. It is not wrong to embrace home here on earth as long as it doesn’t compare to the embrace heaven has on you.

Home here doesn’t compare to your eternal home there

Jesus was homeless. He didn’t know where He would lay His head on a give night [Luke 9:58]. A few years ago, I read the book, Heaven, by Randy Alcorn. Throughout the book I was amazed that Heaven is not so much a place where I will see old loved ones, see breathtaking streets, see no pain, death, or sin, but it’s a place where I will behold my Savior Jesus Christ in all His glorious splendor. I see glimpses of him here and now in creation, in people, in His mighty works, and in His Word, but it will not compare to the day when all will be zeroed on Him as the centerpiece of Zion.

Home is promised is a place of comfort and security

What I miss about my home most is having a refuge from the from the world. Inside I feel cozy and safe. When you think about it heaven, it’s all that but in its fullness. Home is a place I long to be. There is a sense of comfort and security about being home. The danger is that I will begin to see my temporary home as comfortable or secure and not see my Heaven as incomparable and glorious. This world is not my home. God in heaven is my home. He has a better country. He is preparing a place that makes our home seem like a squared camp. To desire God is to desire a better country, that is a heavenly home.

Home without Christ is no home at all

You are truly homeless if you do not have a relationship with Christ,

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.” [John 14:1-4]

It is a little weird not having a house anymore. Sarah and I miss our little pad with a garden and maple saplings that we planted with our own hands. It was our first home as a family.

I am thankful for what this season of the year celebrates: the Son of God left His home above, entered our homes, and paid our huge mortgage debt (of sin) so that you and I could have the promise of entering His home one glorious day. I look forward to the day He will welcome me home [Matthew 25:21ff].

busyness is laziness

How does busyness affect our spiritual lives?

Busyness is the enemy of spirituality. It is essentially laziness. It is doing the easy thing instead of the hard thing. It is filling our time with our own actions instead of paying attention to God’s actions. It is taking charge.

Busyness has to do with activity, and spirituality is not the absence of activity. You either enter into what God is doing or you don’t. A busy person is a lazy person because they are not doing what they are supposed to do.

Eugene Peterson, Subversive Spirituality. William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Co. Grand Rapids, MI. 1997. p.237

thumb licks [happy 2012]

7 things highly productive people do.

How to write a good sympathy card.

It’s not wrong to question your pastor. In fact, as a pastor, I encourage this.

The Tyranny of advice column Christianity.

Jellyfish tank. What I would get if I had a few hundred dollars laying around.

6 lessons from a year of family devotions.

Why keep the whole family together for church?

Why read the Bible with a plan?

Read the entire Bible in 2012. Here are some helpful tools.

Why studying the Bible won’t (necessarily) change your life.

Facts about Google. It’s big.

Don Sweeting looks ahead to 2012.

2011: a year in review through pictures

The Hobbit. A movie I will have to wait at least 360 days to watch this year.