Thursday, November 28, 2013
Psalm 138: Things to be thankful for from David
I was reading through my blog tonight, and I found the following post from 2009. The list seemed rather appropriate for today, so I thought I'd share it. Here are some things to be thankful for according to David.
1 A Psalm of David. I will give You thanks with all my heart; I will sing praises to You before the gods. 2 I will bow down toward Your holy temple And give thanks to Your name for Your lovingkindness and Your truth; For You have magnified Your word according to all Your name. 3 On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul. 4 All the kings of the earth will give thanks to You, O LORD, When they have heard the words of Your mouth. 5 And they will sing of the ways of the LORD, For great is the glory of the LORD. 6 For though the LORD is exalted, Yet He regards the lowly, But the haughty He knows from afar. 7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, And Your right hand will save me. 8 The LORD will accomplish what concerns me; Your lovingkindness, O LORD, is everlasting; Do not forsake the works of Your hands.
Since this is Thanksgiving, and since I seem to hear more complaints lately (most of them coming from my own heart), I decided to post a list of things I am thankful for based off of some words from David about Thanksgiving. Psalm 138 above describes a Hymn of Thanksgiving. With David, I'd like to remind myself to be thankful for the following:
1. There is no god like the God of the Bible. The Triune God is not a part of his creation, nor is his subsistence dependent on it. He is above all things, and by him all things exist. In fact, Paul tells us in Colossians 1 that Jesus holds all things together and is the author of creation. There is nothing outside of God's authority.
2. God's lovingkindness and truth are available to all of us. Jeremiah reminds us that God's mercy is new every morning. The Psalmist reminds us on numerous occasions that God is patient and longsuffering, showing mercy and lovingkindness unto many generations. His love is such that he gave us what he treasures most: Jesus, his only Son. His lovingkindness not only gave us life, but it also provides us with all we need to live this life and to obey his ways. His mercy is amazing! His truth is convicting. God does not lie. He reveals truth inside humans, but he also makes truth known in nature itself. Even God's very attributes are observable in nature around us. God has made Truth known, and he is the very essence of Truth. All truth points to him, and he alone knows all truth. His truth and lovingkindness lead to salvation.
3. God has given us a Word that will never fail. He has magnified, valued, advanced, enlarged, even exalted his Word above his own name. If the name of God is the name above all names, then his Word must be the Word above all words. He has revealed himself in Jesus who is the Logos, the Word of God in flesh, the exact representation of the image and character of God himself. The Word God has provided for us is active, alive, and powerful. It can bring knowledge, life, and salvation. God has given us his Word!
4. God answers prayer. When we call on God, he is faithful to respond. And his response emboldens us and gives us courage. Conversation with God leads to conversion of our souls. His response to our requests shows his presence, his love, and his great kindness towards us. He hears when we call, and he responds.
5. God is friends with the humble, but he is an enemy to the proud. I am grateful that even though our God is so exalted, yet he finds it satisfactory to dwell with those who are humble and lowly. He is not at home with those who think too highly of themselves, but he chooses to dwell with those who humble themselves to him.
6. God will be with us in trouble. There is no obstacle or problem that can separate us from God (Romans 8:28-39). His love for us is never ending and his reach cannot be blocked. No matter the circumstances in your life, God is faithful. He will walk with his child in the midst of problems and provide what is needed to live a life of godliness even in hard circumstances (Psalm 23). He does not always deliver us from trouble, but he never abandons us in it. Like the three Hebrew children in the fiery furnace, God is with us in the midst of our trials, troubles, or problems. He bears them with us, he walks with us, he gives us his joy in spite of our trouble, and he never fails.
7. God will complete the task he has begun (Phil. 1:6). He will not forsake the works of his hands. He will accomplish all those things that pertain to me. He will not fail. He is constant, kind, considerate. He will finish what he starts and will bring to pass all that he has promised (Isaiah 66:9). His Word is true and he is faithful to complete it. Not a single stray mark of his Scripture will fail to happen. If God speaks it or if God begins it, it will be done in his time and by his outstretched hand. There is nothing too difficult for God, and he is worthy of our praise and our thanks!
Because of these things and so many others, I want to develop a grateful and thankful heart. May we all find comfort in God's character, Word, and love this season. May we give him the thanks and praise he deserves!
Thanks for reading!
Labels: Psalm 138, psalm of David, thankful, thanksgiving
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
A Blast from the Past: Our Stories Matter (More than We Think)
I was reading some notes from my blog today, and I came across a short article entitled "Our Stories Matter." I thought it was about something else, so I read it. As I read the post, I couldn't help but think how appropriate it is even today (almost 10 years later). So I thought I'd share it again (with a bit of editing). Enjoy!
6 Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,
But who can find a trustworthy man?
7 A righteous man who walks in his integrity —
How blessed are his sons after him.
Frederick Buechner describes the Word of God as a
portrait of a Lover pursuing his beloved, of God’s pursuit of all of us
in love, of our failures and his successes. I’m sure that he is right.
Once I find myself (by God's grace) to be participating in the biblical story (i.e., when it becomes MY story), then I in some sense begin to
live out in real life the written word of God so as to complete the mission that
Jesus started (and finished) so many centuries ago.
Didn’t Jesus say to
us that he will send us in the same way that the Father sent him?
Didn’t he tell us that we would do greater works than he did? Why are
we so unwilling to enter the story, to become willing participants in
the great work and story of almighty God?
We 21st century, post-modern
humans are sometimes such idiots. We analyze and scrutinize the structure of
everything from newspapers to movies, we even do the same to the Bible,
and yet we are constantly missing the point! We are so out of sync with
God’s story as to be totally missing his “Once upon a time” and
“happily ever after.” John Eldredge is (to a degree at least) correct
to point out to us our loss of story, our loss of God’s great epic being
told even today. Take the verses quoted above—in today’s post-modern
culture, the idea is to win at all costs no matter who may get hurt.
But if we live without faithfulness or without
integrity, we are genuinely hurting the generation after us. Politicians
may fume and fuss about this or that “personal situation” or whatever,
but when our leaders (and we ourselves) show a remarkable lack of integrity, it sets the
bar lower for the next generation. Guess what? The next generation will live down to
our expectations if we continue in this outrage. Why? I’ll tell you
why, it is because they have seen a remarkable lack of loyalty and
integrity in us.
In other words, we will really reap what we sow. If we continue to sow a life of pure selfishness; if we continue to sow lies and call it "transparency"; if we continue to sow a lack of integrity and loyalty and call it "success"; then in the end we will reap a crop (or a crop failure) that will not be what we hoped. I really cannot expect others to live a life of transparency, honesty, or integrity if I am willing to push the "Easy" button in my own life and be a hypocrite just to gain whatever "success" the world claims is out there. My story matters if for no other reason than the reality that my story includes hundreds of others whose stories somehow become intertwined with mine. As they do, my failure has a negative impact on their story.
Do I want the generation behind me to be transparent, honest, and compassionate? Then I can't live as a hypocrite who lies and doesn't love others. They will be infected by the virus of my lack of integrity and will marvelously fail at living to the standard I expect. In other words, if I don't live it, then I really can't reasonably expect that they will. How I live the story that God is telling in my life sets a standard for others. It’s true, and in our honest moments we know it! It
is the story of life.
So, how are we doing?
Well, there it is. I only want to add one thing: Jesus never asked us to do anything he wasn't willing to do himself. Why do I think I should set any other standard in my own life? If I want to lead, I must serve. If I want to be like Jesus, I must learn humility and love. I must serve others. If I don't, then why do I expect my children to do better?
I am sometimes a magnificent failure--of that I am sure. Nonetheless, I know that God has called me to a life not of mediocrity but of excellence in his grace. His kindness, his mercy, his humility beckons to me to come and die--to lay down my life for others that they might live. Certainly this idea is counter-intertuitive, but it is also biblical. "Unless a grain of wheat . . . "
So, I'll ask again: Do we want integrity? If so, are we willing to walk in it? Desiring it and actualizing it are not the same thing. "Integrity" has as one of its meanings "the state of being complete and undivided." James 1 reminds us to avoid double-mindedness, and this chapter describes righteousness as pursuing with complete and undivided attention the things God values. What does God value? He does NOT value dishonesty, hypocrisy, arrogance, or pride. So, how am I doing? Do I want to be "whole" in Christ, or do I want to continue in double-minded hypocrisy? How I live the story God is telling makes a difference. How you live your story matters too.
May God forgive our hypocrisy and lack of integrity, and may he grant us the focus of Paul in Philippians 2 to pursue Christ's humble mindset with single-minded passion! May Jesus become our one true obsession! I long for that day.
Won't you join me in praying for and pursuing it?
Thanks for reading, dear pilgrim! Keep pressing on to know the One who tells Epic stories!
Labels: hypocrisy, integrity, james 1, our stories matter, philippians 2, proverbs 20:6-7
Saturday, November 09, 2013
A Lesson from the Sermon on the Mount: Rich or Poor?
A few days ago I lectured on the Sermon on the Mount to my Life of Christ class at seminary. Today I was reading through some old posts here, and I came across one that dealt with one of the statements in Matthew and Luke. I wanted to share it again (it has been a few years since I posted this material), and I want to add some stuff too. So, here is an old (and rewritten) post entitled: "Rich or Poor?"
In the Beatitudes, Jesus states “Blessed are the
poor” or “Blessed are the paupers” (or in Matthew: "Blessed are the poor in spirit"). Jesus (especially in the Gospels of Luke and John) is quite concerned with the poor. He speaks of them often and works with them regularly. He encourages his disciples to show compassion to the poor, but he also reminds them that poverty will always be an issue in this fallen world.
Jesus also mentions rich people. They don't fare quite as well as the poor in Jesus' words, but he shows compassion for them as well and wishes salvation and blessing for them as he does for the poor. Jesus states in the Gospels that
it is difficult for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
So, the "poor" are blessed, but the "rich" have a hard time entering heaven. Have you ever wondered at the juxtaposition of those two thoughts?
know the traditional interpretation of both sayings, and I am aware of
the devotional literature that surrounds them as well. What I want to
consider for a few moments today is the abject difference between the
The poor are blessed, but the rich have a difficult time entering God’s kingdom.
of us have been “poor” at some point in our lives. Oh, we may not have
been as poor as the poorest of the world, but we had to do without due
to our lack of means. Maybe our stomachs even growled and our heads hurt
a little bit from hunger. Perhaps we even had to bypass the purchase of
a particular item we desperately wanted or even needed. Yes, we have
known some form of poverty. Did we feel blessed? Really?
feel “happy” during those times of poverty? In all likelihood, we looked
forward with some measure of pleasure/joy to the day when we wouldn’t
suffer such setbacks. We prayed and wished for a time when we would have
abundance and would not have to “do without.” We didn’t feel blessed,
we felt miserable.
Some of us today are rich, or at least, we
aren’t as poor as we used to be. In fact, the poorest people in America are still better off than the poorest people in other parts of the world. I know that is no real consolation, but it shows how blessed we really are in this nation. Nonetheless, many of us today are richer than we were in the past, and we can pretty much get what we want or
need when we want or need it. We don’t have to “do without” unless we
choose to do so. As an example, a few years ago I took my family to Walt
Disney World, something I could never have done when I lived and worked
in Waco, TX. I am no longer “poor"! Do I feel far from the kingdom of
God? Do I feel unhappy or a lack of blessing? If I answer honestly, I'd have to say, "Not really."
What could Jesus mean then? Was he just speaking rhetorically or do these words tell us something important?
Matthew says “Blessed are the poor in spirit” as
opposed to simply “Blessed are the poor.” I like what Oswald Chambers
says in My Utmost for His Highest
“The teaching of
the Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the natural man—the very
thing Jesus means it to do. As long as we have a self-righteous,
conceited notion that we can carry out our Lord’s teaching, God will
allow us to go on until we break our arrogance over some obstacle, then
we are willing to come to him as paupers and receive from him. ‘Blessed
are the paupers in spirit,’ that is the first principle in the kingdom
of God. The bedrock in Jesus Christ’s kingdom is poverty, not
possession; not decisions for Jesus Christ, but a sense of absolute
futility—I cannot begin to do it. Then Jesus says—Blessed are you. That
is the entrance, and it does take us a long while to believe we are
poor! The knowledge of our own poverty brings us to the moral frontier
where Jesus Christ works. . . . Jesus Christ never asks us to decide for
him, but to yield to him—a very different thing.. . . If I know that I
have no strength of will, no nobility of disposition, then Jesus says
‘Blessed are you,' because it is through this poverty that I enter his
kingdom. I cannot enter his kingdom as a good person, I can only enter
it as a complete pauper.”
In other words, as long as I think
of myself as offering some gift or blessing to God, I cannot receive
his free gift or blessing. Unless I recognize the poverty of my own will
and spirit. the poverty of my own abilities to give God anything he
needs, I cannot humbly receive what God has to offer. Like a little
child, I must recognize my limitations in order to enter the kingdom of
heaven. "Rich" people like us think we can buy or earn what we need or
want, that somehow we can give God something without which he cannot
possibly accomplish his plans. "Rich" people think that God needs them
on his team, that God is "lucky" to have them on his side.
says that the kingdom of heaven is for those who realize that they
cannot enter on their own abilities or initiatives. God reserves
blessing for those who know they do not deserve it. Faith in Christ
starts with futility in self. To the degree that I think I can save
myself, to that degree the blood of Jesus is ineffective for my
salvation. If I think I can save myself, why do I need God? God's
grace is free to those who realize their need for his kindness (it is
his kindness that brings us to repentance, right?)
Thanks be to God for the grace to enter! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift in Jesus Christ!
Thanks for reading!
Labels: blessed are the poor, poor, rich, Sermon on the Mount
Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Keep it Real: True Righteousness and Holiness (Ephesians 4:25-5:2)
A few weeks ago I preached at Leesville Road Baptist Church here in Lynchburg. I've posted my sermon notes below if you want to see them. Comments are welcome! Thanks for reading!
it Real: True Righteousness and Holiness (or, What an “Authentic” Christian
Kevin asked me to speak, I asked him if he had a topic in mind. He mentioned the idea of “authenticity” in
the Christian life. But as I looked in
Scripture for a place that dealt with this topic I seemed to come up
empty. So, I did a quick search for the
synonyms to the word “authentic.” I
found a host of words: true, genuine, and
valid, among others. The one that struck
me was the word “Real.” You see, our
society today puts a premium on the idea of “keeping it real.” This idea means the opposite of being “fake”
or “inauthentic.” Let me
illustrate: I have a picture of John
Wayne in my office, and it has an autograph on it. I often have people ask me: “Did John Wayne really autograph that
picture?” Well, not really. You see, it is a reproduction of a picture
that was “genuinely” autographed by John Wayne.
In other words, it isn’t “real” or “authentic.” It is a fake.
(cf. Elvis impersonators, famous people “look a likes”)
That brings me to our passage
today. The letter to the Ephesians is
written to a church that is made up of both Jews and Gentiles. Paul is writing to them to describe what the
“real” church is like in relation to Christ, the head of the body (which, of
course, is the church). In v 17 of
chapter 4, Paul starts a teaching section in which he encourages the Ephesians
to “put off” the old way of like and to “put on” the new life in Christ. In verse 24, Paul tells the Ephesians to put
on the “new man” created in the likeness of God in “true” righteousness and
holiness. Like 2 Cor. 5:17, Paul reminds
them that in Christ they are a new creation, old things are passed away, and a
new way of life has come. In Christ,
they are “real” or “authentic” and no longer fake. In the verses we want to consider today, Paul
outlines what this “new” or “true” life looks like, what comprises a “real”
life of righteousness and holiness. Paul
gives us 5 items that describe the “real” or “authentic” Christian life. These 5 items are given to us with the
following aspects: Something to put off, something to put on, and a reason for
doing these things. They appear to be
something that has been a problem for the Ephesians, but Paul offers an
“authentic” way to deal with these issues.
With that in mind, let’s read Ephesians 4:25-32.
v. 25 “Real” Truth—Authentic Christians Tell the Truth: The sentence
starts with “therefore,” tying the information in the next few verses to the
material that precedes it. Paul is
saying that “since we have this new nature, we ought to exhibit it in the way
we live.” Paul says that “authentic”
Christians put off lying; they should speak the “truth;” because what we say
has an effect on the church.
Lying is “Saying
something that is not true in a conscious effort to deceive somebody.” It is
deliberate, a willful misrepresentation of the truth. If I eat the last cookie, and someone says, "Are there any more cookies?" I would be lying to say "Yes." On the other hand, if someone made more cookies and replaced the one I ate, I would not be lying. Here's another example: If I didn't want to share the cookies, and I said "No" when asked, then I'd be lying. Lying is an intentional misrepresentation of the truth with the inted to deceive someone.
Christians should be truthful. We should not operate in pretense. Ephesians 4:25 (from The
Message) says: "What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no
more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all
connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to
yourself." When someone asks “How are you
doing?” what do you say? Do you respond
with a “Fine” even though things are falling apart around you? Do you pretend to be something you are
not? "Truth" speaking should not be done
in an effort to protect our selfish pride or our personal space. On the other hand, this is not permission to
tell people “what you really think” in an effort to “make your point.” That is also selfish.
This is about keeping the integrity of the
church in mind. What you say reflects on
the character of the body and bride of Christ.
How are you doing? Remember Ananias
and Sapphira? Their speaking falsely led
to problems for the church (and for them).
What we say also reflects on God’s character.
He wouldn’t lie, and when we do we do not reflect well on him.
Let our speaking be with authenticity, with
truth, with integrity and not selfishness.
This week, keep it real by speaking truth to one another. Put selfishness aside, speak the truth. A Real Christian speaks truth.
Of course, true righteousness and holiness doesn’t stop with the truth,
it also has an impact on how we treat each other. The next item addresses the issue of
vv. 26-27 “Real” Anger—Authentic Christians Get Angry, But . . . Paul now tells
us that Authentic Christians don’t let anger lead them into sin; they work to
quickly reconcile with others; because if we do then we won’t give the devil a
We have every right to be
angry at the sins committed against us, but we do not have the right to let
that anger fester and become a grudge.
In other words, anger is not necessarily a sin, but how we respond to
our anger may be. When we let our anger
lead to sin, we give a place to Satan kind a beachhead (remember WW2). If we allow our anger to fester, Satan can
take advantage of it (think of Cain or Moses—Kadesh Barnea. Read the example from Yancey’s What’s so Amazing about Grace?).
Unresolved anger led to bitterness
and led to the destruction of a family.
Just imagine what it can do to the church. Let us live authentic lives this week, let
our anger be real but not lasting. Don’t
let Satan get a spot in our lives. Real Christians get angry, but
they don’t give in to bitterness or sin.
But Paul doesn't stop dealing with relationships, rather in the next verse he addresses the goodness of labor and being selfless.
v. 28 “Real” Work—Authentic Christians Work Hard Paul says that Authentic Christians do not
steal; they work hard to do good so that they are able to bless others with the
fruit of their labor. I doubt that many
of us actually have a problem with stealing, but you realize (of course) that
stealing isn’t necessarily taking property or stuff that isn’t yours,
right? Stealing from each other could be
as simple as withholding from our brothers and sisters what they need (1 John
3:16-18; James 4:17). Another point—God
created us for work. He didn’t create us
to sponge off of others or to live a life of ease. We ought to work so that we can use the
results of our labor to meet needs. Let
us work at the jobs God has given us, and let us use the results of that labor
to help those in need. Real Christians don’t take from
others (they aren’t selfish), but they work to give to others. Continuing in the theme of relationship, Paul next addresses the issue of real communication.
v. 29“Real” Communication—Watch What You Say
verses tell us that God is concerned about the words that come out of our
mouths. Why? Jesus says that “out of the abundance of the
heart the mouth speaks.” What’s inside
us often comes out (whether we like it or not).
Authentic Christians do not engage in corrupt or evil conversation; they
speak words of encouragement; so that they can bless those who hear.
Our words have power: they can build up or they can tear down. If we want to be “real” Christians, we should
avoid coarse or corrupt language such as innuendo, demeaning comments, or
intentionally offensive statements.
Christians should speak fitting words for the moment, words that build
up, words that create an environment of blessing and encouragement. Be careful little mouth what you say!
Let us temper our speech with grace, let us
seek to build up instead of attack or tear down each other, and let us walk
like him in whose image we are made. Real Christians don’t tear down,
they build up. Now Paul goes from offering advice to meddling in our affairs when he addresses the issue of forgiveness. Here the "real" need for selflessness and humility arises!
vv. 30-32 “Real” Forgiveness—No bitterness Here Paul reminds us that
Authentic Christians do not grieve God’s Spirit; they demonstrate God’s love to
others by forgiving; because that what God did for us. Paul tells us to put away a) unresolved anger
and bitterness (a poisoned soul), b) wrath (angry tempest) and clamor (loud and
abrasive speech), c) evil speaking (slander and gossip), and d )malice (evil
intentions toward others).
The point here is this:
don’t bury anger but rather deal with it.
Let us learn to live gentle lives with grace towards one another. Let us be sensitive to the needs of others. Let
us forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgives
us. How did Christ forgive us? He died for us! Philippians 2:3-8. To serve someone requires humility, to die for someone requires us to be selfless. How far are we willing to go to forgive? Will we go as far as Jesus?
Real Christians don’t blame others for their problems, they
don’t carry bitterness or malice towards others. Like their Lord, they are willing to lay down
their lives in order to see others receive the grace of God and the power of
God to be new creatures. Real Christians do their best to
help others know God as they know God.
So, how well do you know God? How
well is his image shining in and through you?
5:1-2—Imitate God, Love like Jesus
1. Authentic Christians do not
hang on to resentment, anger, hurt feelings, but rather they speak truth, they
love, and they encourage one another.
This week find someone who is in need of building up, go out of your way
to make it happen. Encourage, encourage,
2. Authentic Christians do not
regularly throw temper tantrums and pout.
They develop grateful hearts and work to bless others.
3. Authentic Christians do not
use loud, abusive, and profane language.
They speak words fitting for the moment and that reflect the true
righteousness and holiness of God.
4. Authentic Christians are kind
and treat others as Jesus treats His Family.
If with God's help we can accomplish these things, who wouldn't want to be in our church family?
Labels: Authentic Christianity, Ephesians4:25-5:2, keep it real, true holiness, true righteousness
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The CounterIntuitive Christ: Mark 8:27-38
Some have asked for my notes from my sermon in Seminary chapel, so here are the notes I used that day.
CounterIntutive Christ—Three Questions
Intro—Working in the bookstore coffee shop, I learned that some dark
roasts have less caffeine than lighter roasts if measured by volume (i.e., by
the scoop). This seems CounterIntuitive.
expectations; Not in accordance with what would naturally be assumed or
expected. When I was learning to drive, I was told that if the car began to
skid then I should turn in the direction of the skid. That seems wrong. Most of
us would naturally expect to turn away from the skid. If you do, however, you
will crash. Counterintuitive things run
counter to what we would naturally expect.
Jesus’ entire ministry may be
considered as counterintuitive in some sense. He was born of a Virgin (the
Romans and some Jews would make light of his “illegitimacy”). He was born of
low estate. Yet in spite of his bad “pedigree,” he was declared a King, even
the Messiah! Jesus even had a habit of
doing and saying things that ran counter to what was expected—the Wedding in
Cana (John 2)—instead of buying wine, he made wine. The lame man at the Pool of
Bethesda (John 5)—Jesus commands the man to get up and carry his bed on the
Sabbath. That got both men in trouble!
Raising Lazarus—waited until Lazarus died instead of healing him on his sick
Mark’s Gospel includes similar
stories. Mark 2—man on a pallet lowered by his friends, Jesus extends
forgiveness as a way to heal. Mark 3—healed a withered hand on the Sabbath at the synagogue. Claimed his family was made up of folks who did what God wanted, NOT
flesh and blood. Mark 4—slept in the boat during the storm.
Mark 8 is no exception. Jesus has
been teaching and doing miracles among the people. Now he and his disciples arrive at Caesarea
Phillipi. This is a city known for its
devotion to Caesar and Rome. It is a very political place. And here Jesus
engages in a conversation with his disciples that at first sounds political,
but the disciples are about to receive something they did not expect. Jesus’ counterintuitive ministry raised a lot
of questions, in our passage today I want us to consider three questions
brought up by our text. We will see that
Jesus’ responses to these questions are indeed unexpected.
Mark 8:27-30 Question 1—Who is Jesus?
The fundamental definition of a
person is wrapped up in the question “Who are you?” or “Who am I”? Jesus begins the discussion with a question.
Who do people say that I am? This was an
opportunity for the people around him to show what they thought of him; what
were their expectations. To ask that question in a political environment like
Caesara Phillipi (the center of power politics) transforms the query from an
idle question of curiosity into a loaded question bristling with implications.
He asks what seems to be a political question in the center of adoration of
Roman occupation! Jesus seems curious about the opinions of others.
What does the world say about
Jesus today? He is a fine
teacher, he is a fiction, he is one way to God, etc. People will always try to
identify Jesus or God on their own terms, and often they will make him in their
own image. Are we guilty of the same crime?
But after the responses are
listed, Jesus digs deeper—Who
do YOU say I am? Jesus goes beyond the opinions of those outside of his
circle and asks his own people how they define him.
Peter’s response—You ARE
the Christ. Peter’s answer reveals a bit of political zeal here. Given where
they were, that confession was like going to Washington D.C., standing outside
the White House, and hoisting up a placard that declared, "Impeach the
Jesus responds: “Don’t
tell anyone.” Jesus didn’t want to play politics as usual. You see, there were differing views of Messiah out there—Jews expected a
conquering figure who would run the Romans out of office. Yet the Counterintuitive
Christ refused to even campaign for the office. In spite of the support, Jesus
refused to participate in the popular way to do things. “Keep it quiet!”
Who is Jesus?
He is the Counterintuitive Christ—a Messiah not made in the image of
human heroes. When we think he should shout his presence, he is sometimes
almost mute in his response! He does not operate on our definitions or our time
table. He is who he defines himself to be. He will soon define his mission, but
his lack of enthusiasm for being a political hero is counterintuitive. Jesus is not a Messiah who does things the
way we expect. Jesus isn’t what the disciples think, is he what we think? This leads to our second question, a question of mission.
Mark 8:31-33—What is Jesus' mission? Peter acts like he thinks he is Jesus’ political handler or PR
man. After the rousing announcement of
Jesus’ candidacy for Messiah, Jesus refuses to run and then offers a definition
of the mission of Messiah that causes some problems for Peter. Jesus’ Messiah will suffer
before he will reign. He will die at the hands of the current rulers. And Jesus
said these things in plain language so that folks would get it. I am Messiah,
but I will die instead of kill. I will rule by resurrection and not by sheer
Peter “rebukes” Jesus (the same word used in “rebuking” demons elsewhere in the New Testament) for his
negative take on the campaign. Jesus sees the other disciples around (in that
moment, did he entertain the idea that Peter may be right, that an alternative
was possible? No, that alternative was
not God’s way). Jesus says that Peter represents Satan’s approach and not
God’s. Here in a political environment, Jesus rejects a purely political
solution. He knows that the way to win is to lose. The way to victory is to
die. The way up is down. He knew his mission was to die.
Fully 1/3 of the
Gospel of Mark is focused on the last week of Jesus’ life. The Passion. One
theologian of the early church said that the Gospels are passion narratives
with extended introductions. Jesus’ mission is to die. The CounterIntuitive Christ comes not to rule
(politically), but to serve and to die and to rise again. Jesus often comes to
us in unexpected ways. If his own life ran counter to human expectations, how
much more should our lives run counter to the expectations of those around us? What would Jesus demand of his followers?
Mark 8:34=38—What does he demand of his followers? He calls us to
follow him into this counterintuitive life of his. What does it mean to follow? When I go to a
restaurant and the hostess says “follow me,” then I will follow her to the
table if I want to eat. Jesus calls us to follow.
To be his disciple is to
learn from him. Discipleship is not optional, it is not possible to be a
Christian without making progress toward becoming a disciple. Can you imagine what would happen if everyone
here took seriously this call to be a disciple?
To be a disciple means to live a
cross shaped life. It means to do like
Christ and learn that the way up is down, humble service leads to useful
service, to die is to live, to follow is to lead, etc. To be a disciple is a call to die, to do that
which is counter-intuitive, against common sense.
This flies in the face of conventional
wisdom. Jesus reveals a secret so counter-intuitive that only the mind of God
could have come up with it. Jesus says we need to sink deeper into the number
one problem that plagues this world: death itself. It turns out that the
redemptive escape hatch out of this world and its enslavement to decay is down,
not up; it's in the depths of Sheol not up in some false paradise that could be
constructed through human ingenuity and the exercise of raw political power. "Take up your cross," Jesus says. In other words, "Live under
the sentence of death." Somehow, in so doing, we travel a path that leads
to life precisely because it passes through death.
Philippians 2:5-8—Jesus emptied
himself to become a servant faithful unto death and in so doing not only made
the universe turn the corner from darkness into light, he left us an example by
which now to live as his disciples. But it's a hard lesson to learn. It's even more
difficult actually to put it into practice. It is this kind of conundrum that
has long vexed Christians. The problem is learning to live in the world but not
being of the world, about having things as though having them not.
Jesus wants all of us. We must give all we
have to be his. His demand on us is total, and our response must be total
surrender. The only response to the CounterIntuitive Christ is reckless
abandon, the willingness to lose it all to gain him. If humility was right for
Jesus, it must be right for us (To paraphrase Dr. Gary Habermas—How can we expect to be treated
differently than Jesus?) C. T. Studd—"If
Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me
to make for him."
Now What? (James 2:14-17) These questions did not lose their
strength or relevance after Jesus’ experience with the disciples sometime in
the early first century. They are still relevant today. We all must ask
today—Who is Jesus? Who do we say that
he is? Jesus’ mission
was to die for you so that you might live.
His mission was to become poor so that you may be rich, to become sin so that you might become the righteousness of God in him, etc.
We must also ask—what does he
demand of us? We must live cross shaped
Ways to die—stop thinking of
those things that will benefit you and look for things that will benefit others
even (or maybe, especially) at your own expense. Take someone in, be kind to others, give
money to those in need, even money you’ve set aside for your own
pleasures. Help those who can’t help
themselves. Be counterintuitive in responding to Jesus—die that you may live.
Thanks for reading!
Labels: Counter Intuitive Christ, Mark 8:27-38
Saturday, September 21, 2013
Authentic Love: Luke 13:10-16
Several weeks ago I preached at Clover Bottom Baptist Church. My text was Luke 13:10-16, and my topic was "Authentic Love." Here are my notes from that sermon.
Love: The Example of Jesus
Introduction—Today I want to
talk about authentic love. This is a
love that is not hypocritical, it is a love that responds to others not
according to what they deserve, but according to the grace received from
The nature of authentic love is to
share it once you’ve received it. 1 John 4:7-8; If a person is born of God, then they should express authentic
love, God’s kind of love. A relationship
with Christ should cause you to be a more loving person. If your life does not display compassion for
others, then your relationship with God may not be what you think.
slays what we have been that we may be what we were not.”
changes things. It takes sinful people
and by the blood of Jesus and the genuine love of God makes them saints. God’s love invades our lives and slays all the
old distorted images of ourselves; making us acceptable, lovable and capable,
and God invites us to share that same love with others.
Love is not only the verification and
validation of your faith, but it is the telltale sign of a growing faith. It’s not knowledge, or a change in habits, or
how many times you come to church in a month.
The best indicator of spiritual growth is an ever-increasing love.
In Mark 12 Jesus says that the greatest
commandment is to love God and to love others.
You can’t love God without also loving others. So, to get a picture of how God wants us to
love other people, let’s go straight to the source and see Jesus’ example of
Luke 13:10-16—Authentic love follows the example of
Jesus. What did Jesus do? We find five clear items that, if
applied, could radically change how we love others.
1. See Others—Jesus was
teaching in the synagogue--just another preaching event in the life of a
traveling preacher. The crowd was into
the sermon, and as Jesus looked at them he noticed one special person: A woman
who was bent over and couldn’t stand up (v. 16 tells us that a demon had caused
Notice the important word
in Luke 13:12—Jesus “saw” the woman—he noticed her. Jesus locked his eyes on
this poor woman and had compassion for her. One of the unique aspects of
Christianity is the idea that God notices us—the God of all creation pays
attention to us. This is an amazing idea when you think about it. God has
numbered the hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30—but that doesn’t mean he’ll replace
the missing ones!). Cf. Matthew 9:36—Jesus looks with compassion on others.
Two things to recognize here: 1. People want to be
noticed, they want attention 2. To notice others may require us to slow down.
is one of the most powerful forces in the world. People
want our undivided attention. They want us to show interest. Every day we pass
people who simply want to be noticed, to be acknowledged. They are bent over,
even crippled by a lack of compassion or notice, and they are waiting for a
friendly face. To see them we must slow down. If someone was standing on the
side of the road, would you notice more if you flew by them at 75 MPH, or if you
walked by them on the sidewalk? The
speed of our lives causes us to miss many people who God wants us to notice.
week, take time to notice people. Take the time to look people in the eye,
notice them, encourage them. Slow down enough to spend some time reading the Gospels—pay
attention to how Jesus treats people and ask his Spirit to help you to treat
others that way.
Authentic love sees others as God sees them. Once we’ve
noticed people, we need then to take a risk and engage them.
2. Engage Others—Luke 13 tells us
that Jesus didn’t just “see” the woman, he took the risk to engage her and her
need. Jesus spoke to her in the synagogue (something taboo in the first
century—an unattached male speaking to a woman that is not his family member). He
called her over to himself and healed her.
Jesus demonstrated bold and almost reckless
behavior to show compassion to this woman. Sometimes love requires bold action
in its expression. Authentic love requires engagement—we must get involved in
the lives of others in order to love them.
C.S. Lewis said “To love at all is to be
vulnerable. Love anything, and your
heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it
intact, you must give your heart to no one.” The Four Loves.
encourages us to disengage, to remain isolated, and to plug into the internet
instead. Stay out of touch! Who knows what might happen if you get
The truth is, entering into
other people’s lives or experiences is messy, but nevertheless we are commanded to
love: see Matthew 5:46-47. We don’t have to
do it perfectly, but we must show up.
We must take the risk, take the initiative, and get involved in spreading
grace to others. (2 Cor. 5:14-15)
week, how can we engage others in love?
Where do we need to take a risk? Make some time this week to listen to
someone’s story or find a way to bless someone.
Authentic love takes the risk
to engage others, but to do that we must reach out to them.
3. Reach Out—Most of all,
love reaches out and gives. Giving is
how love expresses itself. (see John 3:16)
you meet is made in the image of God.
You never lock eyes with another person that doesn’t matter to God. Jesus
notices this poor woman, he engages her, and now he reaches out to her. Luke
13:13 says he laid his hands on her and healed her. He stepped outside of the
“comfort zone” of his society and ministered to her need.
Notice how Jesus
reached out to this woman: 1. By the
words he spoke; In verse 16, Jesus refers to her as a “daughter of Abraham” (he sees her potential, not her condition). He
doesn’t see her as an elderly crippled woman.
He sees her as a child of the great patriarch of the Jewish people. Our words can heal or destroy. 2. By his
touch; Everyone needs some touch. Luke 5:12-16—Jesus heals a leper—he actually
“touches” him! All people need human touch.
Studies have been conducted showing that people who experience
meaningful touch on a regular basis actually have a longer life expectancy.
This week, hand out some hugs, a gentle
touch, or some kind words. Authentic love requires us to reach out and touch
others. When you do this, however, don’t expect everyone to understand or to
praise your effort.
4. Expect Criticism/Resistance—Notice the
reaction of the synagogue official in v 14.
An amazing miracle has happened in his "church" service, and instead of
rejoicing in the amazing mercy shown to this woman, the official gets upset
that his “order of worship” was changed. Where the synagogue official saw a
policy issue, Jesus saw a person.
you will notice in the Bible is that Jesus showed incredible patience and grace
to those who were broken and seeking. However,
he had little patience with pompous, self-righteous religious people that cared nothing
for people or their needs.
received criticism for his kindness and for hanging out with the “wrong kind”
of people. (Luke 7:34) In spite of the
criticism, Jesus continued to love on others.
He refused to stop. When we decide to follow Jesus, we may well find
ourselves doing things that others will criticize. If we are doing the works of Christ,
however, we should keep it up and love even those who criticize or persecute us
(Matt. 5:43-45). In fact, we should pray for those who abuse us. That is one way to deal with criticism or resistance. Authentic love requires us to persevere and to pray even when criticized.
5. Look for opportunities—In this passage,
Jesus finds himself involved in a normal Sabbath activity—he was in the
synagogue and he was teaching. He did
not let the mundane or normal activity keep him from looking for
opportunities. In the midst of the
“usual,” Jesus looked for a moment to do something unusual. He seized the moment that God provided. (1
John 3:18 and 1 Thess. 3:12).
Let’s take advantage of the moments God gives us.
Authentic love looks for an opportunity.
This week, in the midst of your normal activities,
do these things: Look around and see what is happening—look for the need, see
the people; Take a chance, risk engaging others with God’s love and grace; Reach
out and touch those who need it; Pray for/love the critics; Seize the moment.
Authentic love compels us to sacrifice for others as
Christ did for us (take up your cross)—how can we respond
In what ways were you “crippled”
by your life and sin? How did Jesus heal
Describe a time when extravagant
love overwhelmed your life. How did you
respond? How did it make you feel? What was the impact of this love?
Describe a time when someone took
a risk and touched your life.
Who in your life is “bent over”
or “crippled” by circumstances or Satan?
How can you bring the grace of Jesus into that situation?
What is your routine? Who are some of the people you see on a
regular basis? How can you engage them
and touch them with the love of Christ?
What can you do or say this week
that will show the love of God to another?
Will you risk it?
Thanks for reading!
Labels: Authentic Love, Luke 13:10-16, The Example of Jesus