Monday, April 30, 2012

When People Don't Like You

How do you feel when you know someone doesn’t like you? 

I find it uncomfortable. Especially when, as far as I know, I haven’t done anything to offend the person. Some people just don’t take to you. Who knows why?

I suppose it doesn’t matter to some people whether they are well-liked or not.  I’m not one of those people. It matters to me, more than it should.

Look, I know you can’t make anyone, let alone everyone, like you. And if you hang your happiness on how popular you are, you might as well resign yourself to being miserable. I know this is true.

When you live, work, play, and go to school with people, you can’t avoid the reality that some of those people are just not going to like you. And of course we often make matters worse by doing and saying things that justifiably tic people off.

All of which makes me admire the Lord Jesus so much. Because He chose someone to be one of His closest associates who hated Him and wanted Him dead. He treated that person with love and kindness and courtesy, just like the other eleven disciples.

What must it have been like for the Savior to have always known Judas would betray Him? Christ carried on, day after day, all the while expecting He would feel the cold kiss of Judas in the Garden one day.

When you think about it, though millions of us love Christ, millions hate Him, curse Him, and would nail Him to a cross every day if they got the chance.

Jesus didn’t need the approval of Judas or anyone else to feel good about Himself. It was enough to hear, You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased. Luke 3:22

Here’s a truth deeper than all the games people play: if you belong to Him, what does it matter whether you receive the approval of anyone else?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Knowing Whose You Are

When I was young, back when the earth's crust was cooling and dinosaurs walked the planet, it was popular to say things like "I'm just trying to find myself. I want to discover who I am."

Yeah, we actually said stuff like that. It seemed really important--finding yourself, looking inward to discover that special, unique, and incredibly awesome person that was You.

Some people wasted their entire college careers trying to find themselves, as opposed to finding a way to support themselves whether they found themselves or not.

Anyhow, over the years I've learned that there isn't that much to discover about myself after all. Knowing who I am is pretty disappointing. You meditate and cogitate and hallucinate, and you arrive at the conclusion that there's no wonderfulness deep down inside of your precious little self. You're basically a broken, sinful person in desperate need of solutions you cannot produce yourself.

What I've come to believe is that knowing whose you, not knowing who you are, is the important thing. Maybe that's not good English, but it is good for the soul.

My answers, solutions, redemption, hope, and healing all come from the One whose very name is Savior. Belonging to Him is the best thing about me.

The other day I was reading in Mark's gospel where Jesus said, For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward (9:41). It's a great promise, but it was that phrase "because you belong to Christ" that got to me. I thought, I belong to Christ!

I will probably never understand why the Lord set His affection upon me. He chose me before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). The truth is, I'm basically a sheep, not so bright, prone to wander into trouble, to get tangled up and confused. But my Shepherd is awesome!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

What Did He Teach?

In my last post I wrote about Christ as Master Teacher. But what did He teach?

Over and over the Gospels answer that question with verses like this: And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. Mark 8:31. (See also Mark 9:31; Mt. 16:21; Lk. 9:22)

But why did this require "teaching?" Wasn’t it simply the declaration of an upcoming event? Granted, the most important, life-altering, history-making event ever. But why was the Savior “teaching” this? Doesn’t “teaching” imply a process of instruction, and not a simple announcement?

Why would the fact of His upcoming death and resurrection be the subject of ongoing instruction?

Answer: because Jesus’ substitutionary death and resurrection is the heart of our faith. Some Christians think of Jesus’ death on the cross as the A-B-C’s of our faith, the elementary, beginning part. But Jesus taught this because it is the beginning, middle, and end of everything.

We never outgrow the cross. The gospel relates to everything about our life and our destiny, our families and our careers, our relationships and our character. Far from an elementary lesson, the cross is the Master Class.

In heaven the cross continues to be the central topic of wonder and praise. The numberless chorus of angels worship Christ for this very reason: Worthy are you…for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Revelation 5:9

I admire Jesus as the Master Teacher, and as I read and study and try to obey, His teachings continue to point me back to the cross and the empty tomb.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Master Teacher

Dr. Bruce Shelley
Bruce Shelley taught my college Sunday School class and was my church history professor in seminary. He was the best teacher I've ever had. He died in 2010 at age 82.

I learned a lot more from Dr. Shelley than church history. He was a scholar who cared passionately about the truth. He showed me that academics and conviction could go together. As a speaker and writer, he was eloquent but plain-spoken, and he made me want to be both.

Bruce Shelley was a master teacher, and he made me appreciate the real Master Teacher even more.

The longer I follow Jesus, the more I admire Him as a teacher. He is simply the best of the best. His stories (like the Prodigal Son or the Good Samaritan) and His parables (like the Soils or the Persistent Widow) effortlessly combine Old Testament imagery, contemporary culture, and timeless truth to teach lessons that have captured people's imaginations for over 20 centuries.

Sometimes Christ's critics try to reduce His life and mission to His teaching--like He's just a good teacher. Even that is a backhanded compliment. They can't deny His brilliance, though they are blind to the authority that lies behind it.

I realized the other day that I've been pondering Jesus' lessons all my adult life. I know I still don't understand all the layers and subtleties of them. His teachings are simple and memorable, while at the same time being nuanced and mysterious.

Thirty-five years as a pastor, attempting to teach His word myself, have convinced me that there is only one Master Teacher among us. How grateful we must be that He gave us His word until we get to hear Him in person.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Making Him Proud

When I was in seventh grade, Mr. Watson, the history teacher and football coach, gave us junior high boys a lecture on proper conduct. I can’t remember what sort of mischief he was warning us about, but I do remember his punch line: “bad behavior reflects on your parents.”

My admiration for my father approached hero-worship, and the thought that I might somehow embarrass him was horrifying to me. The hope of making Dad proud and the fear of causing him shame continue to motivate me, even though he’s been gone for many years.

I guess that’s why, for me, reading Jesus’ words in Mark 8:38 are like a punch in the stomach. The Savior said, For whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

I know He’s not talking to Christians. This is a warning to those who reject Christ. Being ashamed of Him and His words now means facing divine rejection in eternity. The Savior they refused will be ashamed of them, to their eternal damnation.

But still. I can’t help but feel how terrible it would be to embarrass the Lord Jesus. And I know it's true--my behavior does reflect upon Him. The hope that I might make Him proud, and the fear of embarrassing Him, make me want to be a better man and a better Christian.

I bet you feel the same.

Saturday, April 21, 2012


I admire Jesus' willingness to depend on God. 

Which seems strange since He is God. But you keep running into verses like this one: And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit… Luke 4:14

That comes right after He fasted for 40 days and resisted the onslaught of the devil's temptations. So He came back to His hometown in the Spirit's power.

But why was He not returning "in the power of His own spirit?" He is perfect Man as well as perfect God, after all. And aren't men supposed to develop their potential, strengthen their inner selves, become independent, strong, and powerful? Isn't that what we're often told, sometimes by pastors and Bible teachers?

Apparently Jesus had not consulted the positive-thinking, inner-strengthening gospel. As the perfect Man, He did not exemplify independence or autonomy. Instead He depended upon His Father's guidance, and relied upon the Spirit's power. He even learned obedience by what He suffered (Hebrews 5:8). He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing..." (John 5:19).

Evidently human perfection is really about obeying  and depending upon Almighty God. No one can deny that the Lord Jesus Christ is a man's man. He is fearless, focused, and strong. But He walked, not in His own strength, but in the power of the Spirit.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

He Does All Things Well

Jesus probably worked in the family carpentry shop before beginning His public ministry. You can be sure that everything He made—chairs, plows, cabinets—was solid, functional, and beautiful.

So years later, when people said of Him, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37), we’re not surprised. He had always been doing all things well.

Mark's gospel records how He transformed a man’s life, rather than a block of wood. The man had been deaf and mute, and Jesus gave him hearing and speech. When the crowd saw the miracle, their praise found its way into Scripture: He has done all things well!

You better believe it. Whatever He does, He does well. For example:
  • He chooses His own well. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide... John 15:16
  •  He pays completely the debt of our sins. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Hebrews 10:14
  • He keeps working in our lives. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6
  •  He prepares a wonderful place for us. 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. John 14:2-3
  •  He never stops praying for us.  Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25
Even when life seems extra hard and God seems far away, Jesus is still at work. He's cutting away at our rough lives, shaping and carving and sanding, to make us solid, functional, and one day, beautiful. He still does all things well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Slow Learner

I admire Jesus' patience.

I seem to be a slow learner. The truth is, and I know this in my bones, Christ has always taken care of me and my family. Through lean economic times, health crises, and war, Jesus has always been there. He's always blessed and provided. I can look back on His proven faithfulness, kindness and wisdom over multiple decades.

But when a new challenge comes up, I am ashamed of how slow I am to trust Him. It's like I have to relearn the same lesson again and again. If I were the Teacher, I would flunk me.

I guess I'm not alone. Remember the Twelve? After Christ had performed many miracles, after He had twice multiplied tiny quantities of food to feed thousands of people, the disciples were all in a lather because they had only one loaf of bread (see Mark 8:14f).

Jesus spent extra time cautioning them against the insidious contagion of unbelief—the leaven of the Pharisees (v. 15). The Lord took them back to His feeding of the 5000, and then the 4000. He jogged their memories on the details—how many broken pieces were left over, guys?

Remembering those details revealed, conspicuously, that the overflow from both miracles was an abundant provision for the Twelve. Jesus not only cared for helpless crowds, but His disciples received more than enough just in what was left over. Time and again, He took care of them, never forgot about them, always had their best interests at heart.

“Do you not yet understand?” He asked (v. 21).

I admire Christ for not giving up on His spectacularly dense disciples. Including me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Come, All Who Are Weary and Heavy Laden

I'm not a poet, but I began to hear these words "in my head" as I drove to work, and wanted to share them.
At the end of the day
When your work is done
Come to Jesus.

At the end of the day
With victories won
Come to Jesus.

At the end of the day
Too weary to speak
Come to Jesus.
At the end of the day
Cup overflowing
Come to Jesus.
At the end of the day
Losses draining
Come to Jesus.

At the end of the day
When you’re afraid and alone
Come to Jesus.

At the end of the day
Feeling comfortable and warm
Come to Jesus.

At the end of the day
When you’ve run out of answers or friends
Come to Jesus.

At the end of the day
With loved ones close or already gone
Come to Jesus.

At the end of all your days
When you’ve done all you’ll do
Come to Jesus.
And take a moment and listen to this Chris Rice song. It'll do your soul good.
(Email friends: you'll have to come to the blog to see the video.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012

President Obama: Theologian in Chief?

A week ago Wednesday, President Obama hosted an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House for a group of Christian Clergy. The President spoke about Easter, and said,
"It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace. And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured--not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.” (My highlight)
I realize that all Presidents make mistakes. It would be wrong to criticize Mr. Obama for just one misstep. But for someone who claims to be a Christian, it's kind of important to get this right.

Jesus did not go to the cross because He was a son of God. He went to the cross, condemned for blasphemy, because He claimed to be the Son of God. Remember the exchange Christ had with the High Priest?

But Jesus remained silent. And the high priest said to him, "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God."Jesus said to him, "You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?" They answered, "He deserves death." Matthew 26:63-66

The Bible's idea of "sonship" is not the same as our Western society's. In Jewish culture, a male child was considered only a boy, not a son. He didn’t become a son until adulthood, and then sonship technically meant equality with the father.

Sonship also shows a person’s nature. For example in Scripture Barnabas is called “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36) because he had an encouraging nature. Or the volatile brothers James and John were described as “sons of thunder” (John 17:12) and unbelievers are called “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). We Christians are called “sons of resurrection” (Luke 20:36). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has the very nature of Almighty God!

In other words, when Jesus is called the Son of God, it means He is equal with the Father and shares the divine nature.

Let’s help everyone, including our President, know that Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God. In that very basic truth is our eternal hope.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Greatest

When the Angel Gabriel spoke to Mary about the Baby she would bear, he came up with one of the most massive understatements of all time. He will be great...Luke 1:32
Great is right. But not great like we sometimes use the word. "That was a great effort, Johnny." Translation--you were terrible, but at least you didn't give up. Or "one of the greatest Presidents of all time." Translation: without offending anyone, we'll say he's one of the top ten. Or "I feel great!" Translation: I don't want to tell you how bad I really feel.

Christ is great like no one before or since. To say He is great is to relegate all other men to a lower, lesser category. That He is great means He is the greatest. No one else comes close.

I thought of some ways He's the greatest. Maybe, to admire Him, you'd like to add to the list.

  • His was the greatest birth. 
  • He lived the greatest life.
  • He faced the greatest temptation, without succumbing.  
  • He has the greatest integrity, honor, and courage.
  • He was the greatest teacher.
  • He told the greatest stories. 
  • He spoke the greatest truth. 
  • He made the greatest sacrifice. 
  • He loved with the greatest love. 
  • He is the greatest friend.
  • His death was the greatest ransom. 
  • His atonement made the greatest impact. 
  • His resurrection was the greatest comeback. 
  • He is the greatest intercessor. 
  • His return will be the greatest entrance. 
  • He started the greatest movement. 
  • He is the greatest King. 
  • His gospel is the greatest message.  
  • He makes the greatest changes in His followers.
  • His charge to His church is the greatest commission. 

Sunday, April 8, 2012


He is Risen!

 Risen indeed!

Christ’s resurrection in three words:

For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. Acts 17:31, NIV
because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:9,10 ESV
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Romans 6:3-11, ESV
Happy Resurrection Day!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Holy Week: Saturday

Saturday is a day of anticipation. We wait for the greatest day, the day when our Lord was raised from the dead.

As we wait for tomorrow, I thought I would raise a couple questions that puzzle many people. The answers are from Wayne Grudem’s great book Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine.

If Christ paid the penalty for our sins, how come He suffered for such a short time?
Answer: If we had to pay the penalty for our own sins, we would have to suffer eternally in separation from God. However, Jesus did not suffer eternally. There are two reasons for this difference: (a) If we suffered for our own sins, we would never be able to make ourselves right with God again. There would be no hope because there would be no way to live again and earn perfect righteousness before God, and there would be no way to undo our sinful nature and make it right before God…(b) Jesus was able to bear all the wrath of God against our sin and to bear it to the end. No mere man could ever have done this, but by virtue of the union of divine and human natures in himself, Jesus was able to bear all the wrath of God against sin and bear it to the end….When Jesus knew that he had paid the full penalty for our sin, he said, It is finished” (John 19:30). If Christ had not paid the full penalty, there would still be condemnation left for us. But since he has paid the full penalty that is due to us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
…if there is eternal suffering, it simply shows that the penalty has never been fully paid, and that the evildoer continues to be a sinner by nature. But when Christ’s suffering at last came to an end on the cross, it showed that he had borne the full measure of God’s wrath against sin and there was no penalty left to pay. It also showed that he was himself righteous before God. In this way the fact that Christ suffered for a limited time rather than eternally shows that his suffering was a sufficient payment for sins (pp. 577-578).
Did Christ descend into hell, as the Apostles' Creed says?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Holy Week: Friday

Good Friday means we mourn and rejoice at the same time. In our mind’s eye we picture the agony of our Savior. We think of His being betrayed and humiliated.

We see Pilate's attempt to release Him, and hear the crowd screaming back, Crucify Him.

We watch the torture of His scourging—how they whipped Him nearly to death, His back a bloody mess, down to the bone. And how they mocked Him and spat upon Him, and then, finally, we shudder when they crucified Him. By sundown He was dead.

But we rejoice, too. Because we know on this day our salvation was secured, our debt was paid, God's wrath was propitiated, our justification was accomplished. All by the blood of the Lamb.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed is everyone is hanged on a tree" (Galatians 3:13, ESV).

I don't like to think about it, but I was under a curse. And so were you. And on that day my Savior took it instead. Scripture says He became a curse for us. 

It's bad enough to be cursed, especially a curse earned by someone else. A whole lot of someone elses. But how do you become a curse? 

Perhaps the Son so identified Himself with the festering, oozing, disgusting, mass of our sins that, to the Father, Christ was that sin. All that offends God, all that calls down His wrath, all the pride, rebellion, phoniness, hypocrisy, lust, murder, and a million other transgressions, was reckoned unto Jesus. And the curse that fell, the righteous wrath, became Him, too.

Whatever "becoming a curse means," what He accomplished is gloriously certain: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. He did what no one else could do or would do--He paid it all and set us free.

Good Friday. The best.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Week: Thursday

Thursday of Holy Week brought Jesus and the disciples to the Upper Room, where Christ had arranged to celebrate the Passover.

Pesach, Passover, was over 1400 years old, stretching all the way back to the Exodus. For Jesus and the Twelve, it would have been a very familiar reminder of how God delivered His people through the blood of the sacrificial lamb.

But Jesus said something on this night that had never been said in fourteen centuries: This is My body. This is My blood.

Until this night, every “communion” was the same. It was a look back on what God had done to “pass over” His people when the death angel came for Egypt's firstborn. The bread and the cup were reminders. But this communion was different because by this time tomorrow, Jesus would be hanging on the cross. He was the Passover Lamb.

How we admire our Savior tonight! His heart must have been unbelievably heavy. And as they were reclining at table and eating, Jesus said, "Truly I saw to you, one of you will betray me..." (Mark 14:18).

A  lot happened that night. Before the meal, He washed the feet of all of them, including Judas. Afterward He taught them. We call it "The Upper Room Discourse," and it's recorded in John 13-16. Then He prayed for His own--the Great High Priestly Prayer of John 17.

And you know what came next. And they went to a place called Gethsemane (Mark 14:32).

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Holy Week: Wednesday

Two days away from the cross, Jesus must have been exhausted.

Sunday, He was welcomed as a conquering hero. Monday, He cleansed the temple and solidified the determination of the religious establishment to kill Him. Tuesday, He spent the entire day confronting His critics and contending for the truth of His identity and authority.

What about Wednesday?

We sometimes call this “The Silent Day.” Jesus probably never left Bethany on Wednesday. Each of the other days, He made the two-mile trek into Jerusalem. But on this day, He did not. But why?

Scripture doesn’t say. (That’s why it’s called “The Silent Day.”) I think Jesus rested, prayed, and spent time with His closest friends, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.
It’s a poignant picture of the Savior, gathering Himself for the agony of the atonement, spending a few precious hours in the fellowship of His friends.

How do you feel about the Savior, knowing He wanted rest and the closeness of friends around Him before His great ordeal?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Holy Week: Tuesday

If you knew you were being executed on Friday, how would you spend Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday?  I admire Christ's steady courage and unflinching focus in this holy week.

Palm Sunday was Cheering Crowds, Monday was Cleansing the Temple, and Tuesday is Contending for the Truth.  

The Lord’s cleansing of the Temple was such an affront to the religious establishment that they attacked His authority. Who do You think You are? What gives You the right to do such things? (cf. Mark 11:27-28). Jesus spent Tuesday back in Jerusalem, confronting His critics and teaching the Scriptures.

Of course they were no match for Jesus’ intellect or His spiritual acumen. He ran rings around them. He exposed their hypocrisy (Mark 11:29-33), and revealed their murderous intent in a parable (Mark 12:1-12).

Our Savior's commitment to preaching the Word even in the last hours of His life makes two things clear. First, even though He is the Word (John 1:1), Jesus relied upon the Scriptures as His authority. And second, the central message of the Scriptures is Christ Himself.
And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”’
 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?”
And the great throng heard him gladly. (Mark 11:35-37).

Monday, April 2, 2012

Holy Week: Monday

Valentin De Boulogne, c.1622
This is Holy Week. Palm Sunday marked the beginning of the end of Christ’s long journey to the cross. Sunday He rode into Jerusalem, mounted on a donkey’s colt. Thousands cheered Him with cries of “Hosanna.” They laid cloaks and palm branches before Him, leaving no doubt about His identity as Messiah of Israel.

He spent the night in Bethany at the home of His friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha.  On Monday He came to the Temple again.

Herod's Temple Mount was huge, 1.5 million square feet in size. It was magnificent, beautiful, imposing. But what Jesus saw in the Temple courtyards did not please Him. 

Vendors and money changers were plying their wares in the Courtyard of the Gentiles, ripping people off and making a mockery of the sacred space. 

He drove them out, quoting Isaiah 56:7 in the process:  "It is written, 'My house shall be a house of prayer,' but you have made it a den of robbers."

He said My house. The Temple is His temple.

Jesus is kind and gentle and patient. But the Temple belongs to Him, and He has a right to drive out whatever displeases Him. Like Paul said, Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 ESV).