Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Take No Staff for Your Journey

For many years my wife and I were faith missionaries. Our salary was based upon the contributions of supporting churches and individuals. Because of the faithfulness of our support team, we were able to be "full-time" as church planters.

Being a faith missionary keeps you humble. Each month you trust God, and the generosity of His people, to meet your housing, food, health, and transportation expenses. We saw plenty of lean times, but God always showed up to provide.

One of our hardest months was right after the terrorist attacks in 2001. For whatever reason, our support account took a big hit in the weeks that followed 9-11. Apparently people were so shaken by the threat to our nation that many did not give the way they usually did.

We barely made our condo payment, and we weren’t sure how we would buy food for the month.

We didn’t communicate any of this to our supporters. But God told them anyway. One friend called us out of the blue and announced she was coming by to drop off some groceries. She had been at the store and felt the Lord telling her to buy double of everything. Other friends, also church planters, sent us an encouragement note with a check. It just seemed like we might need it, the Lord said to them.

That month was one of many where we saw quiet miracles from a faithful Lord.

It goes back to something Jesus told His first disciples: Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money, and do not have two tunics (Luke 9:3). That’s how He sent out the twelve, to train them not only to preach and heal, but also to trust.

I admire how Jesus takes care of His own.

Monday, May 28, 2012

On Memorial Day

We admire and give thanks for those men and women who have walked into battle, put themselves in harm’s way, knowing that there was no chance they would make it out alive. They lay down their lives for the freedom and protection of others.

Which is why we admire and love and give thanks for the Lord Jesus today, and every day.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:4-5

Friday, May 25, 2012

Comfortable in His Skin

Sometimes Jesus said what He didn’t know. Like the time of His Second Coming: But concerning that day  or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Mark 13:32.

Jesus had no problem understanding and articulating the distinctions between Himself and the Father. He was not defensive when He said there were things He did not know and the Father did know.

If ever a man was secure in His own skin, it was Jesus. Surely that is a great miracle.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rescue Mission

We all know the story of Christ’s calming the sea. But did you ever wonder why Jesus and His disciples were out there in the first place? Jesus didn’t fully explain to His disciples. He simply said, "Let's go over to the other side of the lake." So they got into a boat and set out (Luke 8:22, NIV).

And you know that they encountered a ferocious storm that would have sunk their boat and drowned them all had not Christ stepped in and calmed the storm (Luke 8:22-25). So why was Jesus so determined that they would cross the lake?

Well, His miracle on the water undoubtedly stretched the disciples’ faith. And it also created a record of His greatness for all of us to read and rejoice in.

But I think the primary reason for their voyage was to rescue the demonized man on the other shore. Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from city who had demons (Luke 8:26-27a, ESV).

Monday, May 21, 2012

You Have NOT Been Pardoned for Your Sins

What if I told you that you, as a Christian, were not pardoned for your sins?

Wait a minute! You might say. I know I’ve been forgiven of my sins. The Bible says so!

Right. But I’m not saying you’re not forgiven. If you have repented and trusted in Jesus, you are forgiven. What I am saying is that you have not been pardoned. A pardon is not the right word for your forgiveness. Christians are justified by God, but not pardoned by Him.

Here's how Jerry Bridges puts it in The Discipline of Grace:

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Life Verse

Do you have a life verse? If so, feel free to share it.

A “life verse” is a Scripture passage that has special meaning to you. A promise you want to guide and encourage you, a challenge you want to meet, a purpose you’ve given your life to. 

My life verse is: But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. (2 Corinthians 2:14, NIV). I've got a long way to go, but I'm trying to follow and trust the Lord's lead, and in the process, let the sweet smell of Christ fill the place.

Did you ever wonder if Jesus had a life verse? This one comes pretty close. He used it in His first sermon in Nazareth:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, ESV)
I don’t know if He thought of it as a life verse, but it fits Him well, don’t you think? For all of us who have been spiritual destitute, enslaved, blind, and broken, how grateful we are that He came to proclaim good news, forgiveness and freedom, hope and peace.

So what’s your life verse?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Real Deal

A couple years ago a North Carolina man was convicted of impersonating a decorated Marine officer. He got sixteen months in the slammer. Not to mention the disgust of all of us who revere those who truly wear the uniform.

We all know people who pretend to be something they’re not. They're contemptible.

That’s one of the reasons to admire our Savior--His kingly authority. He is authentic, true, genuine.

He acts and speaks without pretense, with the calm assurance of absolute sovereignty. For example, multiple times in the Sermon on the Mount, He says, You have heard it said...but I say to you. (Compare Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44). Christ is saying that His own word supersedes Jewish tradition and established interpretation of Scripture.

Or like the start of His ministry in His hometown of Nazareth. He read an 800-year-old prophecy about the Messiah who would preach good news to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed. (See Luke 4:16ff). Then He sat down and said, in effect, Today this prophecy is fulfilled--by Me (vv. 20-21).

Making claims like this is repugnant in weak, pretentious people. We pity, resent, and despise those who try to appear superior. We see that they are unqualified and unworthy.

But when Jesus speaks and acts as the King, we believe Him. When He tells us the secret of happiness, as He does in the Beatitudes, it rings true. When He says, "your tradition says one thing. But I'll tell you the truth," He is more than credible. He is compelling.

He's the real deal.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Evolving" Attitudes, Gay Marriage, and Jesus

President Obama, who claims to be a Christian, has recently “evolved” to support gay marriage. When MSNBC’s Chris Matthews interviewed Bishop Harry Jackson, an African American pastor who has spoken out against the President’s endorsement of gay marriage, Matthews said he hoped Bishop Jackson would “evolve.” 

The mainstream media in our country portrays any objection to the homosexual lifestyle, or to redefining marriage to include same-sex couples, as bigotry, or radical, or on the wrong side of history. Not evolved.

This blog is my attempt to “admire Christ.” I have no desire to be political. I want to lift up the character of Jesus. But the President’s recent "evolution" made me ask, So what does Jesus say about these things? Has Christ evolved? Or will He?

Monday, May 14, 2012

When You're Exhausted

A week or so ago I wrote in my journal: “Yesterday was a hard day.” And then I listed all the things I had done, and how exhausted I was. I don’t think I was feeling sorry for myself, but it was close.

Anyhow, the next day I was reading Luke 4, and I saw someone who had every reason to be exhausted.

I’m not sure how many days this represented, but it was a relatively short span of time in which Jesus:
  •  Finished a 40-day fast
  • Triumphed over Satan after an ongoing spiritual battle that lasted for nearly six weeks
  •  Started teaching in the synagogues
  •  Spoke at Nazareth, where the crowd first received Him with wonder, but then tried to kill Him
  • Taught at Capernaum, cast out a demon, and achieved acclaim throughout the region
  • Healed Simon’s mother-in-law
  •  Healed all the demonized and sick who came to Him
  • Tried to retreat but was followed by the crowd
  • Started preaching in Judea

For 30 years He led a normal (albeit sinless) human life. He worked in the carpenter shop, took care of His mother, brothers and sisters, and went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He didn’t heal, cast out demons, walk on water, or preach.

But all that changed when He began His three-year journey to Calvary. His life erupted in a flurry of activity: preaching, teaching, healing, casting out demons, confronting critics, comforting friends, and all the while walking in the shadow of the cross.

I admire Christ’s incredible devotion, diligence, energy, and endurance. I'm glad He knows how it feels when you're so tired you can barely lift your head.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

How Much Do You Love?

If you’re a Christian, how would you describe your affection and admiration for Christ? Honestly.

Here are some options;
  • He’s my Savior, but I guess I don’t think about Him that much.
  • I relate to God mainly as my Father, so I don’t really focus on Jesus.
  •  I just feel lucky I'm going to heaven.
  • None of your business. That’s private—between Jesus and me.
  • I love Christ more than anyone. My life is about pursuing Him and knowing Him better, and as I do, I find I love Him even more.

Jesus Himself said the sure proof of our love for Him is obedience: If you love me, you will keep my commandments (John 14:15). So we're not talking about emotions only.

But I have the impression that many people who say they are Christians do not have much love for the Savior. And I think I've figured out why some do and some don’t.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Another Divine Smackdown

Like the other enemies of Christ, the Sadducees also tried to match wits with Christ. They thought they could trap Him and publicly discredit Him.

For them, the resurrection of the dead was absurd. So they tried to trick Jesus into proving their point.

They spun a scenario about seven brothers. The first brother died, and his widow married the next brother. He also died, the widow married the next brother, he died, the next brother married the widow...well, you see the pattern.  Anyhow, they laid out their verbal trap: "In the resurrection, when they rise again, whose wife will she be? For the seven had her as wife" (Mark 12:23 ESV).

Jesus' enemies were probably mentally high-fiving one another for their brilliance. Not only would they demonstrate how ridiculous the resurrection is, but they'd put one over on Jesus. Yeah!

But Jesus out maneuvers them effortlessly. "Here's why you're wrong," He said. Rather than answer their question (and buy into their silly scenario), He swept all their artifice away. Their problem, He said, is they knew neither the Scriptures nor the power of God Himself (v. 24). And with a final smack-down, Jesus quotes the Scripture: I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (v. 26, from Exodus 3:1-4). His point: "resurrection" flows from the very nature of the Almighty--the God of life! (v. 27)

I admire Jesus' intelligence and moral insight. He is the most brilliant, and purest, One who has ever lived.

Monday, May 7, 2012

I Hate Waiting

I hate to wait. One time I yelled at the microwave: “Come on!” Watching it count down from thirty seconds was just too much.

Waiting has unpleasant connotations. Waiting rooms are stressful, fidgety places where you sit uncomfortably until the doctor or dentist is ready for you. Or worse yet, where you wait while the one you love is undergoing some serious medical procedure whose outcome is unknown.

Waiting for me is often about my pride. When people “make me wait,” I think they don’t value my time, and thus they don’t value me. When I wait, I feel out of control. Time and outcomes are in someone else’s hands. 

One of the things I admire about Christ is how He waited. His patience was on display for 30 years. After Jesus’ birth and infancy, the New Testament gives us no information about the next three decades of His life beyond the single incident when He confounded the teachers in the Temple  at age twelve (Luke 2:46). 

He waited for thirty years. Not turning water into wine, not delivering demonized people or healing the sick, not preaching to multitudes. He was waiting. Working in the carpenter’s shop, taking care of His mother, brothers and sisters, being a good neighbor.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Junior Seau, Suicide, and Jesus

Junior Seau
The suicide of NFL great Junior Seau this past Wednesday has shocked the sports world and devastated the community where Seau lived and worked and served.

Junior Seau was larger than life to many people in Southern California. He was one of the greatest football players ever, and off the field he was an enormous presence for good through charity work and community involvement. All of which makes his death so much harder.

As a football fan, I loved watching Junior play. As a Christian, I heard that he was also a follower of Jesus, which puts another twist on this tragedy.

I won’t presume to comment on Mr. Seau’s faith. That was a matter between him and Christ. We all need to pray for his family, friends, and fans. May God bring them comfort and peace, and may He somehow turn a terrible circumstance to a greater good.

But since this tragedy raises questions and concerns that touch us all, I do want to make some comments.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Boxing with Christ

I admire the way Jesus so easily overcame the verbal attacks of His enemies. None of them was ever a match for Him. He was always just too smart, too strong, too pure, and too wise.

Like the time the Pharisees and the Herodians conspired to ensnare Him in His public statements (Mark 12:13). They started with flattery: "Teacher, we know you are true and do not care about anyone's opinion...but truly teach the way of God" (v. 14).

Then they set the their trap: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" If Jesus said, "Yes, pay taxes," the Jews, who hated Rome, would think He was compromising. But if He said, "No, don't pay taxes," it would sound like insurrection to the Romans.

Many a clever politician has been brought down by this very strategy. Get a person to take an untenable position, or to say something he doesn't really mean, or that seems to contradict earlier statements--trip him up and you've got him.

But Jesus saw this coming a mile away. He brushed aside their fake respect and stated plainly that He knew what they were trying to do: Why put me to the test? (v. 15a).

Then holding up a coin, He said, Whose likeness and inscription is this? (v. 16) They had to admit, "Caesar's." Effortlessly turning the tables, He revealed His spiritual mastery and exposed their corruption with a single command: Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. (v. 17).

Wow.  As someone famously observed, "Your arms are too short to box with God."