Jesus Spent 30 Years Being Boring

For the first 30 years of his life, Jesus was boring. He was an unknown carpenter who wasn’t doing “big” things for God. He worked alongside his dad, using his hands to shape, shave, and tack together pieces of wood. He quietly studied the scriptures, and grew in stature with God and men. He didn’t have a public ministry. He didn’t write any books, go on a conference tour, adopt an orphan, give away 75% of his income, or go on multiple missions trips. He loved the Lord with all his heart, honored his mother and father, and quietly went about his work.

Was Jesus wasting his life? Absolutely not. He was doing exactly what God had called him to do. As his hands ran over rough planks of wood, he was quietly earning our salvation. Jesus, the lowly carpenter, the furniture maker, was as radical as they come. And for thirty years he was quiet.

You don’t have to leave home to be crazy on fire for the Lord. Jesus spent his first thirty years simply working and obeying. This tells me that it’s possible to be radical while changing diapers, or creating spreadsheets, or plowing snow, or doing whatever mundane task you are called to. For the Christian, there is no such thing as insignificant work.

Being radical for Jesus means obeying Jesus, loving Jesus, and proclaiming Jesus wherever we are, whether that’s in the mission fields of Cambodia or behind the counter at Starbucks.

Jesus Doesn’t Want Your Risk, He Wants Your Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about risk lately. In my little circle of Reformed theology, taking risks for God is currently cool. It’s in. It’s what all the cool kids are doing. Piper and Platt and Chan are writing about crazy, don’t waste your life, radical love. And I really am grateful for these guys. I’m grateful that they are encouraging my generation to go hard after God. I’m grateful for the Harris brothers challenging young men and women to do hard things for God. If any of you guys happen to stumble onto this, please feel my gratefulness.

But I’m starting to think that we might be getting the principle right but getting the application wrong. Here’s what I mean: when I read the books on being risky and radical and crazy, I  come away feeling like I need to do something really, really big for God. I need to take a risk by uprooting my family and being a missionary to India. I need to be crazy for Jesus by adopting four Vietnamese orphans. I need to be radical for Jesus by starting an inner city ministry to the homeless. If I’m not doing something big for God, I’m wasting my life. If I’m not going big for God, I might as well be sitting in front of a slot machine in Vegas, slowly throwing my life away.

Now don’t get me wrong, all those things I mentioned above are good. If God calls you to do those things, do them with all your might! But if I don’t do these things, am I wasting my life? Am I not being crazy radical enough? I don’t think so. Here’s why: being a Christian is fundamentally radical, risky, and crazy.

In Mark 8:35, Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” To be a Christian, we must lose our life for the sake of Jesus. We must be willing to give up everything for the sake of Jesus. This at the heart of what it means to be a Christian. Jesus gets all of my life. Jesus gets all of me. Whatever he says goes. I am no longer my own. That’s crazy, radical, risky talk. 

What does this look like practically? What does it look like to be radical for Jesus every single day? Well, it actually looks pretty ordinary. At least in the world’s eyes. Being radical for Jesus means fighting against our sin aggressively, and being willing to do whatever it takes to cut sin out of our lives (Matt. 5:29). It means blessing those who hate you, and giving your possessions to your enemies (Matt. 5:39). It means being poor in spirit, meek, and hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matt. 5:2-11).

The Bible’s description of the radical Christian life is not particularly sexy or glamorous. Being radical for Jesus means being subject to the authorities (Rom. 13:1). It means being patient in tribulation, constant in prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, and showing hospitality (Rom. 12:12-13). These aren’t particularly exciting things, but I think we need to realize that these are radical! The world does not operate this way. Those who don’t know God curse in the midst of tribulation, never pray, indulge their sins, curse their enemies, and despise righteousness. If we seek to obey the Bible, we will be radical. If we seek to follow Jesus, that will inevitably lead to crazy love.

I’m not opposed to doing big things for God. We need more people in the mission field and the orphanages. But for most of us, being radical for Jesus means being faithful to do the “ordinary” Christian things. The Christian life is inherently radical, inherently risky, and inherently crazy. Following Jesus means dying to myself every single day. That is radical. If I seek to obey God’s word, my life will look very different than the rest of the world.

If God calls you to go to the mission field, wonderful! Go hard. But if God calls you to the cubicle field, don’t feel guilty! Be radical right where you are. Fight against your sin. Serve your spouse. Give generously. Spend time with the outcasts. Share the gospel with your neighbors. Remember Jesus doesn’t just want your risk. He wants all of your life.

15 Ways To Become Like Doug The Encourager

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  1 Thessalonians 5:11

I want to grow as an encourager.  I want to be like Doug, a man in our church, who has the gift of encouragement.  Every time I talk with him, he has this uncanny way of turning every conversation into an encouragement of me session.  For example, “Hey Doug, thanks for all the good ideas you brought to the meeting last night.”  Doug: “I only did that because I was trying to imitate you.  You have so many great ideas.  You’re so innovative and always bring a creative perspective to any conversation.  And you’re such a great husband and dad.  And the way you love your dogs so inspires me.  And when you’re doodling in our meetings, I know you aren’t bored, you’re creating great works of art!”

Well, Doug isn’t really over the top, but he does consistently encourage everyone he interacts with.  I want to be like Doug.

So here are some reflections on ways to encourage others that I have observed in Doug and many others:

1.  Point out how you see God working in their life.  Tell them how you can see they have changed over the last six months, year or five years.  ”You know, a year ago you would have responded in anger. But today you were patient and gentle.”

2.  Tell them you are praying for them – and be sure to do that.

3.  Point out any ways they encourage you.  ”Thank you for sharing that scripture this morning. It really helped me.”

4.  Share an encouraging scripture with them.  ”I’m sure you know this, but none of your labor in the Lord is vain. Someday you’ll be rewarded for what you’re doing right now.”

5.  Encourage them that God is for them and will be faithful to them

6.  Tell them what you appreciate/respect/like/enjoy about them.  Thank them for ways they inspire you.  Point out good qualities they have.

7.  Appreciate and thank them for any ways they serve.

8.  Encourage them for any effort you see them making in the right direction.

9.  Encourage them not to give up. “God is going to come through for you. He will surely reward your faithfulness. Someday this will all be worth it when you are standing before God in heaven and he says to you, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.’ ”

10.  Thank them for their example to you.  ”Thank you for being an example to me of faithfulness to your husband through thick and thin.” “Thank you for your example to me of trusting God in affliction.”

11.  Commend them for any job well done.

12.  Share with them how you see them glorifying God.  ”You know, to forgive your brother for the way he hurt you is so pleasing to God.”

13.  Encourage them for any gifts or talents they have.  Thank them for ways their gifts have blessed you.

14.  Point out the fruit of the Spirit you see in their life.  ”I appreciate how consistently joyful you are.”

15.  Remind them that they have a sympathetic and compassionate great high priest who intercedes for them.

Send them a note. Fire off an email. Give them a quick call on your commute home.  Text them. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Sometimes, “Great job!” is all you need to say.

Tell them why you’re glad you get to work with them. Tell them why you’re glad God brought them to your church.  Tell them why you’re glad they are your child (assuming they are your child). Husbands, thank your wives for anything and everything they do for you.

Be like Doug.

The Freedom of Being A Nobody

Repeat after me: I am a beautiful snowflake. I am a unique individual. There is no one else like me. I am significant. I am important to the world. I have important things to offer the world.

This is kind thing we hear everyday, right? If you watch Sesame Street for more than three minutes you’ll hear some version of the above. An affirmation of self-worth. An affirmation of importance. An affirmation of uniqueness. We’re constantly being told how valuable we are, and how much we have to offer the world. And social media isn’t helping us either. Everyone, myself included, feels like they need to keep updating their status. It’s like we feel this constant compulsion to say, “Hey, hey! I’m still here, and I’m still really important!” It makes us feel good when people “like” or retweet our status updates.

To be honest, I’m getting kind of tired of trying to remind the world that I’m important. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be a Debbie Downer here. We are important in God’s eyes. He created us in his image, which gives us value in his eyes. My sense of self-worth should come from the fact that God made me, saved me, and adopted me.

But so often my sense of self-worth comes from what other people think about me. How many people liked my status update? How many people complimented me on my sermon? Do people think I’m doing the right thing by homeschooling my kids? Should I be eating more organic food and investigating various vaccinations? What did [insert person] think of my worship leading, or small group leading, or prayer meeting leading? It’s exhausting to keep feeding my need for the approval of others. It takes a lot of work to maintain a cool persona without looking like I’m trying too hard to be cool.

So what’s the alternative? To embrace the freedom of being a nobody.

As I read Psalm 90 this morning, I was reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m a nobody. Psalm 90:3-4 says:

You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.

In the grand scheme of things, my life is dust. A vapor. A mist that quickly passes. A flicker of a blip on the radar of eternity. Billions of people have come and gone before me, most of them unknown by the rest of the world. Billions will probably come after me, going from birth to death in relative obscurity.

Compared the eternal God, I am a nobody. Compared to the great God who reigns over all the nations, I am insignificant. In fact, everyone is insignifcant. Everyone is a nobody. And that’s a wonderful thing! If everyone is a nobody, I can quit comparing myself to other people. I can quit trying to be the king of the nobodies. I don’t need the approval of others to feel good about myself.

My approval rating is rooted squarely in God. It’s not rooted in whether or not people notice me. It’s not determined by whether or not people will remember me. Embracing “nobodiness” is a really freeing thing. I’m free to simply serve the Lord, without caring if people approve of me. I’m free to embrace the lowly servant tasks that nobody notices. I’m free to parent according to my God-given convictions, and to homeschool/public school/private school/unschool. When I embrace the magnificent greatness of God, I’m free to quit caring about my standing with other people.

So let’s all be nobodies together. Let delight in the freedom that comes from not caring what others think. Let’s remember that we are dust, and that God is the only “somebody”.

The Safest Place To Be In A Battle

Yesterday morning a man shared this word with our church: “If God has called you into a battle, then the middle of the battle is the safest place to be, because that’s where God is.”

Wow. What a great word! Usually when I’m in the middle of a battle I would rather be anywhere else BUT there.  Have you ever felt like running away? I have at times.  In fact I told my wife recently that sometimes I feel like it would be a relief to change my name, move to another town and be a coffee Barista.  Of course I would never do that.  I would drive a hotdog truck.

But that wouldn’t be the solution. The best place to be is right where God has called me, no matter how hard it is, because that’s where God is.

Reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Isaiah 43:2:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

God doesn’t say that when we pass through the waters he will be watching over us, or thinking about us or observing us. When God calls us into fire and flood, he promises to be WITH us.

Reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3:23-25:

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace.  Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.”  He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.”

I love this – old King Neb is scratching his head saying I thought we threw three men in there. Why do I see four?  You see four because when God calls you into the fire, that’s the safest place to be because that’s where God is.

And when the time comes when God calls each of us to walk through the dark valley of the shadow of death, he will be with us there.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  Psalm 23:4

What battle has God called you into today? Don’t forget he is with you – and wherever God is is the safest place to be.

Prayers With Power and Punch

I’m convinced that one of the reasons my prayers often feel “flat” is that I don’t  incorporate God’s word into my prayers. God’s word is packed full of promises, and one of the best ways to infuse life into our prayers is by infusing God’s promises into our prayers. In John 15:7 Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” This is a crazy promise! Essentially, what Jesus is saying is that when we pray in accordance with his words, promises, or commands, whatever we ask will be done for us. When our prayers line up with his promises, crazy, incredible things will happen!

That’s why I’m working on a book entitled Praying God’s Word. Each page of this book contains a section of scripture, then a prayer based off that section of scripture. My hope is that combination of God’s word and prayer will be like rocket fuel for your prayer life. What follows is a prayer based on Psalm 34, which is one of my favorite Psalms:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:8-10)

Father,

I have tasted and seen that you are good. I have tasted the finest delicacies this world can offer, and they cannot compare to you. Your presence satisfies me like nothing else. You give more joy and deeper joy than anything else in this world. One day in your courts is better than a thousand days elsewhere. One moment with you is better than a thousand lifetimes anywhere else. Please give me more tastes of your presence, more glimpses of your glory. Expand my heart to love you more, and then take me deeper into the vast ocean of your love. Your love is better than life itself.

I do not take refuge in money, people, job security, or friends. Those things are fleeting vapors that quickly dissipate. They don’t provide any true security. I take my refuge in you, the King of Kings, owner of all things, Sovereign One, and protector of the helpless. I know that you’ll care for me, provide for me, and satisfy me. I know that you’ll protect me, just as a father protects his children. Teach me what it means to fully entrust myself. Deliver me from my sinful self-sufficiency. Teach me what it means to truly, humbly fear you. Fill my heart with appropriate reverence, awe, and fear of you.

I want to seek you above all else, knowing that if I seek you, I won’t lack any good thing. You are not a stingy God who is hesitant to bless his creatures. You are an abundantly generous God. Like a constantly flowing spring, you bubble over with goodness and generosity. If you clothe the lilies in splendor and feed the ravens, you will certainly provide me with everything that I need. If something is good for me, you will give it to me. If it is not good, you will withhold it. I know that I can trust you to give me exactly what I need for every situation. Ultimately, I don’t know what I most need, but you do. I don’t trust in my own ability to meet my needs, I trust you to meet all of my needs.

Are We Alone Together?

I recently read a book with the provocative title “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from our Technology and Less from Each Other.” The author, a woman named Sherry Turkle, is concerned with the way our technology has the potential to undermine deep person-to-person relationships. Here’s the argument in a nutshell: if you build a romantic relationship entirely around texts that say “I luv U!” or a friendship on back-and-forth Instagram pictures – this is me eating a cheeseburger” …. “this is me wiping ketchup off my shirt” – how deep of a relationship can you have?

Of course, that over-generalization doesn’t describe the vast majority of us. We use digital communication technologies, whether Skype or Facebook or group texting or Google chatting, to keep up with friends who are physically distant or to supplement our face-to-face interactions. But I think it’s still worth asking the question: has digital communication changed our human relationships, and if so, how?

For example: I have two lengthy emails in my inbox right now. One is from a family member overseas, the other from a friend who just moved 2,000 miles away. Because the emails are long and thoughtful I want to give an equally thoughtful response – but because I’m self-trained to chug through my inbox as fast as possible, I feel pressure to write a quick, shallow response so the emails don’t sit unattended for a week or more. Is that impulse pushing me towards snappier but shallower relationships with these two friends?

Or take my cell phone. I often instinctively carry it from room to room as I move around my house because it feels weird to be without it. Once (this was a really bad decision), because I had the phone with me, I took a call five minutes before my wife served an Asian dish she’d made especially for date night. Yeah, I was that guy. (Like I said, it wasn’t one of my brightest or most godly moves.) But if I leave my phone in another room, I sometimes “hear” phantom text messaging beeps and wonder whose text I’m missing. Are my cell phone “attachment issues” making me present in body only with the people I love?

I ask these questions to start a discussion: have you noticed a change in the way you conduct your relationships because of digital communication? As Christians we of all people have a deep interest in the subject of relationships. As members of the family of God, our friendships and family ties have redemptive significance. God shapes human lives through other human lives. Of course, as Christians we also see technology as a gift from God. In our day the gospel is reaching to the farthest corners of the globe through the Internet in ways that would have amazed and astounded previous Christian generations. And, to use just one example, Skype makes it possible for my wife and I to remain connected to family members overseas in a way unimaginable fifty years ago. We should thank God for such developments. But at the same time we should embrace them thoughtfully so that technology enhances, not detracts from our human relationships.

So tell me your thoughts. Are we “alone together” these days? Do we expect more from Siri on our iPhones than from each other? Or are these alarmist, old fuddy-duddy overstatements? Chime in and give me your two cents worth in the comments.

+ Photo by PhotoAtelier

I Can’t Wait Until I’m Not In Heaven

I’ve gotta confess, I feel a little uncomfortable saying this. Am I allowed to say this in a public forum? Is this going to be bleeped out, or am I going to be fined by the FTC, or something? Maybe I should post this anonymously…Oh what the heck, here I go…

A lot of times heaven sounds really boring to me. 

There, I said it. Phew. Glad that’s off my chest. No more secrets. No more hiding. I’m not that excited about heaven. When I think about heaven it all seems so…abstract. I know that we’ll be in God’s presence for eternity, I know that we’ll worship Jesus for eternity, I know that there will be hordes of angels, and I know that there will be no more pain, sorrow or tears. And don’t get me wrong, all that stuff sounds great. But when I picture it in my head, it just sounds like one really long Sunday morning worship service. I’m a worship leader, and even I can only sing Chris Tomlin for so long before I need to do something else. I’m a preacher, and even I could only listen to myself preach for so long before I had to do something else.

I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that heaven sounds boring. I think lots of Christians feel that way. And, as Randy Alcorn has said, not being excited about heaven is one of the main ways Satan keeps us comfortable here. So how do we become more excited?

I think we need to remember that heaven is not our final destination. 

So often we talk about heaven as if it is the final resting place for a Christian. When someone dies, we talk about them finally “going home”, and “being in a better place”. And they really are in a much, much better place. As Paul said, he longed to die and be with Christ, which was better by far.

But the reality is, heaven is simply the waiting room for the rest of eternity. When a person dies, they leave their body and go to be with Christ. But that’s not the end. Our final, glorious, exciting hope is not an abstract, bodiless existence. Our great end is not to float about the universe as bodiless souls. The end comes when Jesus returns, makes a new, physical heavens and earth, and gives us new, physical resurrection bodies.

I can’t relate to simply being a soul. I have no concept of that form of existence. But I can imagine having a new, resurrection body, and the prospect of that excites me! Our resurrection bodies will feast at the table of the Lamb! We will eat glorious meals! What sorts of flavors will our new bodies be able to sense and savor? Our new bodies will sing to the king. How many different shades and shimmers of harmony will we be capable of producing? What sorts of things will we do with our friends in heaven? Will we explore? Will we swim in heavenly lakes? Will we have heavenly competitions?

I don’t know all that we’ll do in the new heavens and the new earth, but I can imagine. I can think of all the God-given joys I experience in this life, and then amplify them by a million. I can think of the many gifts of God I experience in this life, then blow those up. It’s going to be wonderful. Astonishing. Breath taking.

Will heaven be good? Yes, it will be great. But I can’t wait until I’m not in heaven. Heaven is just the waiting room. I can’t wait until I’m in the new heavens and new earth, with my new resurrection body. That’s what I’m truly looking forward to.