What Sort of Man Is This?

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“What sort of man is this, the even the winds and sea obey him?”

This questions, on the heels of Jesus calming a storm, rings through the gospel of Matthew. It comes from those who know Him, not from a stranger. What sort of man is he? A good one? A powerful one, certainly. A wizard or a prophet? Self-serving or benevolent? Many of us call ourselves disciples of Jesus, but have we ever been stunned enough at Him to rock back on our heels and ask “What sort of man is this?”

This is a man who makes blind eyes see and crippled legs straight and strong. He cools and soothes feverish bodies and minds. A shriveled hand straightens and flexes under his touch, or even at a word. And a rotting corpse inhales and is made whole and alive, not undead, but living.

And He is the sort of man who would do these same miracles today. He is the sort of man who would make crippled hope strong again. He would soothe those minds and hearts fevered by temptation and bring them back to reason and reality. The blind eyes of a soul are made to see truth and know it for what it is. A shriveled marriage feels the circulation flow, it flexes, and has purpose and life again. And those who long ago committed their souls to the mortician quicken and live.

Every miracle Jesus did, every healing, was more than just a kindness to the needy (though it was never less). Each one sought to raise people’s eyes above mere humanitarian goodness to something greater: himself. We cannot lose ourselves in the activist Jesus or be wearied by the Sunday school Jesus, for if we do we have lost Jesus altogether.

“What sort of man is this?” is not just a question for those who have never met Jesus but one for everyone to ask. At every turn we will find out something more about what sort he is. It is never ending and always wondrous. Unless we stop asking, at which point all we’re left with is what little we know of him and even that soon starts to fade. Ask this question and let him answer it from the pages of scripture and in the wind and seas of your heart.

photo credit: cpboingo via photopin cc

The Internet Makes Us All Miserable

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Once upon a time, jealousy and comparison and coveting was limited to the people you knew.

Your neighbor gets a new car, your car is a lousy piece of crap, you feel jealous. Your coworker gets a raise, you’ve worked your tail off without getting a raise, you feel worthless and angry. Your church friends have wonderful, tastefully decorated houses, like snapshots out of “Real Simple” magazine. Meanwhile, your house is like something out of “Prisons and Penitentiaries” magazine, which makes you feel like a failure. Your brother’s kids are respectful, well-behaved kids, who say, “Please”, “Thank you”, and “I’ve memorized all of Ephesians”. Your kids make poop jokes at the dinner table.

In the good old days of jealousy and comparison and coveting, we compared ourselves to those close to us. When someone near to us succeeded, we felt like a failure.

But the good old days are gone. Now, thanks to the Internet, we can feel like failures all the time.

When you get on Pinterest, you are instantly assaulted by tasteful Mason jars, beautifully sculpted furniture, immaculate hair braids, and gourmet foods. Meanwhile, your house is decorated in a style called “Wal-Mart”, and you are serving your kids gourmet mac ‘n cheese.

Things aren’t much better on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Every day hundreds of people post about the awesome life they are living. Newly engaged couples post photos of themselves sitting together, foreheads touching, fingers intertwined. Meanwhile, you’re single, with no prospects other than a full Netflix queue. Parents give a shout out to their four year old, who just learned one hundred Latin words. Meanwhile, you’re still trying to potty train your four year old (that would be me). Your fellow writing buddy posts that he just signed a book deal. You’re still trying to get someone other than your mom to read your blog. A woman in your church publicly thanks the Lord for helping her lose one-hundred pounds. You spend your days wearing sweatpants and gym shorts.

Is it wrong for people to post happy status updates and photos? No, of course not. We should rejoice with those who rejoice. We should give thanks when someone gets engaged, loses a lot of weight, or signs a book deal.

But the Internet has dramatically, exponentially increased the temptation to compare ourselves to others.

It’s time to stop playing the comparison game.

Every time you open your browser or app, remember:

  • You are fully, completely, one-hundred percent accepted by God. This acceptance is rooted in the finished work of Christ, not your parenting skills, decorating skills, body type, or relational status. You don’t need to be like anyone else to be accepted by God. God accepts you in Christ, and that is enough.
  • God has a specific, good plan for your life. God’s plan will lead you through specific dark valleys and to specific green pastures. These valley and pastures are particularly shaped by God for you. Don’t try to fight your way to someone else’s green pasture, all the while ignoring the pasture God has prepared for you.
  • You are called to be faithful to teach your kids about the Lord. You’re not called to teach your kids Latin, the names of all fifty presidents, the geography of the African plains, or the history of classical literature. If you want to teach your kids those things, great. But your primary calling is to teach your kids about the Lord. Stay faithful to your calling and God will be pleased.
  • You are called to serve faithfully in whatever sphere God has placed you. On the final day, God will reward you based on how faithfully you used the talents he gave you. He won’t reward you based on how well everyone else did.

Don’t let the Internet make you miserable. Don’t let the Internet determine how you see yourself. Serve faithfully and let God be the judge.

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Jesus, It Seems Like You Didn’t Get The Memo

TO: Jesus

FROM: Stephen

REGARDING: Life

Jesus, it has come to my attention recently that things haven’t exactly been going according to our little agreement. You do remember our agreement, right? I’ll follow you and call myself a disciple of Christ and you will fulfill all my wonderful plans for my life. According to section three of our agreement, all the plans I have for me will be fulfilled on my time frame as well. (See attached project plan for specific dates and times)

In light of our “discipleship agreement” (hereon referred to as “DA”), I would like to call your attention to several pressing issues. First, there’s the issue of sleep. I’ve been dealing with a bit of insomnia lately and am getting really tired of lying on my couch at 2:00 A.M. watching Sports Center. Please correct the issue immediately.

Second, there is the obedient child issue. As you are aware, my three year old daughter, Charis, has strong opinions about when she will and will not wear a princess dress. Training her not to argue and to be patient is getting sort or wearisome, and I would appreciate it if you could correct this issue as well. Right away.

Finally, there is the financial provision issue. While I do acknowledge that you have met all my needs abundantly, I could always use more. Please see the attached financial supply schedule for further details.

Additionally, could you please ask Tim Keller to stop writing things like this:

God’s sense of timing will confound ours, no matter what culture we’re from. His grace rarely operates according to our schedule. When Jesus looks at Jairus and says, “Trust me, be patient,” in effect he is looking over Jairus’s head at all of us and saying, “Remember how when I calmed the storm I showed you that my grace and love are compatible with going through storms, though you may not think so? Well, now I’m telling you that my grace and love are compatible with what seem to you unconscionable delays.” It’s not “I will not be hurried even though I love you”; it’s “I will not be hurried because I love you. I know what I’m doing. And if you try to impose your understanding of schedule and timing on me, you will struggle to feel loved by me.” (Kings Cross, pg. 63)

While well meaning, Tim obviously doesn’t understand our particular DA. Plus, his words remind me about all that stuff you said about being God and being the center of the universe, which I don’t like to think about.

I anticipate your quick response to my complaints. Thank you for your time.

If This Is Greatness Our Dreams Are Too Small

Sony recently released this trailer for the soon to be released Playstation 4.

I’m a big fan of video games. I grew up playing Nintendo, then graduated to the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, Playstation 2, XBox 360, and now Playstation 3. Video games, like any other form of entertainment, can be a wonderful, relaxing gift from God. In fact, just last night I was dominating the NBA, personally dropping 38 points on the Golden State Warriors. This is not a vendetta against video games. I like video games.

But I’m appealing to my generation: DON’T BUY THIS DREAM OF GREATNESS!

It is possible to spend hours upon hours, holed up by yourself, conquering worlds, leveling up characters, creating dynasty football teams, and slaying dragons. It’s possible to climb online leaderboards to the point where you become a well respected gamer. It is possible to create entire worlds, to become a digital god!

But I want my generation to dream bigger dreams for the true God!

  • Let’s not conquer a thousand digital worlds, let’s conquer the real world by proclaiming the gospel in our communities. 
  • Let’s not level up fake characters, let’s level up our own character as we pursue holiness, righteousness, and godliness. 
  • Let’s not create imaginary dynasty football teams, let’s create real dynasty churches where the gospel is passed from generation to generation. 
  • Let’s not slay pretend dragons, let’s join forces with the true King who will slay the real dragon!
  • Let’s not climb the online leaderboards, let’s climb down the ladder of servanthood.

Friends, don’t believe Sony’s cheap, hollow, unsatisfying, lie of greatness. Someday we will stand before the throne of God. On that day I want to hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You gave your greatest energy and greatest passion to me. Now enter into true greatness!”

Videogames are a wonderful blessing from God. But if videogames constitute our dreams for greatness, our dreams are way too small. Dream big for God.

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.

All You Need Is Love…For God

Without love to God, again, there can be no true honour to him. A man is never hearty in the honour he seems to render to another whom he does not love; so that all the seeming honour or worship that is ever paid without love, is but hypocritical. And so reason teaches, that there is no sincerity in the obedience that is performed without love; for if there be no love, nothing that is done can be spontaneous and free, but all must be forced. So without love, there can be no hearty submission to the will of God, and there can be no real and cordial trust and confidence in him. He that does not love God will not trust him: he never will, with true acquiescence of soul, cast himself into the hands of God, or into the arms of his mercy.  - Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits

I love you, O LORD, my strength.  Psalm 18:1

We are not saved if we have no love for God. It’s not enough to believe in him.  Not enough to be afraid of him. There are only two kinds of people in the world – those who love God and those who don’t. The first and greatest commandment is You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. So if we don’t love God, we violate the first and most basic commandment.

We love because he first loved us and gave himself for us. Love for God is a gift from him.  We are not born loving God. We are born at enmity with him. It’s not “natural.”  The natural man has no love for God. We naturally love sin. But when Jesus saves us he gives us love for himself and the Father.  If you have the smallest amount of genuine love for God you’re saved.  If you love the Father and Jesus today, it’s because Jesus gave you that love. What an incredible gift!

Because we love Jesus, we’re not happy when our love for him wanes. We are concerned when our hearts grow cold. The sign of a Pharisee is serving God externally with a heart that is far from him. Genuine believers abhor serving God this way. Because we love Jesus we want to please him and bring joy to him, sacrifice for him and lay down our lives for him.

Love for Jesus makes us generous, joyful, patient, and loving toward others.  It is love for Jesus that compels us and propels us.

How do we cultivate our love for Jesus? A few suggestions:

  • Read his word– the more we know him the more we love him.
  • Regularly meditate on his incredible love for you in saving and adopting you as his own child.
  • Continually thank and praise him
  • Fellowship with other believers who love Jesus – love is contagious
  • Ask Jesus for more love for him
  • Do whatever acts of  love you can for others.

Hope For Feeble Lovers Of Jesus

Do you want to love Jesus more?

What kind of a question is that? No Mark, I want to love him less. And I want less joy in my life. And while we are at it I’d like a few less blessings.

Often my love for Jesus feels even weaker than my love for opera (no offense opera lovers – I’m sure it’s my ignorance and lack of ability to appreciate the glories of people dressing up like Vikings and singing in Italian. Hey hey hey – back off. Don’t go filling up the comments section with rebukes. I’m just kidding. I know opera isn’t really about people dressing up like Vikings and singing in Italian. Opera is about pinball wizards, like in “Tommy” by The Who).

Ever try to light a match on a windy day? Sometimes my love for Jesus feels about as strong as a match flame in a hurricane. I’m not happy about my weak love for Jesus. I take seriously Jesus’ warning to the church of Laodicea about being lukewarm.

But the weakness of my love for Jesus doesn’t cause me to despair. For any genuine love for Jesus, even if it’s as small as a mustard seed, is proof one’s born again. Unbelievers don’t love Jesus and don’t care that they don’t love Jesus. Only genuine believers desire to love Jesus more.

Even a desire to love Jesus more pleases him. What wife wouldn’t be blessed if her husband said, Honey I’m not content with how much I love you. I love you, but I want to love you so much more.

To long to love Jesus more says we recognize he’s worthy of our all. That his infinite glory demands infinite love, praise, and worship. That our love for him doesn’t match his worthiness to be loved.

A toddler can’t possibly love her mother the way she should or appreciate all the ways her mother loves her and cares for her. Yet when that child says, “Mommy I love you” that child’s imperfect love brings joy to her mom.

Most of us know we’re pretty poor servants of Jesus. We often muddle and stumble along as best we can, like little kids who make a bigger mess trying to help than if the parents had just done it themselves. (How many times has Jesus had to clean up after me). Yet somehow even our feeble, flawed love for him brings a smile to his face.

I’m so grateful Christ bled on the cross for all the imperfections of my bungling love and halting, feeble affection. And grateful that even my match-flame of desire delights him, because he’s the one who lit that fire in my heart, no matter how small it seems.

And I’m grateful Jesus will keep fanning that flame. He’s poured his Spirit in me, who stirs the coals and blows on the flame morning by morning.

Here’s my hope – I don’t love Jesus as much as I should, but I will. Increasingly. For all eternity.

Jesus, give us more love for you!

I Think I’ll Just Be A Normal Christian From Now On

photo from Thomas Fisher

FACT: We Christians love labeling ourselves.

We’re Reformed, we’re Charismatic, we’re emergent, we’re justice seeking, we’re seeker sensitive, we’re adoptional (I don’t think that’s a word), we’re missional, we’re called to foreign missions, we’re radical, we’re Christian hedonists, we’re organic, all-natural, authentic, and label-loving. You get the point. And I have been extremely helped by so many of these categories. I’m so grateful for the push towards adoption, for Reformed theology, for Christian hedonism, and for the evangelistic emphasis of the missional minded folks.

But sometimes all the labels can be a burden to me. I’m sure the problem is totally with me and my legalistic self, but it seems like each label carries specific requirements with it. If I’m going to be missional I need to be highly focused on reaching out to my community with the gospel. If I’m going to be adoptional I need to create a community of adoption within my church and possibly adopt children myself. If I’m called to missions I need to be constantly thinking about and praying for the unreached people groups in the world. If I’m truly seeking justice I need to be making a concerted effort towards ending sex trafficking in the United States. You get the point.

There are a lot of blog posts and tweets and status updates that remind me of all that I should be doing. I need to more missional, more missions minded, more focused on the Holy Spirit, more authentic with my neighbors, more committed to the cause of adoption, more careful with my eating habits, and more  committed to ending sex trafficking in America.

And don’t get me wrong, each of these things is truly biblical. It’s right and good to reach out to the community and to adopt children and to reach the unreached people groups and to fight against horrific things like sex trafficking. But I can’t do all these things at one time with equal intensity and fervor. I’m a pretty limited guy. I’m married and I have three little girls who want to play with dollies and puzzles. I have a yard that needs mowing and a grandpa that needs visiting and people in my church who I need to pray for. I battle physical anxiety from time to time, which puts real physical limitations on what I can do. Most of the time I feel like I’m barely keeping my head above water.

So I think I might just be a normal Christian from now on. In John 15:5 Jesus said:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

I take this to mean that if I stay close to Jesus and spend time with Jesus and have lots of Jesus’ word in me, I will produce much fruit for Jesus. I’ll do the things that Jesus wants me to do. I’ll be a truly fruitful, successful Christian. Maybe I’ll adopt kids, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll be a missionary to India, but maybe not. Maybe I’ll host a community outreach…maybe not.

If I stay close to Jesus he’ll lead me into the good works that he has prepared for me.

The reality is, the folks in my church who are the most fruitful for Christ are simply those who are closest to Christ. I think of long-term member Tim McKelvy. I don’t think he could tell you what it means to be missional but he and his wife Donna are constantly reaching out to people. I think of my 93 year-old grandfather who probably couldn’t articulate Reformed theology and yet does a Bible study at a nursing home every single month. I think of my dad, who isn’t “adoptional” and yet has adopted two kids.

I want to be like Tim and Donna and my grandpa and my dad. They’re just normal Christians who stay close to Jesus and trust Jesus to make them fruitful.

Here’s to normal.

What Are You Getting Out Of Christ?

“Love [Christ] in his person, his excellencies, his loveliness, and not just for what you can get out of him.” — David Clarkson

What has Christ done for you lately?  Has he blessed you financially?  Has he given you the spouse of your dreams?  Has he healed you?  Has he moved upon your children so they flawlessly and cheerfully obey your every command?  Has he removed your every affliction?

In other words, what are you getting out of him?

Has he given you your best life now?  Are you enjoying health, wealth and prosperity?  If not, why are you following him?  What’s in it for you?

Oh, not to mention that he has redeemed you, personally absorbed God’s wrath for you, brought you to God and is transforming you into his very likeness.  Not to mention that he’s given you eternal life and the hope of seeing his glory face to face.  Not to mention that he has purchased your forgiveness, justification, and righteousness.  Not to mention that he’s interceding for you day and night and loves you with an everlasting love.  And delivered you out of the realm of darkness and brought you into his kingdom of light, and made you part of his royal priesthood and holy nation that you might declare his excellencies.

Jesus has done so much for each of his children it will take us all eternity to begin to appreciate it.  But even more than all he’s done for us, he gives himself to us.

Jesus himself is our righteousness, our wisdom, our strength, our hope.  He gives himself to us – his excellencies, loveliness, beauty, joy, and power – if we have him, we have all that he is.

Remember, Jesus himself is our treasure, as wonderful as all the other blessings are that he gives us.

Lord Jesus, open the eyes of our hearts today to see more of your beauty and excellence, and help us to love you for who you are rather than what we can get out of you.

You Have To Look Past The Face

If we could only remember that all we do to our brothers and sisters, or the sick and hurting, or even to little children, we are literally doing to Christ.  If we really believed this it would radically change how we relate to others.

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  (Matthew 25:35-40)

Whatever we do to the least of these…you did it to me.

When we bear with the most difficult Christian, we do it to Christ. When we comfort a friend who’s depressed, we’re do it to Jesus.  When we bless our spouse or children, we literally blessing Jesus.  When we care for a little one in Children’s Ministry, we care for Christ.  When we make a meal for a mom who’s just had a baby, we make a meal for Christ.  When we sponsor a child or give to the poor through Covenant Mercies, World Vision or Samaritan’s purse we feed and clothe Jesus.  When we take an interest in that immature brother who never takes an interest in us, we do it to Christ.

Conversely, when we slander our brother, we do it to Jesus. When we’re impatient with that sister, we’re impatient toward Christ.  When we’re selfish with our family, we’re selfish toward Christ.  When we avoid talking with that brother because he irritates us, we avoid Christ.

We have to look past the surface.
We have to look past the face of our friend, our spouse, or that annoying brother to see Jesus.  We have to look past that snotty-nosed 3-year old to see Jesus.  It’s not JUST Bill or Tom or Jessica, it’s not JUST that poor guy who doesn’t smell good – it’s JESUS.

I’m preaching to myself here.  How often have I neglected to do good to Christ because I just didn’t want to have to listen to that brother’s problems or visit that sister in the hospital?  How often have I missed opportunities to bless Christ by failing to bless my wife?  How much of my life has been consumed with providing for my own comfort and pleasures compared with how to care for the poor?

I’m not condemned by my failures, because Christ took my condemnation on the cross.  Yet I want the reality of this Scripture to stir me to love and good deeds: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’  And I want to hear Jesus say that to me someday.

So look past the face and do something good to Jesus today.

photo by fleecircus