Jesus

Actively Waiting for Christ's Return

Waiting for Christ's return is not a passive activity. We are not simply hanging out with nothing to do. Our waiting is not like pulling out a phone and playing meaningless games while waiting for our friends to show up for the movie. It is more like a limo driver, waiting for passengers to arrive. The hired driver isn't waiting aimlessly, because he has a job to do. They have been commissioned for a task and are actively waiting for their passengers.

When it comes to the topic of Christ's return, people spend a great deal of time concerned with predicting when Christ will return, when we should really be thinking more about how we wait. Like a hired driver, it is an active waiting. We are not simply hanging out on this large rock with nothing to do. We have been commissioned by our savior and he has given us a job to do. In teaching his disciples, Jesus seems less concerned with telling people when he will return and more about what sort of posture they should take in their waiting. It's less about when and more about how.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” (Mk 13:32-37).

No one knows the time or the hour. Not even the son. It would be unwise to claim knowledge about something Jesus says you cannot know - something he says he didn't know himself. Jesus says we should not spend so much time trying to figure out exactly when, but we should spend our time considering how.

He tells us to wait like a servant, waiting for their master to return. What does that mean? How does a servant wait? Here are a few ways that a servant waits, which can inform our own manner of waiting. 

Know your task

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work (Mk 13:34)

When the master leaves, he puts his servants in charge, and gives them work to do. Servants are not hired without an awareness of what they are being asked to do. Jesus has given us clear commands about our work as his followers. It is helpful for me to think about my call as a disciple to grow in my love for Jesus in three primary ways.

First, to treasure Jesus. Loving Jesus means finding our joy in him above all else. This happens as we treasure Jesus in the gospel and pursue habits that raise our affections for him. Second, to live consistent. Loving Jesus means living with character that is consistent with our love for him. As followers of Jesus, we are called to a new set of behaviors in our lives. And third, to make disciples. Loving Jesus means we participate in the glorious task of making new disciples. This means we live with intentional mission to multiply our faith into others.

Be active not passive

When we, like a servant waiting for their master, know our task, we must be active and not passive. The parable of the master and servants points to an active waiting. While their master is away, servants do not simply gather each morning to give one another a pep talk, discussing how great their master is and how excited they are to complete their day's work. Then leave that morning meeting only to spend the rest of their day playing meaningless games, rocking a chair on the porch or continuing to talk with one another about the work they should be doing.

God has called us to be active in our waiting. Our gatherings on Sunday morning are meant to be a catalyst to send us out into the world. We are not intended to gather each week in order to feel good about ourselves but then see no meaningful result. God has given us work to do. We are called to treasure him and actively grow in our love for Jesus. We are called to live with character consistent to our commitment to Jesus. This means we fight sin, we serve others, we seek the good of our city, we care for our family, we treat people with respect, put on love and joy and peace and patience and the list could go on. It also means we are actively making new disciples through sharing the good news with those around us.

Waiting for Jesus means we are actively engaged in the work he has called us to do as his followers.

Be ready at all times

Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. (Mk 13:35-36)

We need to always be ready for Christ's return. We don't know when, but we need to be ready. Are you ready?

What does it mean to be ready? It doesn't mean you are perfect. It doesn't mean you have arrived. We have not obtained perfection, but we press on toward holiness (Phil 3:12). In order to be ready for Christ's return, we don't need to achieve perfection, we simply need to be growing as his disciples. Faithfully committed to him and actively engaged in his Kingdom.

We are not sitting on the porch step, doing nothing but staring down the road. Although, we may look to the horizon every once and again, looking with excitement to see if the master's silhouette can be seen in the setting sun. We are not compelled to work hard in our waiting because we feel a need to impress him. We labor in our waiting, because we are grateful for our master, and we look with hope at the horizon, because of the joy we have in anticipating his return.

Jesus must be our Rescuer before he is our Teacher

An accurate view of Jesus?

If you were to ask people how they feel about Jesus, you would get a wide array of answers. I have not done an official study, but my impression is that the overall response would be positive. And if people did not all respond positively, I still think the majority would at least be neutral, with the minority of people having a negative impression of Jesus. It is remarkable that people have maintained such a favorable view of Jesus while the overall impression of Christianity in our culture has become less positive.

Another question is whether those same people have an accurate view of the Jesus we read about in the Scriptures. One of the reasons Jesus has maintained such a positive view, at least in part, is because people like to mold Jesus into whatever form best suites their desires. To some, Jesus is a great teacher or philosopher. To others, Jesus is a social liberator and change agent. And still others, Jesus is our homeboy. But is this the Jesus of the Scriptures? Is this the Jesus that changed the world?

Jesus is certainly a great teacher. The sermon on the mount is one of the single greatest teaching moments in the history of the world.

Jesus is also a social change agent. The Kingdom of God is permeating this world and God's people are called to fight injustice and seek to liberate the oppressed.

Jesus is also our homeboy. He is personal and he is a friend.

But... none of these is the primary characteristic the Bible uses to talk about Jesus. Before any of these other descriptors, Jesus is our rescuer. He is our savior.

The Bible points to Jesus as our Rescuer

When we read Paul's letter to the Colossians, Jesus is described as the one through whom "all things were created (Col 1:16)." He is "before all things, and in him all things hold together (1:17)." He is the head of the church (1:18) and firstborn from the dead (1:18). Through Jesus, all things are reconciled to God and through his blood he has made peace with all things (1:20). We were once "alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds (1:21)," and Jesus has reconciled us to God. He has rescued us from our former life. In the lengthy description of Jesus from Colossians One, Jesus is not described as a teacher, social liberator or friend. He is described as God and Savior.

In Galatians, as Paul is giving his introductory words, he describes Jesus as the one who "gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen (Gal 1:4-5)." Paul did not describe Jesus as a teacher, although he was certainly a teacher. Paul did not describe Jesus as a social change agent, although he was that too. Paul described Jesus as a rescuer. Paul described Jesus as a savior.

There are four gospels in the New Testament that recount the life of Jesus. No single gospel tells the complete story of Jesus' life and even when we combine all four gospels, we still do not have enough material to cover the entirety of Jesus' life. The Gospel authors, under the guidance and inspiration of God's Spirit had to pick and choose what material they would include. As the gospels retell the life of Jesus, each one slows down dramatically for the last week of his life and devote far more time to describing these final events. On average, each of the four gospels commits about 40% of its material to the final week of Jesus' life. This points to the importance of those final moments leading up to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. The cross points to Jesus as rescuer, because it was his death and resurrection that secures our salvation.

The Bible describes Jesus in many ways, but chief among them is Jesus as rescuer and savior.

A swimming manual is no help to a drowning man

If I were drowning in the middle of the ocean, gasping for air and seeing the light of day begin to fade, I would be desperate for someone to save me. As I was assaulted by the waves, sunlight only visible from beneath the water, my condition would be utterly desperate. In the event that I saw a boat approaching, I would muster all the energy I could in order to get my voice above the water and scream, "Help! Help! Over here!" If that boat were to hear me or see me and begin to turn in my direction, what relief it would bring. As it approached, I would be waiting anxiously for the life preserver to be thrown in my direction. In those moments, would I be well served to have someone throw me a manual on how to swim instead of the life preserver? Would expert coaching on how to properly execute a front crawl help me? Absolutely not. What I would need most is for someone to throw me a rope and pull me to safety.

That is our condition. We "were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked... But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved (Eph 2:1; 4-5)."

Before Jesus rescued us we were dead. We were hopeless in our sin and Jesus has brought us life. Jesus is our rescuer and savior. Before we need Jesus as a teacher, social liberator or friend, we need him to rescue us. And the good news of the gospel is that is exactly what he does.

Back to me as a drowning man. If I were tossed a life preserver and dragged onto the boat, I would be filled with deep emotions of gratitude, relief and the hope of a second chance. If my wife were standing on that boat, I would hug her with a passionate embrace. When we got to dry land, I may even kiss the ground. I was sure as dead out in that ocean, but I had been saved.

We sometimes live as though following Jesus is like being thrown a swimming manual. Once we have read it and received proper instruction, we can swim our way to shore and essentially save ourselves. This is simply not the picture the Scriptures paint. In fact, an even more appropriate analogy would not be of a person on top of the water screaming for help, but of someone who is dead at the bottom of the ocean. Jesus reaches through the depths of the sea and revives our dead hearts. He gives us new life.

This reality brings pure joy to the revived soul. It may even cause us to weep at the thought of the life we have been given. Even now, take a moment to worship God because of the new life he brings through Jesus and may it overflow into every crevice of your new life.

We cannot, but Jesus Did

 

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)

We can sometimes forget the most basic realities of the Christian faith. We might assume that a time comes when we move onto bigger and better things or we get distracted by the cares of this world and forget to value what is meant to be most central to our hearts. The gospel is like that. We hear it, we accept it, and then we move on. But we were never meant to "move on" from the realities of the gospel. Treasuring Jesus in the gospel is not something we graduate from. It is like the foundation of our house of faith. We may build upon it, but we never get rid of it and we always rest upon it.

When I want to remind myself of the gospel and rejoice in its goodness, one of my go to passages is 2 Corinthians 5:21. In just a few short phrases it communicates the magnitude of the gospel. In particular, it tells us about the realities of what has become known as the "great exchange." It tells us about the glorious truth that on the cross Jesus exchanged his righteousness for our sin, and through faith in Jesus we are given Christ's righteousness in place of our sin. Incredible! Jesus gives up his righteousness and takes our sin, so that we can shed our sin and take on his righteousness. Let's unpack this even more.

He did what we could not

Jesus did what we could not. He "knew no sin." The Bible tell us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are, and yet he did not sin (Heb 4:15). In our society, which prizes self-esteem, even at the cost of honesty, we do not like to talk about our sin. Everyone knows they have sin, but no one wants to admit it for themselves or speak honestly about it for others. Many know they have sin, but they don't want anyone else to think they do.

Jesus was not like that. He did not cover his sin by making excuses or putting on a mask. He did not white-wash a tomb, pretending to make pure and alive what contained dead and rotting corpses. Jesus is the real deal. He lived his entire life without sin. He was tempted in every way that we are, and resisted sin on each and every occasion. When he was murdered upon a cross he was not just legally innocent of the crimes put forward by his Jewish and Roman accusers, he was also innocent of the sin he bore for humanity.

Jesus did what we could not. He was sinless.

And became what he was not

Jesus lived without sin, but he died with the weight of all humanity's sin resting upon him. Jesus became sin, so that he could ransom us through his blood. In Jesus, God cancels our record of debt - which stands against us and rightly claims we are condemned. Jesus became sin, nailing it to the cross, so that our rightly-condemning debt could be paid.

In order to do that, Jesus became sin. "For our sake he made him to be sin, who knew no sin." We naturally think that the physical suffering was the worst part of the cross. In no way do I want to minimize the physical agony the cross must have caused Jesus. It is a pain I will likely never come close to experiencing. But, often forgotten in it all, is that becoming sin must have been worse.

Consider the guilt you feel when you are confronted with your sin. It is heavy and weighs on you. Imagine for a second that weight is like the dripping of a faucet, annoying but tolerable. Now consider what it might feel like to experience the weight of all your sin (past, present and future) all at once. Personally, I think it would be unbearable. I think my body would shut down and I would die from the spiritual, emotional and psychological agony I would experience. If one sin is like a dripping faucet, this might be like a flooded river. Now consider what it might be like to take on the weight of all sin, from all time, for all humanity, all at once. It would be crushing. Like the most powerful waters of the worst hurricane. This is what Jesus did. He became sin, for all humanity, throughout all time. It is impossible for us to fully grasp the immensity of what Jesus did on the cross.

Jesus did what we could not. And became what he was not.

So we could become what we are not

Why did Jesus do all this? He did it so that "in him we might become the righteousness of God." When we treasure Jesus as our savior - when, by grace through faith, we trust in Jesus as our lord, not only does he take our sin from us, but he gives us his righteousness. Jesus didn't just live without sin, but he also healed the sick, proclaimed the gospel and loved everyone around him perfectly. When we place our faith in Jesus, all that righteousness is attributed to us.

In our standing before God, he doesn't look at us as sinners, but as righteous, blood-bought saints. He doesn't see our sin, because Jesus took our sin. He sees us as righteous because Jesus is fully righteous. The implications of this are vast. We are adopted and become co-heirs with Christ. We are made alive together with Jesus. We have God's Spirit living inside us, working on our hearts to transform us increasingly more into the likeness of Jesus. We are sent as God's ambassadors, invited into the privilege of participating in God's mission in the world. We could go on and on.

This message is not something we move past. It is something we come back to day after day, reminding ourselves of the goodness of the gospel, so that the rest of our lives are shaped by this remarkable reality.

That Jesus did what we could not, and became what he was not, so that we could become what we are not.

Meek Does Not Equal Weak

Jesus tells us that there is this type of person in the world who is "blessed." He says, "Blessed are the meek... (Mt. 5:5)," and we are confronted with this small, four-letter word. Our tendency is to conflate meek with weak. To assume that meekness equates passivity. This is not what I see in the Bible, or more specifically, in the life of Jesus. He was meek, but he was not weak. Interestingly, his accusers may have assumed weakness on his part at times. They mocked Jesus, suggesting that if he was truly God, he could come down from the cross and save himself. They mistook Jesus' meekness for weakness. 

Like those who crucified Jesus, our culture doesn't have much of a category for a meek person. This is a problem, because it is a character quality the Bible advocates as a virtue. There is a controlled and very intentional element to meekness. It is not an apathetic. It is not weak. It is not passive. It requires a significant amount of humility and self-control. Meekness requires a significant amount of strength.

What does it mean to be meek?

Meekness is the inward attitude that finds its counterpart in the outward behavior of gentleness. They are related, and a deficiency in one will naturally point to a deficiency in the other. If you are looking for the outward evidence of meekness, it would be gentleness. Gentleness has to do with the way we conduct ourselves toward others and the manner in which we treat them. This is seen most prominently in the life of Jesus, when he stood before his mockers as they shared their false testimony, offering no response or justification. Responding with gentleness toward those who are brash and rude requires strength. It is not weak. It is strong.

A meek person possesses an inward contentment that is intentionally and patiently submissive to the adversity of life, without needing to seek justification or retribution. They do not resent God in the face of the difficulties they experience, whether at the hand of another human or the result of natural disasters. They trust God and the goodness He wants to bring through His wise and loving purposes.

Meekness is not passive or weak. This sort of trust and confidence in God requires a great deal of strength.

Why do people perceive meekness and ambition to be at odds?

Every virtue has a corresponding vice and if left unchecked can lead to character problems that are inconsistent with the gospel. In the same way that meekness can be associated with weakness, ambition and strength can often be associated with pride. Misguided ambition leads to an inflated view of ourselves and the pursuit of selfish gain. But that does not need to be the case.

In the end, the reason people assume meekness and ambition are at odds is because of a misunderstanding of a Biblical and gospel-saturated definition of these words. When we understand that ambition for the things of God leads to self-denial rather than self-promotion, and that Biblical meekness requires great strength rather than passive weakness, we begin to see how they can fit together.

How do we balance gospel-centered ambition and meekness?

When we look at the life of Jesus, we see a confluence of these two qualities. Jesus was very ambitious. He came to save the world. What could be more ambition than that? He came to do the impossible - to make guilty sinners into righteous men and women. He came and brought the Kingdom of God with him. Jesus calls us to continue His mission of making disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). When our ambition is directed toward the things of God - the advancement of His Kingdom, the love of others and the worship of Him, then our ambition is pointed in the right direction.

Jesus also maintained meekness and humility while on earth. Based on the example of Christ, Paul gave the Philippians this exhortation:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 ESV)

Jesus joyfully submitted to the will of the Father. Even through deep anguish, he was meek and humble in the face of suffering (Mt 26:38-44). Jesus was meek, but he was far from weak. We are called to exhibit these same qualities. Jesus frees us to do so, both in his example and his work on the cross. Through the gospel, Jesus gives our ambition a God-oriented purpose, and through the gospel, Jesus gives us the confidence and strength we need to face our adversity with meekness.

Three Reasons Jesus was "Made Lower than the Angels"

What did it mean for Jesus to become human? Among the primary passages that discuss the implications of the incarnation, one is found at the beginning of the book of Hebrews. It may be somewhat complicated to fully unravel, but enlightening when we take the time. There is a little phrase that should give us a moment of pause, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus (Heb. 2:9).” What does that short phrase, “lower than the angels” mean? If Jesus is God, then why, and how, could he have ever been lower than anything?

Even more, in the context of this passage, the author is making an argument for why Jesus is superior to angels. Throughout the book of Hebrews, the author will explain why Jesus is superior to angels, Moses, other priests, the Old Covenant and previous “heroes of the faith.” Why in the midst of his argument for the superiority of Christ, does he say that Jesus was “made lower than the angels?"

What we see in the second chapter of Hebrews is that Jesus being made lower than the angels is one of the very reasons he is in fact superior to them. The first argument is that Jesus is superior to angels in his sovereignty (Heb 1:5-14), and the second is that Jesus is superior to them in his suffering (Heb 2:5-18). Here, we will focus on the suffering side of the equation and look at three reasons Jesus was “made lower than the angels."

So he could be like us

In the incarnation, Jesus was “made like his brothers in every respect (Heb 2:17).” Jesus took on human flesh, and did not reject the many implications that came with this new form. Jesus got hungry and tired, and he needed to eat and rest. Later in Hebrews, it says that Jesus was “one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15).” Jesus experienced temptation. He can relate with us in our temptation. Yet, he was without sin, so he can show us the way, and he can make atonement of our imperfections. Jesus "had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted (Heb 2:17-18).”

Jesus becoming like us means that God has not kept himself from the suffering of his people. Jesus experienced what it means to be human. He can fully relate. He is not removed and far off. He had to be made like us, so he could make full propitiation for our sins. One aspect of the completion of Jesus’ saving work was his being made like us, so he could suffer and die on our behalf.

So he could taste death for us

At present, we can not see the fully glory of Jesus. Nothing has been left outside the control of Jesus, however we do not yet see everything in subjection to him (Heb 2:8-9). “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (Heb 2:9).”

Jesus was made lower than the angels, so he could die for us, tasting death for everyone. Jesus was not kept from even the harshest of suffering, death itself. So that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Heb 2:14-15).”

In becoming like us, Jesus was able to taste death for us. He was able to die as a human and experience all of what that means. In so doing, Jesus tasted death for us, so that through his death he could conquer the one who had the power of death, that is, the devil. Through his dying we can have life. 

So he could be made perfect through suffering

Jesus was perfect when he came to earth. He did not need to die in order to become perfect, but Hebrews 2:10 says “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect though suffering.” How do we reconcile Jesus’ perfect divinity with the statement that he was “made perfect?” In commenting on this verse, Craig Blomberg writes, “The Son of God was ontologically perfect already, but he had not fully experienced all stages of human life until he died. So now he acquired an additional kind of perfection as well, one that some understand as fulfillment, completing of consecration."

The suffering that Jesus experienced in his death fulfilled and completed the work he came to do. While it did not make him any more perfect in his essence, he did perfect the work he came to do. The process of his innocent death and eventual resurrection, was the final stage in his perfect life. He become human, he experienced the limitations of a human body, he was tempted, he suffered and he ultimately died. All this works toward his glory and perfect work.

What are the implications?

Being made lower than angels, for a time, actually contributes to Jesus being superior to angels for all time. In his suffering, Jesus is glorified and made perfect. Jesus became like his brothers, so he could perfect his brothers and taste death on their behalf. This should cause us to marvel at the good and glorious God we serve.

Second, there is a warning at the beginning of this chapter (Heb 2:1-4). If the message delivered by angels, which in Jewish tradition the Mosaic Law was believed to have been mediated by angels, if that message required retribution for disobedience, how much more now that we have a more sure testimony. Jesus has brought a new message of hope and deliverance. We must not reject it, but take notice of our need for him. We must "pay much closer attention,” and fully embrace the message of Jesus, reminding ourselves often of the work he accomplished and our need for him. 

Do you Really Believe Christ should get ALL the Glory?

It is easy to say, much harder to do. To give ALL the glory to Christ. It is hard to believe in our heart of hearts, because we are prone to want our own glory and our own gain. But the Bible is clear, it all goes to Christ. We want to give it to Jesus, or more accurately, we want, to want to give it to Jesus. The question I am posing today, is do you really believe Christ should get ALL the glory? Not a just portion. Not 95%. But ALL the glory.

If the vast oceans of the world were the glory of God, we are happy to give him most if it, but we have a hard time letting it all go. We want to at least keep a portion. We want the Gulf of Mexico sized glory for our selves. After all, its small in comparison to the expansive oceans of the world. Or maybe, if we are "really holy," we are okay with just having San Francisco Bay sized glory.

The Christian life is one of ambition, but not for our own gain. Our aim and ambition is the glory of God in Christ Jesus. We strive to enjoy God, bring him glory and do good to others. It is paradoxical, because in seeking glory for Christ, we actually get the most enjoyment ourselves. Seeking our own glory will leave us disappointed and distraught. We may be able to float in the sea of our own glory for a time, but eventually our boat will sink. We cannot paddle our little row boat of glory in the vast ocean for long before we are capsized. Whether in this life or the next, we will understand our folly. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).”

God deserves the glory. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:36).” And our joy is found in giving it to Him.

BUT, the problem remains. We still want to keep some glory for ourselves. We don’t want to give it all to Jesus. Here are a few helpful reminders in our fight to give Jesus ALL the glory.

Remember our finitude

The magnitude of God and His glory is unknowable by human standards, or really any standard other than His own. The image of the world’s oceans as a picture of God’s glory is useful in helping us see that we so often want too keep glory for ourselves. But it is entirely inadequate in helping us actually understand the infinite glory that God deserves. We have measured the oceans. We know their coastlines and how many miles they span. People have charted courses around the world, entirely by water, and have completed their journey safely. But we cannot measure or contain the glory of God.

There is still much to be discovered about oceans, but we have learned quite a bit. On the other hand, there is far more to God than the oceans. We feel finite in comparison to the ocean, and we should. How much more in comparison with God.

When you want to keep glory for yourself, just remember that next to God, you simply don’t deserve it. And that is a good thing. If God was not worthy of all the glory, would you want to worship him anyway?

We may be able to float in the sea of our own glory for a time, but eventually our boat will sink.

Remember God’s wisdom

It was God’s wisdom that sent Christ to the cross. Seeing our need, Jesus came to save sinners. It is foolishness to the world. Why would a perfect and innocent man die the brutal death meant for the guilty? Jesus tasted death for us. That is foolishness to the world, but it is wisdom to God.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:20-31 ESV)

God chose us. We didn’t do that for ourselves. God made it possible through Jesus. We don't do that ourselves. Humanity wanted to try and fix the problem on their own, and our wisest answers have always led to more religion, more work and more self-righteousness. God’s answer was to do it for us, through the humbling of Jesus in human form and the eventual death of Jesus on the cross. That is foolishness to the world, but it is the wisdom of God. God did it for us. And as a result “no human being [ought to] boast in the presence of God.” We did not save ourselves. God did. The glory belongs to him. We are the glad recipients of grace, and we should be the glad offerers of glory back to Him. So “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."

On our own, we labor in vain

We must be careful to not try to do it on our own. If we want the glory, it will lead to us doing it on our own. If we believe we have done it on our own, we will be prone to seek the glory. Resist that dangerous cycle.

Unless the LORD builds the house,

those who build it labor in vain.

Unless the LORD watches over the city,

the watchman stays awake in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:1-2 ESV)

It is foolish and worthless to attempt to do it on our own. Don’t fall into that trap. It will either fail in the short term, or worse, it will succeed and you will turn into a habitual glory seeker. Eventually you will be wanting not just the San Francisco Bay or Gulf of Mexico, you will be looking for the Atlantic Ocean of glory for yourself. But God does not share His glory, nor should He. It will not end well for you. Resist the urge now, and pursue God’s glory, not your own.

ALL Glory be to Christ

This is a great song by King’s Kaleidoscope, and the lyrics are a beautiful reminder that all glory belongs to Christ:

A Simple Rule Every Leader Should Follow

Leadership is not always simple, and it is never easy. When someone steps up to lead, they will likely have arrows volleyed in their direction. They are certain to have sleepless nights and will probably encounter difficult fights. Leadership isn't always simple, and it is never easy, but it can definitely be worth the cost. Especially when our leadership energies are spent in the service of God's glory and the good of others.

This isn't an article about the worthiness of leadership, or to encourage you in your leadership struggles. But I will present one simple rule for leaders to follow. It is a rule that will not always be easy to execute, nor will it always reap immediate rewards. However, it is essential for good leadership and a rule that every leader should follow.

Here is the rule: Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love

Jim Collins, author of one of the best business leadership books of the last few decades (Good to Great), explains in the Harvard Business Review that all great organizations are led by a level five leader, someone who has personal humility and professional will. When he further explains what personal humility is, he says that a level five leader is someone who, "demonstrates a compelling modesty, shunning public adulation; never boastful." Additionally, a level five leader is someone who, "looks in the mirror, not out the window, to apportion responsibility for poor results, never blaming other people, external factors, or bad luck."

The qualities of personal humility Jim Collins describes can be summed up with one simple rule, leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love. Quality and Biblical leadership certainly requires more than this one simple rule, but absolutely nothing less.

Leader's bear the blame 

Bearing the blame means that you genuinely take personal responsibility when people or projects under your leadership do not go well. It is not fake responsibility. Leadership is not putting on a performance or pretending to bear the blame, in an effort to give the appearance of mock humility. It means that you actually feel responsible for your leadership. Good leadership means taking responsibility for the people and projects you lead.

It does not mean that you take on the failure of others in order to avoid the hard conversations you need to have with them. However, it does mean that you are willing to look at your own failures first, before blaming others. And even if someone else has been a big part of the problem, you don't slander them publicly to relieve your shame, but you bear the blame before others.

Leaders share the love

Leaders bear the blame when failures come, and they share the love when there is success. Again, this is not acting or pretending - it is not fake humility. A quality leader really does value the contributions of others and wants to share the love and applause. When leaders are complimented publicly, they do not possess a gravitational pull that draws all praise for themselves. They are more like a prism, reflecting the praise onto others.

Their humility is not self-degradation. It is not fake humility. It is not the minimizing of what they and their team has accomplished. They just don't need the public adulation to feel accomplished. They are not working so hard in order to receive the worship of the masses. Their identity and worth is found elsewhere. And at its most basic level, it is found in Jesus.

Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love.

The way of Jesus

Jim Collins did not invent these leadership rules - there is "nothing new under the sun." He observed them in the best leaders and then organized those observations in a clear and compelling fashion. These leadership principles go back to the dawn of time, and are seen so clearly in the person, work and teaching of Jesus.

I could write a book on the way Jesus exhibits the humility necessary to bear the blame and share the love. After all, that is precisely what happened on the cross. Jesus bore the blame for the whole world. He took the sin of the world upon himself. And it didn't end there, he didn't just bear our blame, he spread his love in the form of giving away his righteousness. Anyone who trusts in Christ can know that Jesus bore the blame of their sin and loved them through sharing his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The type of humility necessary to be an excellent leader is seen clearly in the words of Jesus:

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." - Mark 10:42-45

Jesus teaches us that true leadership, and greatness in the Kingdom of God is marked by humility and service to others. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. And this is seen clearly in his willingness to give up his own life as a ransom for many.

A simple rule every leader must live by: Leadership means bearing the blame and sharing the love.

Not an easy rule to follow.

But a simple one.

Love God. Love Others. The Ten Commandments

We have started a new preaching series at First, and we are looking at the Ten Commandments. I had the opportunity to kick off the new series, as we looked at the first of the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, there are a number of misconceptions and false assumptions about the Ten Commandments. They might feel outdated to some, or burdensome to others. You may have been on the receiving end of another person's attack, as they used one of the Ten Commandments as a weapon of war against you. Sadly, many people's experience with the commands does not actually mirror the intent of these commands.

The commands were given to God's people, by God, in the context of relationship. They were not written by human hands or conceived in the mind of man. They were not given as a way of earning God's love and relationship, but were given in order to inform God's people about how to live as God's people. As we preach through the series, we begin with the foundational understanding that the commands are ultimately about love. Love for God. Love for others.

The Greatest Commandment

Our understanding of love as the foundation for the Ten Commandments is seen in the teaching of Jesus. He was asked by a religious leader which commandment was the greatest. And he answered:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depends all the Law and the Prophets (Mark 12: 37-40)."

Jesus is asked about the greatest commandment (singular), and he responds with two. They can be summed up with the words, Love God and Love Others. The first part of his response is a quotation of Deuteronomy 6:5, which is a summary of the Ten Commandments that Moses gives to Israel following his retelling of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5.

The second half of Jesus' answer is a quotation of Leviticus 19:18. Jesus wanted to make it very clear that love for God and love for others goes hand in hand. You cannot separate them. Paul follows Jesus' line of teaching when he also quotes Leviticus 19:18 as he explains that love is foundational to understanding the Ten Commandments.

“For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:9-10)

The teachings of Jesus, Paul and other NT writers all point toward love being foundational to understanding the Ten Commandments. Unfortunately, love is a relatively undefined word today. So, over the next nine weeks of our preaching series, we are going to explain how love is foundational for the Ten Commandments. And today, I will explain three ways that love relates to the first commandment, to have no other gods before God (Deuteronomy 5:7).

Love for God is based on His Character

Our love for God is based on who He is and what He has done. All throughout the Scriptures, we see God's people pointing to God's character as they express their love, commitment and worship. Psalm 105 is a great example. Here are the first six verses:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD;

            call upon his name;

Make known his deeds among the peoples!

Sing to him, sing praises to him;

            tell of all his wondrous works!

Glory in his holy name;

            let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!

Seek the LORD and his strength;

            seek his presence continually!

Remember the wondrous works that he has done,

            his miracles, and the judgments he uttered

O offspring of Abraham, his servant,

            children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (Psalm 105:1-6, emphasis mine)”

We love God because of His character. Because of who He is and what He has done.

Love for God is singular in its devotion

God calls us to have no other God's before Him. There is no room for our worship of other gods. It is made quite clear that the God of the Bible is distinct from all other gods. He is not just a god among gods. He is The God over all gods. He is the creator God who has laid the foundations of the earth. Our love for God means we are wholly committed to Him. Having no gods before God is about loving God with our whole selves.

The problem is that it is so common for us to make idols out of God's good gifts. We so often turn good things into idols, such as family, work, money, sex or any number of other gifts that God has given us. John Calvin once wrote, "Man's nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols." Our hearts produce idols like General Mills produces Cheerios. Idol after idol flows from the conveyor belt of our hearts. As we grow in our love for God, we also must fight against these idols that want to come between us and God.

Having no gods before God is about loving God with our whole selves.

Marital fidelity is actually a great picture of this singular devotion. As we are committed in our marriages to one another, to having marriages that are singular in their devotion, sacrificial in their love and fully devoted in their commitment to one another, we give a compelling and clear picture of God's love for His people.

Love for God is in the Context of Relationship

God gives these commands in the context of a relationship. The preamble to the Ten Commandments (Deut 5:6) explains God's relationship to His people. He says that he is the Lord their God, who freed them from the slavery and oppression of Egypt. God has chosen to have a relationship with Israel, and He has proven His commitment to them by freeing them from Egypt. Once the relationship had been established and proven, then, and only then, God lays out the commandments for how they were to live as God's people.

It is still the same for us today. We keep the commands, not as a burdensome set of commands. Not as weapons of war against one another. They are commands that are given in the context of a loving relationship that God has initiated. Through Jesus, God is our redeemer. Just like he redeemed Israel from the slavery and oppression of Egypt, he has freed us from the slavery and oppression of sin. He has initiated a relationship with us through Jesus, and chosen us to be His people. And now, in the context of that relationship, he asks us to respond in obedience.

We must get the order correctly. Relationship proceeds the commands. If we get the order backward, then we will feel compelled by a need to somehow earn God's love through our performance. Something that cannot be earned, but is freely given through Jesus. Relationship always proceeds the commands. And through Jesus, we can have that sort of relationship with God.

Loving our Wives with the Cross in Mind

During the month of January, five different men are contributing guest posts in our "The Family Man that Follows Jesus" series. It will give me a month off, so I can spend time with my growing family, and I am really excited to personally learn from the series myself.

This week, Drew Bontrager, the Connections Pastor at Lakeview Church in Indianapolis, IN. Drew has written about how important it is for husbands to remember the example of Jesus on the cross. The humble servant-heart of Jesus is the template for how we should engage with our wives in marriage. Drew became a friend while being a classmate of mine at Bethel Seminary and is a great man who loves Jesus very much. I am excited to share his post with you all. A more complete bio of Drew is available at the end of the post.

Love Sick

Recently, my wife Courtney had been sick. It hasn’t been anything major, just a common cold and fever but it put her in bed for a couple of days. She experienced common symptoms: headaches, sore throat, her temperature went up and down, and she was just exhausted.

Now I know it’s a bit cheesy but my heart breaks to see her in pain even if it is just a common cold, and I felt kind of bad because she probably got it from me. I had gotten sick a few days prior to Court, with the same stuff and was absolutely of no use to humanity, but to make matters worse I started recovering and feeling great while she was still in the thick of it. She never said it but I imagined she was thinking, “You did this to me!”

But here’s the cool part of the story; her sickness afforded me the opportunity to serve her. While she was officially out of commission, I had to step up my game. So I was doing everything. 

I prepared food for her, which was a miracle. Granted, it was food she had already cooked and all I had to do was heat it up, but nonetheless I “cooked” and cleaned up afterwards. I picked up her used tissues and threw them away. I made a run to the drug store to pick up extra meds and remedies. I checked in on her throughout my day. I cleaned the home. I made sure she had everything she needed. I was forced to put her needs and interests before my own.

At first, Court was hesitant about making requests. She started out by saying, “Could you…if it’s not too much trouble…possibly get me some more water?” Of course I obliged and slowly she started realizing, she could pretty much ask for anything. She was eating it up and all of a sudden, her tone changed. What was once a shy and polite request, became a demand as she said, “Where’s my water?!” Which was one of those questions that’s not really a question.

The most fascinating thing about it all is that while I served her, I noticed that it genuinely brought me joy. Albeit, it was a challenge at times and I didn’t always have the best attitude. There were times I almost said, “Get your own water!” Thankfully, I never did but even in the struggle of my own humanity, I found love and fulfillment as I gave myself up for her.

Out of reverence for Christ

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ…Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. (Eph 2:21, 25, 28)

Paul starts this passage in the letter to the Ephesians; in which my NIV Bible calls “Instructions for Christian Households,” with an imperative to both husbands and wives who follow Jesus, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21). In other words, if we love Jesus then we should serve our spouse simply out of our love and devotion for Jesus.

He continues in 5:25 and he speaks more specifically to husbands and how they can love their wives, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…” This passage beautifully echoes another one of Paul’s writings in Philippians 2:1-5 when he encourages the Philippian believers to humble themselves, value others above self, and put the interest of others before their own because this is the mindset of Christ. The context of relationships Paul was writing about in Philippians was different than in Ephesians, but the imperative was the same; follow the example of Jesus who humbled Himself all the way to the cross.

The picture God wants in our eyes when husbands see their wives is the cross. The self-sacrificial love of the cross is how to cultivate a healthy marriage relationship. Paul reminds us that when we think about how to love our wives, how to serve our wives, or how to relate to our wives that we must think of the cross.

Dynamic Service

My wife and I have been married for 5 ½ years now but I quickly discovered after we got married that I am naturally a selfish person. Serving Courtney and putting her needs before my own does not come easy. Though, it seems that the more I serve her, the more I enjoy serving her.

Serving isn’t something that only transforms the person receiving the service. Serving is dynamic. Paul said that when we love our wives, we love ourselves. There is something profoundly deep, mysterious, and wonderful that happens in a marriage relationship when a man and a woman love one another the way Jesus loved us. It places us in a humble position to give without the assurance or proposal of receiving anything in return. This type of generosity and vulnerability is the heart of God for a husband. 

The self-sacrificial love of the cross is how to cultivate a healthy marriage.

This Is Hard

I have been challenged lately with this question, how can I serve my wife in my normal day-to-day life the way Christ loved the church? Because if I’m honest, this is hard! It’s one thing to serve my wife when she is sick and incapable of taking care of herself every once and a while, but it’s a whole different ball game when she is healthy, autonomous, and taking care of business! And if I’m brutally honest, most of the time, I just don’t feel like it. I don’t feel like listening to my wife or asking her questions after a long day of work. I don’t feel like going on a walk with her because I’d rather watch sports. Or I don’t feel like cuddling up on the couch because I would rather have my own space.

The reality however is that I’m most likely not alone in my feelings because this is very natural. It’s not natural to want to serve. It’s natural to think of self. It’s natural to want to do things that give me satisfaction. The cross reminds us that God doesn’t want us to live a natural life.

God has something so much deeper and rewarding for us. The Kingdom of God is always counter-cultural and counter-intuitive. Jesus said that the first will be last and that if you want to live, then you must die to yourself. The cross shows us that if you want the kind of marriage God intends and to be the best husband you can be, then you have to live it like it’s not about you! 

More about Drew

Bontrager.jpg

Drew grew up in Indianapolis, IN where he met his wife Courtney. They are childhood sweethearts and have now been married for 5+ years. Drew traveled to Minneapolis to study and prepare for the call of God on his life to become a pastor. He studied Pastoral Studies at North Central University and Theological Studies at Bethel Seminary. He has served at two churches as an associate pastor for the past 5+ years and is currently back in Indianapolis serving as a staff pastor with his family at his home church, Lakeview Church. Drew's heart is to reach people for Christ and help them connect to the church family and use their gifts in ministry. 

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

During advent this year, I am writing a series of posts about some of my favorite Christmas Hymns. If you want more context, you can read my introductory post, Why I Love Christmas Hymns first. The first week week, I wrote about the song "O Come, All Ye Faithful." Last week, we looked at Silent Night, Holy Night. This week, its O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Waiting in Anticipation

This song is all about waiting, and in that waiting, calling for the Emmanuel to come. There was a longing present among the people of Israel that is hard to fully express. They were a people who had known the presence of God. Who had seen his wondrous deeds in the exodus from Egypt, as God performed miracle after miracle to free them from oppression and give them the promised land. They had seen God's provision as He created a great nation and as they saw the great King David rise to his throne. This was a people who knew the goodness of God.

They were also a people who walked away from God and knew the exile that ensued. They were a people who had been taken from their lands and brought captive to a land that was not their own. Their temple had been destroyed, and the new temple lacked the greatness of the first. They were a people who had heard for generations that God would be sending a savior, a messiah, who would save His people. They waited for this messiah, like a child waits for their father to return from a long days work. They waited for their savior like a wife waits for her husband to come home from war. They waited...

And then he came. But not like people thought he would come. He came in humility. Born as a baby. Born into poverty. But born a King nonetheless. This song is about the waiting, the call for the savior to come, and the peace he brought to the world.

Lyrics

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel. [Refrain]

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high
And order all things, far and nigh
To us the path of knowledge show
And cause us in her ways to go

O come, Desire of nations
bind all peoples in one heart and mind
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease,
Fill all the world with heaven's peace

Until the Son of God appear

The first verse is a reminder of the waiting. They were morning in "lonely exile." They were exiled from their God and many were exiled from their land. And not just any land, but the promised land. They were captive to the world's rulers and the world's ways - until the Son of God appeared. God had come to set them free!

What are you being held captive to this Christmas? What chains are binding you?

God has come in the person of Jesus to set us free. He has come to deliver us from our sin and to bring new life.

Bind all peoples in one heart and mind

Jesus came to free people from their sins. That is the primary way he has brought salvation to our lives. But he also came to bring peace. He is the great uniter. Jesus came in humility. He came to serve, not to be served. Jesus came not as an overpowering and conquering king, but as a humble and meek king.

Jesus invites us to be servant-hearted leaders. Rather than find ways to exert your power or authority over others, find ways to bend your knee, humble yourself and get dirty in service to others. This is one of the ways he will bind all peoples in one heart and mind, when God's people are willing to give up on their preferences in the service of others. This is one of the ways he fills all the world with "heaven's peace."

How can you serve someone else this Christmas? It might be really small, but it could make a world of difference in that one person's life.

And death's dark shadows put to flight

The light of Jesus has caused the dark shadow of death to flee. Jesus has brought light to a dark world. He has brought life to a place of death and decay. Like yeast, it takes time to work through the dough of lives and societies. We still see the stain of death all around us, but we know that there is hope in this world.

The great Emmanuel has come. At Christmas we celebrate his coming. And as we sing, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," we do so with joyful hearts, because we know that he has already come. We also do so with longing hearts as we wait for Jesus to fully and finally complete the redemption he has begun.

The light of Jesus has caused the dark shadow of death to flee.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel video

Here is a video of Shane and Shane singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. The quality of the video isn't amazing, but the song is! I hope you enjoy this song as we quickly approach Christmas!

Silent Night, Holy Night

During advent this year, I am writing a series of posts about some of my favorite Christmas Hymns. If you want more context, you can read my introductory post, Why I Love Christmas Hymns first. Last week, I wrote about the song "O Come, All Ye Faithful." This week, we will look at Silent Night, Holy Night.

A childhood favorite

Silent night was my favorite Christmas song as a child. I can still remember my family gathering in my grandmother's living room to sing Christmas carols. It was dark outside and the Christmas lights were on as we would all huddle around the piano. My aunt would play various songs and we would sing. Celebrating the birth of our savior.

I am not entirely sure why it was my favorite, but I do remember that it was. As I think back, I remember that as we would sing Silent Night, a feeling of profound reverence and immense awe would overcome my small mind. The soft and somewhat solemn melody drew me in, and it was as though the world around me faded away. 

Christmas is a time where many emotions and responses are appropriate. We can have rejoicing at the thought of our savior coming to earth. We can have laughter and fun as we gather with our families and loved ones. There is also a place for quiet. There is a place for awe. There is a place for humble adoration when we remember that inside the baby boy Jesus, there resided the all-powerful God of the universe. Who, for a short time, "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of man (Phil 2:7)."

Listen to Silent Night with fresh ears this Advent, and allow it to draw you into the reverent worship of Jesus.

Lyrics

Silent night, Holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin, mother and child
Holy infant, tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, Holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Silent night, Holy night
Shepherds quake, at the sight
Glories stream from heaven above
Heavenly, hosts sing Hallelujah.
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born

Holy infant, so tender and mild

Jesus is an anomaly and contains so many paradoxes. He is holy, and pure holiness is not tender or meek. It is not mild and subdued. It is fierce and overwhelming. Isaiah 6 reveals as much, when the seraphim cry "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" And the foundations shook as God spoke. Holiness is not tender and mild, it is the exact opposite.

Jesus, the holy infant, lived in the weakest of forms, a human baby. We can marvel, because it is truly remarkable. There are other contrasting features within the song as well. It says, "Round yon virgin, mother and child." A virgin, who is also a mother!?! Virgins cannot give birth to children. It is a biological impossibility, and yet it is true of Mary and Jesus. It is possible because God brought about a miracle in the birth of Jesus.

Not to mention the paradox of the incarnation itself. Jesus, the God-man was fully human and fully divine.

Pure holiness is not tender or meek. It is not mild and subdued. It is fierce and overwhelming.

Son of God, love's pure light

The imagery of light is prevalent throughout the Scriptures and has a remarkable way of illuminating who God is and what he is doing in the world. In this song, Jesus is described as "love's pure light" and it describes, "radiant beams" coming "from thy holy face" and "with the dawn of redeeming grace." I love the imagery of light and this song draws it out.

Love's pure light has come to push aside the darkness that lay upon the land. When light comes, no matter how small, it casts out the darkness. Darkness cannot overcome the light. Jesus came to bring light, and at Christmas, we can celebrate its rising. Like the dawn of a new day, Jesus came to bring fresh light on an otherwise dark landscape.

Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

An important feature of Christmas is to remember that Jesus was not just a baby boy, but God in the flesh. Jesus was Lord, even at his birth. When he came, Christ the Savior was born. Because we hear it so often, it can be easy to gloss over the incredible truth that God came to earth in the form of a man, and that we celebrate his coming at Christmas. Don't miss it this year.

Silent Night

Here is a video of Sara Groves singing Silent Night. Her's is one of my favorites!

O Come, All Ye Faithful

During advent this year, I am writing a series of posts about some of my favorite Christmas Hymns. If you want more context, you can read my introductory post, Why I Love Christmas Hymns first. This week, I will be writing about the song "O Come, All Ye Faithful.

Lyrics

O Come All Ye Faithful
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing all that hear in heaven God's holy word.
Give to our Father glory in the Highest;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

All Hail! Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning,
O Jesus! for evermore be Thy name adored.
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

O Come, All ye faithful, joyful and triumphant

This hymn begins with a call for all the faithful to come. Advent is a time of year when we are all called to come, and consider Jesus, when we are ushered into a fresh remembrance of Jesus coming to earth. As we draw nearer to Christmas, let this be an invitation for all of us to come with fresh eyes to the incarnation, when God became flesh and dwelt among us.

The call is not just to come, but it gives us a posture for our coming. Joyful and triumphant. As God's people, we are called to have joy in all circumstances. Because we know that no matter what happens, Jesus has already won our freedom through his death on the cross. Whether we have had a really rough year, or whether it has been great, Advent is a time of joy, not in circumstances, but in Jesus.

Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing

Jesus is the word made flesh (John 1), and this phrase is a reminder that he is God. Jesus came as one who is fully God and fully man. Some want to emphasize Christ's humanity at the sacrifice of his divinity. Others will focus on his divinity and minimize his humanity. The Jesus of the Scriptures is both, fully God and fully man.

At Christmas, we celebrate that the God-Man came to live among us. He was born into this crazy and messed up world, to bring God's Kingdom to bear upon all of creation.

At Christmas, we celebrate that the God-Man came to live among us.

Glory to God, all glory in the highest

The glory of Christmas belongs to God, all glory belongs to Him. It is easy to make Christmas about us. We can make it about our expectations, our wants and our desires. Many will measure the success of this Christmas season by whether they have accomplished all the items on their list, whether they received the gifts they wanted or whether or not they had the magical family time they envisioned. Not bad things, but they are not the measure of a successful Christmas.

The Glory of Christmas belongs to God. Give him your attention this year, and take it off yourself.

O come, let us adore Him

As we come, our response is adoration. Find ways to cultivate adoration in your spirit this advent season. Find a Christmas concert to attend, read an advent devotion, have rich conversation around your tree and invite others to adore him as well. Find outlets that God can use to stir your affections for Him.

The song

Here is a video of Hillsong singing O Come, All Ye Faithful. It is on their Born is the King album, although they have titled it, O Come Let us Adore Him.


Why I Love Christmas Hymns

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Can we play them before Thanksgiving?

Every fall, I hear people lament over the Christmas music that gets played before Thanksgiving has been celebrated. It can create fun banter and interoffice debates, and I am personally split on the matter. I really enjoy Christmas music, in particular some of the good old Christmas hymns that get played each December. On the other hand, I really only want to hear that Santa Claus is coming to town for about two weeks, and then I am over it. I am certainly dreaming of a white Christmas, but that dream becomes a nightmare when it is repeated too many times.

When I was younger, I worked in a grocery store that played the local oldies station, which cycled through the same 25 Christmas songs each year. In a six hour shift, I would hear the same songs multiple times each. I developed a small distain for poor Alvin getting scolded because he was little flat. Get over it Dave...

As I have grown older, I have come to appreciate most Christmas songs, even the ones that used to drive me a bit crazy. But where I have grown the most is in my love for the many Christmas hymns we get to sing this time of year. It is odd to me that we relegate a whole collection of great songs, only to be sung for less than 10% of the year. So, that is why I will occasionally play my mix of Christmas hymns, even in the middle of July.

So, while I agree that singing about Rudolph's nose, or how I saw mommy kissing santa should be limited to small number of days, I am happy to whip out the Christmas hymns much earlier than Thanksgiving. Why do I love Christmas hymns so much? Let me explain.

Jesus Came

I love to sing Christmas hymns, because they celebrate one of the most important and pivotal moments in history. After sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, all of creation has been groaning for God to redeem what had been broken. Over centuries, God's people had established a nation, walked away from him, returned to him, escaped oppression, wandered in a desert, walked away from him, returned to him, were taken into exile, walked away from him, returned to him, rebuilt their treasured city, and all the while... they waited. Waited for God to fix the mess that had been made.

And God chose to enter into his creation as a baby. In a world where kings and rulers are concerned with being mighty and strong, posturing themselves against one another to establish their authority, God came as a fragile little boy. He didn't have a kings welcome into the creation over which he reigns, he had a humble and meek entry into the world he created. Jesus is what God's people were waiting for.

So, each Christmas we celebrate that Jesus, the light of the world, broke through the dark landscape to bring a new dawn. The sun is rising on God's creation thanks to Jesus coming to earth.

Jesus, the light of the world, broke through the dark landscape to bring a new dawn.

The hymns that I love

There are so many great hymns that have been written about Christmas, and over the next three weeks of advent I will write about one each week. It will be hard to choose just three, but I am confident that I can do it. And to make it easier on myself, I will not write about O Holy Night this year, because I wrote a short post about it last year.

In the meantime, allow me to recommend a few artists and albums I really enjoy listening to around Christmas.

Rend Collective - Campfire Christmas Vol. 1

Sara Groves - O Holy Night

Folk Angel -  All their albums

Shane and Shane - Glory in the Highest

There are only a few weeks between now and Christmas, so enjoy all the Christmas music you can. And my prayer is that when you listen to the hymns, they are not just background music, but that you listen to the lyrics and consider Jesus.

Bonus

I recommended Falk Angel above, because I love their music. Their albums are all Christmas music, and they are all great. Here is one of their songs in a video format. Enjoy!


Peace or discontent this holiday season?

Thanksgiving leads to peace

The Thanksgiving Holiday is upon us and it is a great time to remember the many things we are grateful for in our lives. Some families will spend time at their meal on Thursday, going around the table and sharing what they are thankful for this year. Other families have found new and creative ways to express gratitude for the many milestones, experiences and people they want to acknowledge. Whatever your traditions, it is a great time to remember that thankfulness and gratitude leads to peace in our hearts.

God has established thankfulness as an antidote for discontent, anxiety and a self-focused life. Like penicillin to bacteria, a grateful heart erodes the virulent effects of worry. It restores health to our hearts and brings peace.

The holidays are not always a time of joy and celebration for everyone. For those who have lost loved ones, the season makes people more acutely aware of their loss, not less. The chaos of family gatherings, unmet holiday expectations and what some have tagged as the "post-Christmas blues," can all strip us of the joy and peace that is commonly associated with Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But God has not left us without a remedy. Thankfulness brings peace.

God has established thankfulness as an antidote for discontent.

Biblical link between thanksgiving and peace

Over the years, I have encountered moments of anxiety and worry. It can eat away at me, seemingly uncontrollable, like rust over the body of a car. Once it sets in, it feels impossible to stop. But in Paul's letter to the Philippians, he gives us some instruction about how God wants us to fight this imposing threat to our joy. I do not know for sure, but this may be the first verse I ever memorized, and it is a constant reminder of God's peace in my times of anxiety.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

          - Philippians 4:6-7 (emphasis mine)

In this passage, Paul exhorts his audience to not be anxious. He then gives them instruction about what to do instead of indulging the pestering anxiety that is in them. He tells them to pray, bring supplications and be thankful. Prayer and supplication is the requesting part. It's when we ask "God, I am struggling here, please help me!" This is an important step. Making our requests to God, and asking for his help. In my experience, most people stop there, myself included. But Paul also says that we ought to do it "with thanksgiving."

What happens as a result? "The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Thankfulness needs to be part of the equation. When we are anxious, we must do more than ask for help. Take some time to remind yourself of what you have to be thankful for. It is not magic. It is not some easy, quick fix sort of response. It takes work, and it requires some investment. But thankfulness will begin to erode the foothold that anxiety has in your life when you remind yourself of the many things you have to be grateful for.

4 practical ways to add thanksgiving into your life

1. Thanksgiving truths (begin with the gospel)

You have to start with the truth of the gospel. There is no greater reason to be thankful than the reality that God has sent his son into the world to save sinners. While we were the enemies of God, he pursued us and brought life where there was death. And he continues the work of bringing his kingdom to bear on the world. No matter how much you gain or lack in the world's goods, the life that Jesus brings is reason to give thanks. One way to do this is to begin a habit of preaching the gospel to yourself. Read more about this practice here.

2. Thanksgiving dump

In moments of anxiety and worry, you can stop and do a thanksgiving dump. Pull out a journal or piece of paper, and just begin to write down the things you have to be thankful for. You can be thankful for Jesus, for a job, for a home, for a friend, for family members, for the beautiful day, for the lunch you just had, for the kind smile of a stranger, for a good conversation, for a church home, for coffee, for donuts, for God's Word, for God's presence, for your wife, for your children, for your car, for your education, for your health, for your experiences, for.... The list can go on and on and on. No matter how big or how small, you have things to be thankful for.

Through prayer and the leading of God's Spirit, I have done this exact activity. There are so many things that I take for granted on a daily basis that are reasons to be grateful. We need to readjust our attitude and see them as gifts rather than assume them as givens.

3. Thanksgiving journal

This is similar to the last one, but it involves creating a regular rhythm of thanks. Whether you do it daily, weekly or whenever you are able, you can begin a gratitude journal. Each day, write down one thing you are thankful for. As you build a pattern of thanks into your life, you will have stores of thanksgiving to draw upon in your moments of worry and anxiety. They will serve as a reminder that God has given you much more than you deserve, and anxiety and worry need not be indulged.

4. Thanksgiving wall

Another version of the thanksgiving journal, is to create a thanksgiving wall in your home. This would be a great activity for a family to do together. Maybe you write directly on the wall itself, or maybe you write on a white board, or a sheet of paper. Choose a location and a method and begin to write down the many things for which you can give thanks.

Its a start, not an end

Beginning to create a habit of thanks in your heart and a culture of gratitude in your home does not fix everything. The circumstance that brought anxiety to your life still needs to be dealt with. Thankfulness can bring clarity to a situation, so that we can respond to the real problem.

What do you have to be thankful for this day, week, month or year? (please share in the comments below)

Following Jesus Means... We Fish for Something New

I have begun a series on the multiple uses of the word follow (akoloutheo) in the gospels. The word is used in multiple ways, but one of the primary uses is to describe someone who commits to following Jesus as his disciple. We can learn a lot about what it means to follow Jesus by examining the different instances when follow (akoloutheo) is uses.

Posts in the series:

We have been given a new job

Following Jesus means that we fish for something new. No longer are we fully occupied by our current or former professions, but we invest our energy into a new task. In the midst of Jesus calling his first disciples, he makes a statement that has become well known and often repeated. Jesus tells his first disciples, "Follow (deute opiso)  me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt 5:19, see also Mk 1:17 and Lk 5:10)." It says in the following verse "Immediately, they left their nets and followed (akoloutheo) him (Mt 5:20)."

Note: For the integrity of this study (of the word follow), it is important to note that the Greek work that is translated as follow in verse 19 is different than the Greek work translated as follow in verse 20. Although, the usage is similar in the two passages, and does not prohibit us from extracting the lesson that followers of Jesus have been made into "fishers of men."

When you follow Jesus, you have been called to also help others become his disciples. The initial call to his disciples is at the beginning of his ministry, but Jesus gives a similar call at the end of his ministry. "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations... (Mt 28:18-19a)." Without a doubt, part of what it means to follow Jesus is to help others follow him too.

Without a doubt, part of what it means to follow Jesus is to help others follow him too.

Fishing for men

I grew up in a family that loves to fish. My grandfather fishes, my mother fishes, my father fishes and they have made it a point to teach my brothers and me how to fish. Fishing is currently not a regular part of my life, but I enjoy getting the opportunity to fish when it does happen. I recall many times when my dad would be up late re-spooling our fishing pools, getting his tackle box organized or taking care of other miscellaneous tasks in preparation for a fishing trip. In this way, fishing is intentional. It is not passive. You cannot just show up on the shoreline of a lake with no preparation, knowledge or tools and hope to catch anything.

Jesus says that as his followers, we are now called to prepare and invest in the task of calling others to follow him. Do you think about this on a regular basis? How have you invested in Jesus' call to invite others to follow him?

What can we learn from the fishing analogy?

Jesus uses the concept of fishing to communicate the new and glorious task his disciples would be called to as his followers. While the analogy is not comprehensive, we can learn a few things about fishing for men when we think about fishing for fish.

1. We Must be Prepared

Fishing requires preparation. We need to get the right tools, know what sort of fish are common in the body of water, know how to tie a fishing line, etc. You cannot just show up and expect fish to jump into your boat.

Trying to share the good news of Jesus requires a certain degree of preparation as well. You might say, no it doesn't - you need only to know Jesus yourself and then the Holy Spirit will do the rest. While that may be true to some degree, the Bible also advocates that we are "always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)." As we grow in our own faith, and desire to be increasingly more effective at sharing the gospel, we should be prepared.

Being prepared means that we know something about the worldview those around us - know their basic assumptions, their questions and their idols. Being prepared also means that we have answers for those questions. If someone has questions about whether we can trust the Bible, are we ready to give an answer? We do not have to know all the answers, but we should try to be as prepared as we reasonably can.

2. We Must Be Patient

Fishing also requires patience. I have been on the lake with nothing in the bucket one day, and catching my limit on another. You cannot always predict when the fish will bite, it requires patience. I personally like to go fishing when I know that I can catch fish. Others say that, "A bad day fishing is better than a good day working." Maybe you agree...

Patience is also required when we "fish for men." It can take time for barriers to break down, questions to be answered, wounds to mend and for people to come to faith in Jesus. You cannot always predict who will respond to the gospel, and we need to be patient when we invite others to follow Jesus. Don't give up though. Love people well, share the good news and allow the Holy Spirit to do His work.

3. We Must Be Proactive

You cannot sit at home and expect fish to wonder up to your door. If you are going to catch fish, you need to go to the lake, get in a boat and put your line in the water.

Sharing the gospel also requires us to be proactive. We need to get into relationships with people that don't know Jesus. If you spend all your time with people that already follow him, you will never have the opportunity to invite new people into a relationship with Jesus. Not only that, if you never speak about your own relationship with Jesus to the people you already know, it will also be difficult to invite them into a relationship with him. Be proactive in the task of sharing Jesus with others.

What is your next step?

As a follower of Jesus, you are called to "fish for men." You do not have to be Mr. Evangelism. That is not what I am saying, nor is it what Jesus says. Just take a step toward a life of multiplication. It can even be small, but take a step. Before you leave your computer or phone, take a moment to write down one step you will take to be a more proactive fisher of men. And share it in the comments for others to read.

Following Jesus means... Leaving some things behind

Jesus changes our lives

We have many idioms in the English language. Far too many, some might advocate. "You can't have your cake and eat it too," is one that bugs my wife in particular. She would argue that you can in fact have cake and eat it too. Part of eating cake is having it first, right!?! She and I like to joke about this, but as she well knows, the meaning of the phrase is that you cannot both possess the cake and eat it too. Once you have eaten the cake, you no longer "have it."

The expression communicates a self-evident truth that certain choices necessitate an impact in other areas. Once I have eaten my cake, it is no longer sitting on my counter for me to enjoy later - a problem that happens often in my household. Megan makes something delicious. I eat said treat. It is no longer there for someone else to enjoy later.

Megan and my decision to live in an urban area gives us access to innumerable parks, people and opportunities. It also means that we have a small yard and can't see the stars at night. Our decisions have an impact on other aspects of our lives. It is inevitable.

When someone makes a decision to follow Jesus, it is impossible to live an unchanged life. Following Jesus and remaining the same is an impossibility. It is like jumping into a pool of water and remaining dry. It cannot happen.

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been looking at the word "follow" (akoloutheo) in the Gospels. One of the first uses of that word in all four gospels is when Jesus calls his first disciples. Their decision to follow Jesus meant that they had to leave some things behind. In essence, it meant that Jesus had to be the number one priority in their lives. He was first, and all other things were subject to the decision to follow him.

When someone makes a decision to follow Jesus, it is impossible to live an unchanged life.

Following Jesus means that we must leave some things behind.

The first disciples

When Jesus calls his first disciples, he invites them to "follow me." In response, they make the decision to follow Jesus as his disciples. Their decision forever changes their lives, and God uses them to change the course of history. You can read about Jesus calling his initial followers in Matthew 4:18-22, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11 and John 1:35-51. In these passages, Jesus calls four initial disciples, Simon who is called Peter and his brother Andrew, James son of Zebedee and his brother John.

Their response is remarkable. It says that "Immediately they left their nets and followed him (Mt 4:20, Mk 1:18)," or "Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him (Mt 4:22)," or "They left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him (Mk 1:20)," or "And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him (Lk 5:11)."

For the first disciples, following Jesus meant leaving some things behind.

It's a matter of priority

We could draw some extreme interpretations from these passages, and then generalize them for everyone - a common problem with interpreting and applying narrative passages. It would be poor Biblical exegesis to assume that based on the accounts of the first disciples, that everyone who follows Jesus needs to leave every part of their life behind. This isn't the case. Not everyone who follows Jesus is called to leave everything behind in order to follow him.

However, we are all called to make Jesus the number one priority in our life, and that will mean that we have to leave some things behind. It will look different for everyone. Some people will be called to move to a distant land, serving among an unreached people group so they can share a clear presentation of the gospel with people who would otherwise not hear. This will require them to leave behind family, friends and the comfort of American life. Others will be called to leave behind a job or dream that conflicts with God's call on their life. Everyone who follows Jesus will be changed in such a way that they must leave behind some of their former ways of life that are sinful and dishonoring to God.

This is all about priorities. When Jesus becomes the greatest priority in your life, it reorients everything. Your job, approval, marriage, family, money, acclaim, possessions or whatever used to be first in your life has to give up its place. Jesus cannot be primary when something else already claims that spot. When we follow Jesus, we must be ready to leave some things behind - at a minimum, they do not get to be our first priority any longer.

Is Jesus your highest priority? What might you need to "leave behind" to make it that way?

Following Jesus means... Being more than just a fan

And a great crowd followed Jesus...

Following Jesus sounds pretty good when it is convenient and trendy. But what about when it is not so easy? Or when it demands more than we are willing to give? Following Jesus is not like following our favorite sports team or political figure. It is easy to be a fan when they are doing well, not so easy when they are getting ridiculed. Ask any Patriots fan living outside New England as the DeflateGate scandal has gone on.

Jesus has always had fans. Even when conducting his earthly ministry, he commonly had great crowds following him from town to town, hoping to get a glimpse of the man that everyone was talking about. In the gospels, the word "follow" (akoloutheo) is used 76 times and 14 of those are in reference to the crowds that followed Jesus.

Jesus also uses this word to call people to be his disciples. When he approaches Levi (Matthew), and calls him to be his disciple, he says, "Follow me (Mk 2:14)." I have recently done a word study in the gospels for follow (akoloutheo), and it is illuminating to see what we can learn about what it means to follow Jesus as his disciple.

One thing that is very clear, there is a big difference between someone who follows Jesus as his disciple and someone who follows Jesus as merely a fan. Following Jesus means being more than just a fan.

Following Jesus means being more than just a fan.

4 ways that following Jesus means being more than just a fan

Fans just go with the flow

Fans are just part of the crowd. They do not feel any sense of confidence in the mission, they are just moving with the flow. Fans are swept away when the waters rise, because they are not grounded. If you asked them why they follow Jesus, they cannot give you an answer that will withstand the strong current of culture, circumstance or calamity.

Followers of Jesus are like the man in Psalm One, who is firmly planted by a stream of water. They know where they are going and will not be confused or tricked into alternative schemes. A fan is like the chaff, blown around like the winds, taken wherever they are lead.

Do you know why you follow Jesus? Do you feel grounded in your identity as his follower and your commitment to his mission?

Fans are primarily in it for themselves

We don't always realize it, but being a fan is really about us. My son loves the Okee Dokee Brothers, and as an adult who has to listen to music geared toward kids, it is actually very good. He and I went to one of their concerts at the Minnesota Zoo where we got to meet then and get their autographs. It was a blast! Liam still talks about it and says to me every now and again, "Dad, remember when we went to that concert at the zoo. That was great!"

We did not go to the concert for the Okee Dokee Brother's benefit. It wasn't about their good. It was about us. I have no problem with that when it comes to bands, sports teams, movies, etc. But when it comes to Jesus, I don't want to be a fan who is in it just for me.

I don't want to follow Jesus so that I can just be a fan who seeks my own benefits.

Fans leave Jesus when things get hard

There were often crowds that followed Jesus. When he enters Jerusalem before his crucifixion, there are numerous people who lined up to place garments and palm branches on the road for him to ride upon. In less than a weeks time, the crowds had changed their minds. They were no longer clamoring to get near Jesus, they were calling for his death.

Fans only follow Jesus when it is convenient. They leave him behind when everyone around them has decided to move on. As your friends, families and culture rejects Jesus, do you leave him behind as well? Or do you persist as his follower, even when it is no longer convenient?

Fans won't carry their cross

It is clear from Jesus' teachings that following him will bring challenge and difficulty. Jesus calls us to carry our cross (Mt. 16:24), giving up our own preferences and prestige to love others and bring honor to his name. That is not always easy. It often causes suffering. Fans don't want to endure those difficulties. And when difficulties come, they may want to blame Jesus and move on. Fans won't carry their cross. They will attempt to "gain the whole" world at the cost of their souls.

Are you a follower or a fan?

When you think about your relationship with Jesus, are you a follower or a fan? Is your commitment to Jesus unwavering? Or is it just convenient for you right now?

If you have created a list of criteria for following Jesus, if you say, "I will only follow Jesus if...," then you might just be a fan. If your motivation for following Jesus has more to do with the approval you can get from others, then you might just be a fan.

Consider your commitment to him and resolve to follow him on his terms. No matter the circumstance. No matter the decision of those around you. Follow him, not as a fan, but as a true disciple.

The most difficult thing Jesus taught about leadership

The task of leadership

Leadership is one of the most widely discussed topics today, but also remains one of the least understood. We have entire degrees orientated around the concept of leadership. Seminaries have Doctor of Ministry degrees focused entirely on leadership. Harvard Business School has a Leadership Initiative dedicated to developing leaders. Leadership is sought after all around us but it does seem to be an elusive search at times.

Failure in leadership is seen in the news constantly. It happens with political leaders who embezzle money, abuse their power or have an affair. We see it in the corporate world as companies fail to successfully transition from one leader to the next. And unfortunately, it is commonly seen within the church as well - leaders within the church have had some very public and brutal failures.

We research leadership and try to understand what makes it work. But sometimes it feels like we are trying to close our hands around a vapor of air. It can be seen. It can be observed. But we cannot seem to get our hands around it and grab on.

Well, I don't promise to have all the answers. I am sometimes the one who is squeezing my fists around the vapor of air that is leadership, while failing to truly grasp anything. But Jesus did have a thing or two to say about leadership. One of the most difficult things Jesus taught us is that true leadership is primarily about serving.

Photo Cred: http://freelyphotos.com/deep-in-thought/

Photo Cred: http://freelyphotos.com/deep-in-thought/

Greatness in the kingdom is about serving

"And Jesus called them to him and said to them, 'You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44 ESV)'"

Immediately before Jesus spoke these words, he was approached by two of his disciples with a request. James and John asked if they could sit at Jesus' right and left hand when he came into his glory. James and John wanted the privileged seats. They wanted to be made much of in the kingdom. But Jesus uses this as a teaching moment.

He explains that greatness in the kingdom of God is not about having a place of position or authority. It is not about exercising that authority like the rulers of the Gentiles, but it is about serving. It is about getting beneath someone else and placing their needs above our own. Do you prioritize the needs of God and others above your own? That is what good leaders do. They care more about the fame of God's name than their own. And they care more about the needs of others than their own.

In the end, your leadership isn't about you. It never was. And it never should be.

Jesus is our example

As Jesus explains this essential quality of what it means to lead in God's Kingdom, he uses himself as the chief example. Jesus says, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many (Mk 10:45)." If there was anyone in all of history who had the right to demand the service of others, it was Jesus. But that was not his way. He came in humility and gave up his own life to pay the ransom that we owed. Jesus has canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. He nailed them to the cross (Col 3:14). Even though Jesus could have demanded much from the world, he did the exact opposite. Jesus could have demanded everything the world had to give, but instead he gave everything the world lacked. Jesus did not come to be served, but to serve. And his humble sacrifice is our greatest example of servant leadership.

In the end, your leadership isn’t about you. It never was. And it never should be.

God's economy is different than the worlds

Servant-leadership stands in opposition to the natural ways of the world. I have often heard about the concept of servant-leadership, but it is a hard concept to truly embrace. It does not reconcile with the natural way of thinking. When James and John approached Jesus about having the privileged seats in the interest of securing their own greatness, Jesus did not tell them they were wrong for seeking greatness, only that they were looking for it in the wrong place. He goes on to tell them that greatness comes from serving. Greatness equals Serving!?!? These two concepts do not reconcile well with conventional wisdom. But the ways of God are not the ways of man. His ways are other.

I have been challenged personally to focus more on the concept of servant-leadership. I want to be diligent to reorient my mind so that I see leadership through the lens of Jesus. In my pursuit of leadership, I am seeking to be more of a servant. To be more interested in the desires of God and the goodness of others than I am in my own self-seeking pursuits.

A recommended resource

I mentioned above that there is a lot of research and thinking being done in the area of leadership. Overall, this is a good thing. It just hasn't always yielded the results we hope.

I do want to recommend the resources of at least one individual though. Dr. Justin Irving is a professor at Bethel Seminary, and I had the privilege of taking some courses from him. I have heard it said by John Piper that you don't pick a seminary for its location or its library. You pick a seminary for its professors. One of the reasons Bethel Seminary is worth choosing is because of Dr. Irving. He helps to lead a D.Min program at Bethel Seminary focused on Servant Leadership, which would we worth checking out. Or you can just head to his website at www.irvingresoruces.com and read some of his resources on leadership. Many of them are written in an academic way, but still very accessible and worth reading.

[Please note: I did not receive anything from Dr. Irving or Bethel Seminary for recommending them, I just genuinely believe that Dr. Irving is the real deal. He loves Jesus. He is passionate about servant-leadership. And from what I have observed, he lives it out in his life.]

I would love to hear from you

In the comments below:

  • Share one example of servant leadership you have seen in the life of someone else

or

  • Share any recommended resources that have helped you grow as a servant leader

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Loving the giver more than the gift

Abram and Sarai

At First Baptist Church, where I serve as the Adult Ministries Pastor, we are currently spending time looking at the life of Abraham. Our preaching series is taking us through the chapters in Genesis that tell the narrative of his life. This past Sunday, Pastor Matt preached on Genesis 16 and explained how Abram (that was his name before God changed it to Abraham in Genesis 17) and his wife Sarai grew impatient with God's promise of a son. They took a short-cut to try and fulfill the promise on their own by having a child through Sarai's servant Hagar. In the end, this ended up causing significant conflict for them and their decedents. Abram and Sarai wanted the gift of a son more than they wanted to honor and trust the promise of the giver. You can listen to the full sermon audio here.

It is tempting to look at the actions of Abram and Sarai and condemn them for their short-cut. They were more in love with the gift than the giver. They pursued their own means to satisfy the desires of their hearts. While we may want to validate ourselves by criticizing their choice, we are blind if we think that we are immune from this type of behavior.

The most powerful idols in your life are the ones you don't see and often they are fueled by a disproportionate love for some of God's most treasured gifts.

Moving beyond the less acceptable sins

It is not uncommon for a person to share their testimony of faith and for them to describe how they had formerly succumbed to a pattern of sin, but have now moved beyond the behaviors of their past. Especially when it relates to some of the most common sins we think about (ie. pornography, alcohol abuse, drugs, stealing, gambling addictions, sexual promiscuity, etc.). These are not sin patterns to take lightly. We must fight these with deep resolve and persistence.

Unfortunately, we have created a culture in which people feel lost after they overcome those sin patterns. Once we see consistent victory over these past behaviors, we don't know what comes next. Our definition of sin has become truncated and myopic. We can only see sin as those "really bad" things that we used to do.

The more subtle sins that creep into our lives are the worship of God's good gifts. These idols can become the most powerful and unnoticed sins. And they have the potential of being even more destructive than the more obvious sins we leave behind.

I experienced this process personally in my own journey of faith. As I grew in my commitment to Jesus, I walked through a process of fighting off one of these more "obvious" sins. Eventually, I came to see that I still had idols that I worshiped, only these idols were often associated with many of God's good gifts.

The most powerful idols in your life are the ones you don’t see

What is an idol?

We commonly associate the word idol with a trinket we might find in an animistic culture or the god of another religion. In the Bible, we see idols such as Dagon (1 Kings 5) that the Philistines worshiped. But idols in American culture are not often found in a god-like entity, but rather a material item, social status or emotional connection. In his book, Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller defines an idol this way:

"What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. A counterfeit god [idol] is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living. An idol has such controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought. It can be family and children , or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving 'face' and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty and your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in Christian ministry (pg. xvii - xviii)."

Idols are anything that surpasses the level of our love and commitment to God. We are more committed to our idols than our God. We are more in love with our idols than our God.

Abram and Sarai were more in love with the prospect of a son than they were with their love and trust for God. As you delve into the story more, it is also apparent that Abram was more concerned about keeping Sarai happy than he was at being committed to trusting the promise he had heard from God. Abram elevated his wife's approval and happiness above his love for God. These are all ways that our idols begin to creep up and sap our love for God.

photo cred: pixabay.com

photo cred: pixabay.com

God's good gifts

The challenging thing about idols is that we often make them out of God's greatest gifts. As Timothy Keller delves into the danger of counterfeit god's, he examines some of our most common idols. He spends a chapter each on the idol of love/relationships, money, success and power. He also talks about how religion and morality can become an idol when we worship our own righteousness.

Love and relationships are good gifts. The opportunity to invest in a loving marriage is a beautiful and sweet gift. Having children who we can care for and see grow into mature adults is a legacy worth leaving. Loving relationships are not bad. They are actually something God has given to us to enjoy and celebrate. Unfortunately, we can twist these relationships into idols. This happens in the person who sacrifices their own integrity in order to receive affirmation from another person. It happens in the sexually promiscuous life that pursues meaning through fulfilling lustful desires. It happens in the young man or woman who spends their time looking for significance in internet pornography instead of developing meaningful relationships with real humans. We begin to love God's gift more than we love God. We make an idol out of it, and idols can be cruel masters.

Money and material possessions are good gifts. Through money, we are able to purchase food, shelter and clothing. With money we are able to enjoy many other elements of God's creation. We can travel to visit family or go to a conference. Through money, we can support the mission of God in the world through churches and ministry organizations. Money is a good gift. But it can easily become an idol. We can quickly become consumed by getting a bigger paycheck, so we can buy a bigger house and nicer car. It does not take long before we love our money and our things more than we love our God.

The most elusive idols come when God's good gifts become our ultimate desires. We begin to love the gift more than the giver.

How do we overcome our idols?

If you read Keller's book, you can get a far more comprehensive solution, but allow me to suggest a few quick steps that can help to remedy your idol worship.

1. Identify your idols

The first step to overcoming your idols is to see which ones exist in you. You can ask yourself some questions: "What thing in my life, if I lost it, would utterly devastate me?" or "Where do I spend my resources of time, money, emotions and mental energy?" or "When I feel sad or hurt, where do I turn to for comfort?"

You can also ask God to help reveal the idols that exist in your life. Ask God to help you see where you are loving his gifts more than you are loving him. You can also ask the people closest to you. Ask them to tell you where they see idols in your life (this might be hard, but also very helpful).

2. Repent

Once you begin to see idols surfaced in your life, you need to take the time to confess them and repent. Confess them to God and repent of the way you have been worshiping these counterfeit gods instead of the one true God. Repentance is not just acknowledging sin through confession, it also includes a desire to change.

3. Remember the Gospel

Once you have repented, remind yourself of the gospel. Tell yourself that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rm. 8:1)." Remind yourself that "as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us (Ps 103:12)." Remember that the grace of Jesus "is sufficient for you (2 Cor. 12:9)." God has set you free through Jesus. He has given you new life through Jesus. Repent and acknowledge the weight of your sin, but do not stay there. Remember the gospel of Jesus and live in a way that is consistent with the new life Jesus has purchased for you.

4. Elevate the giver - don't minimize the gift

We may assume that in order to not worship these idols we need to minimize their goodness. That will not actually help us much. Because the gifts truly are good. They are God's good gifts for his people. Love, relationships, success, money and righteousness are not bad. We do not need to villainize that which God has given to us as good. The solution is not to minimize the gift.  The solution is the elevate the giver. Increase your love and affection for Jesus. Remind yourself of the gospel. Get into a community that helps to cultivate your love and commitment to God.

At times, it may mean that you need to actually remove the barrier that an idol has created by selling the thing you idolize. It may mean that you need to give up an unhealthy relationship or that you need to change careers. Increasing your love for Jesus may require a more radical change. Although, it should be in the service of helping to grow your love and affection for Jesus, not because that good gift is necessarily bad.

5. Ask God for help

You don't have to do this on your own. In fact, you can't do it on your own. Ask God for his help and trust in the work the Holy Spirit will do in your life.

What about you?

I would love to hear from you. What ways have you seen God's good gifts turned into idols? And how have you been able to battle the idols that seem to weasel their way into your life?

Fatally Flawed and Radically Loved

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Terminal Hearts

Earlier this week, Jon Foreman released the Sunlight EP, the first of his four Wonderland EPs that are planned for this year. As the front-man for the band Switchfoot, I have been a fan of Foreman's music for well over a decade. From Switchfoot's first albums to their newest albums, I have been a committed fan. Therefore, I was excited when I had learned that Jon Foreman planned on releasing another set of EPs over the course of the next year. Terminal, the first track on the new EP has led me to consider one of the major paradoxes of what it means to be human. If you want to hear the song, you can stream it through the following youtube video. You can also purchase the album on iTunes through this link. And if you wan to know the lyrics to the songs, here is a link for that as well

One of the things I love about Jon Foreman's songs are how honest they are about the human condition. In this song, he examines the temporary and flawed nature of our existence. Everyone is terminal in some sense of the word. Physically, we will all die one day. He uses powerful imagery to describe our plight.

"Some folks die in offices, one day at a time, they could live a hundred years, but their soul's already died." He references our "terminal hearts" and "terminal parts." He says we are "Flickering like candles, fatally flawed, fatally flawed."

At the end of the song, you can faintly hear someone in the background sharing a short poem that is inspired by passages of Scripture, including Ecclesiastes 12:7, Psalm 103:15-16, Job 1:21 and 1 Timothy 6:7, each of which comments on the brevity of this life.

It is a sobering tune, painting an honest and raw picture of the human life. The final line of the song ends with the phrase, "We're fatally flawed in the image of God."

This got me thinking about the paradox of what it means to be human. We have immense worth and value as men and women who are created in the image of God. Yet, we have a desperate and flawed existence. Even in our flawed condition, God's radical love put Jesus on the cross to redeem our situation. Even in the pain of our lives, there is a beautiful hope in God's love.

Created in the image of God - the Imago Dei

When God created men and women, the Bible says that God created them in His own image.

"Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

- Genesis 1:26-27

This has become known as the Imago Dei. The value of humanity is linked to the reality that we were created in the image of God. Even after the fall, God still cites the image of God as a prohibition for murder (Gen 9:6). Even though we now live under the weight of sin, we still retain the image of God. We are still immensely valuable to God as his image bearers. This is important. It is important for our understanding of our own self-worth. It is important for our understanding of the worth and value of those around us. You and I are not primarily valuable because we have a job, a spouse, a title, a position, an education, a promotion, an accolade, or any other number of things. The foundation of our worth and value is the fact that we are image bearers of the Creator God.

The foundation of our worth and value is the fact that we are image bearers of the Creator God.

The heart is deceitful above all things

If we are in tune with what it means to be human, we also know that something is just not right. We are fatally flawed. There is sickness and disease. There is war, genocide, bullying and many other horrific things that humans do to one another. We also experience famine, earthquakes and tsunamis. Something has gone wrong with the world.

Shortly after God created humanity in his image, we failed to live up to our worth and value. We decided that we didn't just want to bear the image of God, we wanted to be God for ourselves. Adam and Eve ate the fruit and sin entered the world. The Bible has some bleak descriptions of the human condition in light of sin. Here are just a few:

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

- Jeremiah 17:9

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." 

- Proverbs 16:25

"They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one." 

- Psalm 14:3

"As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more." 

- Psalm 103:15-16

When we take an honest look at our own lives and the world around us, these descriptions have deep resonance. It is tempting to want to mask our true condition, because it makes us feel better about ourselves. The glorious thing about God's story is that he didn't leave his image bearers to fix up their mess alone.

Radical Love

God, seeing our plight, did something about our desperate condition. With the most radical of love, Jesus came in human form. Jesus took his own perfect image and was bloodied, marred and punished so that our image could be restored. Jesus is on a mission to renew God's creation. The most radical part is that we didn't do anything to deserve the redemption he brings. The Bible says that even though we were still sinners (Rm. 5:8) and enemies of God (Rm 5:10) Jesus died for us. That is radical love!

This is the paradox of the human life. We have immense worth and value as God's image bearers and yet we live in a desperate and flawed condition due to sin in the world. The beautiful message of the Gospel is that Jesus has come to renew what was broken. God's image bearers can be redeemed from their broken condition.