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Jesus, Shut Up!

Sermon_on_the_MountFor the last 67 days (holy cow, has it been that long???), my friend Eric and I have been posting the Sermon on the Mount on social media piece by piece. For those of you who may not know, the Sermon on the Mount is the passage of Jesus’s teaching found in Matthew 5-7. It’s been an interesting project, to say the least.

As a wrap up to the project, we answered 5 questions. I’ve added Eric’s answers without edit (so blame him if you spot a grammar mistake!). Ultimately, this project was not about telling Jesus to shut up. Many people tend to ignore or shut him up when his words clash with their lives. Rather, Eric and I wanted HIS words to be heard anew. So here you go:

Why did you want to do this project?

ERIC: I actually started this project at the suggestion of my friend, Todd. It kept coming up in discussion several weeks prior how Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is controversial, even today, and how even many Christians are offended by things that Jesus in this particular sermon. Todd suggested posting it verse by verse or section by section without any commentary just to see how people react. Sort of give people a “slow reading” of it. I prayed over it and had absolute peace about doing it. So, it began…

CHRIS: For me it started when I saw the Facebook thread between Eric and Todd. They were talking about posting the Sermon on the Mount (SotM) piece by piece every day. I thought it was a great idea for a couple of reasons. First, the SotM was not originally a unified message given at one time. It’s a collection of the teachings of Jesus that Matthew compiled wrote out. Posting it on social media bit by bit would have been close to the way Jesus taught it – little bits at a time rather than a multiple chapter treatise on ethical and moral behavior. Second, with all of the negative junk that’s posted every day, I wanted to be one of the voices posting things that build up and develop people. True, Jesus’s words aren’t words of encouragement, but they can build us up spiritually, morally, and ethically.

Did you have any difficulties carrying it out?

ERIC: My greatest difficulty was remembering where I left off the day before! I would do it first thing in the morning, and sometimes I wasn’t fully awake! LOL!! But the greatest difficulty for me, personally, was just the weight of Christ’s words. They’re heavy at times. In giving others a sort of “slow reading” of it you force yourself to read it slowly and REALLY consider what Christ is saying! Matthew 5:44 was particularly heavy for me. During this time it seems like I had enemies coming out of the woodwork. And here’s Jesus telling me to pray for them! NOT EASY! Certainly challenging! But, I submitted and did it!

CHRIS: There were two difficulties. The first isn’t a big one – it was the difficulty of developing the habit of the daily posting. Probably 2/3 of the material I posted in the moment. I smartened up eventually and began to schedule posts in advance so I wouldn’t forget. Advanced scheduling, though, was part of the second difficulty: how to break up the material. Microblogging sites are geared towards snippets of material, and some of Jesus’s longer teachings are too long for social media. So I played editor a little bit in determining what the blocks of text would be and what would have to wait for another day. I also took some liberties to shorten the text, using & for “and” and sometimes omitting punctuation, indefinite articles, etc.

Were there any surprises from the experience?

ERIC: Yes. When I posted Matthew 5:31-32. While I was expecting some discussions to erupt over topics such as enemy love, loving your neighbor, or even the “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of Heaven….” I was NOT expecting these two verses to stir any turds! People were leaving comments like, “So, what you’re saying is I’m a sinner because I got divorced?” No! I didn’t say that! I was just merely quoting Jesus, what He said in scripture! I actually had some family members REALLY upset with me over that! They were divorced. Even after I explained the project to them they was like, “Well, you still could have just skipped over that one!” Which really goes back to some of the conversations that Todd & I had: The Sermon on the Mount touches everyone and will offend you!

CHRIS: The biggest surprise was how passionate some people got over the message of Jesus. And it wasn’t always positive passion. One person asked me angrily (at least it felt that way reading the words on Facebook) why I was doing this. Others seemed to chafe at particular points of Jesus’s words that had direct correlation to their life’s circumstances. One minor surprise was a friend who took issue with me putting out the words of Jesus but NOT including the biblical address. My simple answer was that the Bible originally had no chapter and verse divisions – those were a later addition. The key is the content, which had been passed down from Christian to Christian for hundreds and hundreds of years before the addition of chapter and verse markings.

What did you learn?

ERIC: A couple of things: Scripture is challenging enough. You don’t always need to add your commentary to challenge others. The other was not everyone is going to agree with Jesus. Some will boldly oppose Him on issues because they want to be comfortable in their sin.

CHRIS: The biggest thing I learned is that the words of Christ are as relevant today as they EVER were thousands of years ago. They are literally timeless, reaching into the heart of some touchy subjects 21st century Christians wrestle with. To quote the Bible (and not give you the address), “There is nothing new under the sun.” We can preach Jesus until the end of time, because his words will always touch us at the core of our humanity.

What do you hope others learned?

ERIC: The first is enemy love. I’m looking at the Church, watching it’s agape growing cold, growing more hostile. Of course we see that the clearest in the political field. The ones on the right who are the most vocal about their Christianity are also militantly hostile towards those on the left. If you are a TRUE Christian then the left isn’t your enemy. It’s your mission field.

Which leads me to the 2nd thing I hope people took away: Matthew 7. This chapter plays a central role in my personal worldview & ministry. Matthew 7:13-23 Jesus is speaking of Christians. I was REALLY hoping that people would pay close attention to how Jesus uses the words “many” and “few” in those 10 verses! Because if you read that carefully, pay close attention, that should cause you as a Christian to gut check yourself. Not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. The past to destruction is wide and many are on it. Many will say unto Him in that day, “Lord, Lord, have we not _____ in your name?” I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of the few who find that narrow way, and I want to point others towards it so that they may enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

CHRIS: I hope other people were able to see the broken down teachings and really let them sink in without the noise of contextual sermonizing or other texts. The words of Christ stand alone, and they have power…if we heed them. Otherwise we’re like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand.

There you have it, folks. Have you ever read the Sermon on the Mount? What do you think? How did it hit you?

 

More Stuff Will Make Me Happy…Right?

Do you want to be happy? I do. In fact, most people I know desire to be happy. But so many of us aren’t. Usually our happiness is linked to one of two things: 1) our possessions and 2) our position/circumstances in life.

Free-StuffWhen it comes to our possessions, the idea is that stuff will make us happy. If I could only have that new iPhone. If I could only acquire that special __________ – you get the idea. The problem with linking our happiness to stuff is that they’re ALWAYS making new stuff! What good is getting a new phone when they’ll make a new one next year? Pursuing the latest stuff is only a temporary fix. But stuff will always leave us sad. The new thing breaks or becomes outdated.

But the character of the believer is supposed to be opposite of this. Jesus himself said:

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15)

The idea of guarding against stuff even made into the 10 Commandments when God told Israel not to covet anything that belonged to their neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God is telling us that having new and nice things is wrong. But we get into trouble when stuff and the pursuit of it possesses our hearts. Filling our lives with stuff leads to only temporary happiness and is never permanent.

When it comes to our position in life, we often think that we can only be content of we just had a better job or more social standing or ___________________ (again, fill in the blank). But our life’s circumstances don’t have to determine our contentedness. In a very difficult passage to wrestle with, the Apostle Paul writes:

 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. (1 Corinthians 7:20-22)

Paul is NOT advocating for slavery. In fact, notice that he says a slave should gain freedom if he is able to do so. The heart of what Paul is talking about is really finding life contentment in Christ WHEREVER you are. Our position does not dictate our contentment. This is why Paul can write that he has learned to be content no matter his situation. He can starve or be full. He can be free or beaten and in chains. His contentment comes from his rock-solid faith in Jesus.

We’re never promised happiness. We’re promised that God’s grace is sufficient for us. That is real contentment – resting on God’s sufficiency no matter what life throws at us.

Paul reminds us:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

But how can you work on getting over the stuff? How do we let go of the world’s understanding of happiness and pursue contentment? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Memorize some Bible verses about stuff and/or contentment. If you’ve got the words of Jesus easily accessible when you’re walking through Best Buy, maybe you’ll be able to get out of the store without caving to the “gotta have it” mentality so pervasive in our culture.
  2. Practice giving something away every week. Make a habit of refusing to let stuff control you – give something away. It breaks the power of stuff over your life and allows you to brighten someone else’s day.
  3. Serve people who are worse off than you are. Nothing puts our lives in perspective like helping others who have it worse than we do.serve

You can do it. You can find real contentment. It’s not found in stuff or circumstance. You can be dead broke in a dead-end job but still experience godly contentment. Let God help you find it.

I’m the Most Humble Guy You’ll Ever Meet

Humility picHumility is one of those things that I know is good for me but also one of those things that is so hard to put into practice. Our culture regularly drives us to “be number one!” Many of us have jobs that require an annual review in which we sum up all of the great things we did through the year.

And yet, humility is a foundational characteristic that is supposed to make up the Christian life. It is the quality Christ exuded when taking on humanity and dying on a cross. If Christians are supposed to make his character our own, then humility needs to be near the top of our own list of character development. For our own growth, humility begins with a proper recognition of our place in the universe. Isaiah 66:1-2 says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
    and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.

Since God is the creator of the cosmos, what can we possibly bring to the table? Those questions are rhetorical. Our planet is a mere footstool for God (and the feet were not a clean and honorable part of the body in the Ancient Near East, which is why Peter freaked out when Jesus tried to wash the disciples’ feet). God doesn’t want us to feel down and depressed about how insignificant we are. This is, however, a call to recognize the greatness and grandness of God. A high view of God puts us on the right path to humility.

One we get that human/divine relationship understood, the next step is to look in the mirror and not think better of ourselves than we ought. Luke tells a story of Jesus in Luke 14:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched…. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.

If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

HumilityThere’s a practical wisdom to Jesus’s words. It’s FAR better to choose humility than to have someone else thrust humility upon you! Don’t get so big-headed you think more highly of yourself than you ought. Instead, choose lowness and, if other people exalt you – score! If not, you’re no worse for the wear and can avoid the walk of shame when someone tells you you’re in a place for someone more important.

Finally, humility involves building others up. Paul writes in Philippians 2:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I would also contend that part of looking out for the interests of others includes not taking credit for an idea or action from another. Give proper credit where credit is due.

We’re not looking for false humility. That’s just pride in disguise. But a genuinely humble person who recognizes her place before God, who accurately sees himself in the mirror, and who honestly seeks to build up others, will be the kind of person who reflects the character of Christ.

My Life Sucks, and Yours Does Too

realityWell, it doesn’t suck ALL the time. Just sometimes. But I don’t share about the crappy parts online. I only share about the good times – the times that make life seem good, happy, and perfect.

We don’t share about the times our kids having fits and making us want to pull out our hair or send them to boarding school. We don’t post about the times we aren’t getting along with our spouses. And when people DO share those things, often they’re looking to get sympathy or to control public perception. And THAT’S the real issue.

We only  share those things that will  create the public persona we want out there.

We don’t share the things that we think will reflect negatively on us. I’m not the first one to write on this topic. My brother shared an article with me some time ago about the same theme. There’s probably even an official name for the phenomenon – I just don’t know it.

What I do know is that we do this because we gain a sense of self-worth and value through our public image. Yet Jesus wants us to forget the idea of shaping our public image. One time Jesus was teaching:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We do this kind of thing all the time. We want others to see the best part of us, the most generous part of us, the super-parent us, the philanthropic us, the Ubermensch us. But the great things we do don’t amount to a hill of beans. They don’t affect the way God sees us. He sees us when we do things in private. He loves you not because of how great you look to the world, but because he loves unconditionally.

It’s hard to do good things in secret. There’s a part of us that wants credit for doing things when we do good things or when we excel at something. Jesus says we ought to do good for the sake of doing good even if we never get recognition.

I remember one time I was on tour with my college music group. We got off our bus to have lunch one day in San Francisco. I was hanging out with the drummer, and as we exited the bus, the team went off to the left, but the drummer turned right. I asked him where we were going. He said, “I’m not hungry so I’m going to give my lunch to a homeless person, but I don’t need the rest of the group to see it.”

He felt called to do good but didn’t want recognition from others.

I ate my lunch (in a post about doing things without recognition, I’m not going to let you think I was so high-minded)!

But we can all learn from Jesus’s words. Humility ought to be our norm. We should do good just BECAUSE it is the right thing to do. Don’t worry about shaping public opinion of yourself – do what you should do! So here’s your challenge – this week don’t post anything online that would make you look good. It’s okay to build others up, but practice humility this week and change your social media habits.

Your value comes from God, not what others think of you – so practice intentional humility.

——————————————————————————————————————————–
What do you think? Have you seen yourself posting things that make your life look fabulous?

Evangelicalism’s Golden Calf

There’s a sound of discontent among Christians this week. Oh, come on – we’re ALWAYS discontent about something. So what is it this time? This time it’s because of First Baptist Church in Dallas. They held a “Celebrate Freedom Rally” during 4th of July weekend.

And during this 2-hour glut fest of raw patriotism and nationalism, the choir unveiled a new anthem called “Make America Great Again.” That’s really not what has people so upset – churches do patriotic services ALL THE TIME. I think what really got people’s knickers in a twist was how fast the song was copyrighted and listed on CCLI (Christian Copyright Licensing International), the organization that “provides information and resources for churches and copyright owners around the world, relating to copyrights of Christian worship songs” (THEIR WORDS, NOT MINE).

Their launch screen is all about worship!

CCLI Home Screen

Worship planning starts here? Really? But “Make America Great Again” is not about God.

Like, not at all. It’s only about the country and restoring its greatness and glory.

MAGA

In a word, it’s idolatry. Any time you elevate something and worship it as equal to or in place of God you’re committing idolatry. Sure, it wasn’t a “worship service.” Well, it was, just not a worship service where God was the object of worship. Evangelicals have a bad habit of conflating patriotism and faith. Loving America does NOT make us better Christians. Loving God does NOT mean we’re going to love America (otherwise, Christians all over the world in foreign countries are in for a WORLD of disappointment when they reach heaven).

America has become our Golden Calf.

And, sadly, this is not new. A quick search for the word “America” on CCLI and I have a results list of 192 songs.

Really? This is supposed to be our worship archive, guys! The Bible is pretty clear that our worship belongs to God and God alone. He got pretty ticked with that whole calf in the wilderness incident. And if this idolatry has become the norm for Evangelicalism, then I am ready to call American Evangelicalism a dead religion. I’m done with it and all of the garbage that comes with it.

Jesus transcends nations. His worship demands WE transcend nations. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be patriotic. I’m saying we’ve lost the ability to see the line between patriotism and idolatry.

And that’s not okay.

golden-calf

Facepalm Jesus

Some people just don’t get it. They SHOULD get it but, for whatever reason, they simply don’t get it.

The disciples are those kinds of people. Even though these are the guys who follow Jesus around and are his closest companions, the Gospel stories show time and again that they just.don’t.get.it.

I can imagine Jesus dealing with them. They say or do something so ridiculous he can’t sokkahelp but facepalm. We see one of these instances in Mark 8,

In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, “I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.” And his disciples answered him, “How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?”

Here we start the facepalm. The scenario is eerily similar to the earlier story where Jesus fed 5,000 people with loaves and fish. This has led some people to conclude that there were two versions of the story circulating in Mark’s time, and that Mark mistakenly included both. While this might be a viable possibility for some people, it fails to account for two things: 1) the standard Christian understanding of the inspiration of Scripture and 2) the differences between the stories actually set up different points/purposes of each narrative.

As to our understanding of inspiration, our belief that the Bible has Divine origin and spark within it means that there is a godly intentionality that underlies the text. Our concept of inspiration is not something that can be proven or disproven by science – it’s a statement of faith. If you don’t believe it, I can’t convince you otherwise.

As to the different points of each narrative, that is more easily demonstrable. The first story highlighted Jesus as a new Moses. The people sat in groups in the wilderness just as Moses and the Israelite nation split into various groups/camps in the book of Exodus. Jesus providing his crowds echoes God providing for Israel in the desert.

By the time we get to the second story here in Mark 8, the story is set against the first story, almost as a check on learning for the disciples. Picture Jesus saying, “You were with me the first time. What’s gonna happen here and now?”

But the disciples fail the quiz. “Where can we get enough bread?!?”jesus-facepalm

And he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.

In addition to some of the numerical details being different in the stories (numbers of bread, fish, and people) Jesus is in a different location. While he spoke to Jewish people in the first narrative that had echoes of Moses and the Exodus, here Jesus is working in a Gentile area. Jesus’s ministry and blessing extends beyond the Jews and is for Gentiles as well. That Jesus extends his ministry to non-Jews is brought up previously when the Syrophoenician woman approaches him for help. Just as before, Jesus is able to abundantly bless and provide for those who follow him.

And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.”

Cue the facepalm. Immediately after performing this incredible things, the religious leaders come and ask for a sign. When Jesus says that no sign will be given, part of me wonders if he’s really saying, “There’s not sign that you will recognize.” Jesus HAS been giving signs, but people are too blind to see what is right in front of their faces.

And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side. Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” And they flatbreadbegan discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

And the disciples continue in their blindness. They have seen Jesus provide in times of need, and they continue to fret about their lack. So Jesus warns them about being like the Pharisees. “I’m giving you stuff, but are you going to stay blind, too?!?” So Mark gives us a miracle story that acts as a living parable, illustrating his whole point.

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

After his initial encounter with Jesus this blind guy sees, but only in part. It’s kind of like the religious leaders and disciples. They should be able to see Jesus clearly, but clearly they can’t! Jesus might as well be a walking tree in front of them. So Jesus touches the guy again and he finally sees clearly. Cut to the disciples:

And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

FINALLY! Peter’s vision is clearing up and he sees Jesus for who he is.

He.Is.The.Christ.

This is the Gospel message for Jews and Gentiles alike. This Jesus is the one who came to provide abundant life, even when we’re in the wilderness. This Jesus is the one to lead the new exodus, taking these slaves into the spiritual promised land. Don’t miss the signs that are right in front of you. Don’t mistake the people for trees.

Here is our King.

Why God Would Never Use a Woman (or other misfits)

eye rollBut I’m Just A…

God has a crazy way of looking at things – a crazy way of solving problems. You would think that NORMAL people would encounter a problem and then find the best possible solution to overcoming the problem. Not God. God throughout history, rather than choosing the BEST possible solution to carry out the Divine Will, God seems to choose the less-than-desirable solution.

The minority.

The weakling.

The outcast.

The long-shot.

I once hear a song with the line, “He uses improbable people for impossible tasks.” That pretty much sums it up. He used a young shepherd boy to fight a giant and save a nation. He used a murderer with a speech impediment to go lead the Israelites out of Egypt. He used a woman to lead the Israelite army to victory over Sisera. He used a low-born peasant bastard (please excuse the harshness of the word, but imagine the reaction of ancient listeners finding out that Jesus had no earthly father) to be the Salvation of the world.

And those are just a few examples.

HOW CAN THIS BE?!? It doesn’t seem right. In fact, many of the people God uses are people we would tell to sit down and stop rocking the boat. That’s not how things are done. You can’t do that. You can’t say that. You’re just a…

And we buy into it. Many of us go through life believing, “I’m just a…” and we fill in the blank with whatever limitation fits our life.

I’m just a child.

I’m just a woman.

I’m just a minority.

I’m just a cripple.

I’m just a felon.

I’m just a….

The problem with “I’m just a” kind of thinking is that it means we’re putting ourselves in the driver’s seat and not allowing God to drive the bus. In the big picture, it isn’t about US. Whether you’re a superstar or a superdud, YOU are not the critical element in God’s plan. God can use whomever or whatever He chooses. This is what Jesus is saying in Mark 4:

26 Here is what the kingdom of God is like: a man who throws seeds onto the earth. 27 Day and night, as he works and as he sleeps, the seeds sprout and climb out into the light, even though he doesn’t understand how it works. 28 It’s as though the soil itself produced the grain somehow—from a sprouted stalk to ripened fruit. 29 But however it happens, when he sees that the grain has grown and ripened, he gets his sickle and begins to cut it because the harvest has come.

30 What else is the kingdom of God like? What earthly thing can we compare it to? 31 The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, the tiniest seed you can sow. 32 But after that seed is planted, it grows into the largest plant in the garden, a plant so big that birds can build their nests in the shade of its branches.

33 Jesus spoke many parables like these to the people who followed Him. 34 This was the only way He taught them, although when He was alone with His chosen few, He interpreted all the stories so the disciples truly understood.

God’s work isn’t about the grandness or immensity of the event. God can use something itty-bitty and worthless to bring about something phenomenal. The farmer isn’t doing the work to make the grain grow. God does it. The mustard seed is tiny, but look at what it produces. God’s work doesn’t have to have the best and the brightest to have tremendous results. I’m sure this was a great comfort for Jesus’s disciples, who once or twice probably thought that their rabbi had lost it. While many people try hard to gain followers, Jesus often seems to intentionally repel them. “Go and don’t say anything.” “Go keep quiet about what I did.” “Demons, be silent!” Jesus is the complete opposite of a media hound. So his words can serve as comfort – God can work incredibly even through the small and insignificant.

Let us have ears to hear this message – we are called to follow and be his disciples. No matter how insignificant we might seem to the world (I’m just a…), God can utilize us for great things. We may not even know the extent of our work, but like tossing a stone into a smooth lake, the ripples keep going and going.

So don’t allow the “I’m just a…” label to stick. And believe me – people WILL try to stick it to you! But not God. God will make sure that His will is accomplished, and it’s very often done by the misfits and outcasts.

So if you’re one of the misfits and outcasts, the excluded and minority, the unlikely and improbable, you’re in good company.

Keep an open ear for how God might want to use you.

Jesus Says, “No, America, You Won’t Be Great Again.”

For what it’s worth, I’m not now nor have I ever been anti-American (as even close friends have been accused of behaving). I LOVE my country and and very glad that I live here, serve here (though my opinions do not reflect the Navy, the Department of Defense, or any government agency), and raise my family here. For all our faults (and we can point to quite a few), there are places in the world that are FAR worse off. So I’m not here to bash America. I’m here to talk about Christians who have jumped on the “Make America Great Again” bandwagon.

You see, the expression implies that America WAS great but somehow lost its greatness. It now needs to regain what we once had. So I want to know what it is we’ve lost and what we need to get back. My friend Harry said it very well when he responded:

I believe the more specific definition is “great for who(m)”? In a land of such diversity greatness is defined by any individual group to suit their own needs and desires. It’s a dandy catchphrase but is it also a balance scale. Does “greatness” for some come at a sacrifice to others?

I think that’s a big part of the problem. Going back to greatness for one group doesn’t look so hot for another group. It’s a matter of perspective, depending on which side of history you fall. But my BIGGEST problem comes from Christians who eagerly (sometimes humble-732566_1920overwhelmingly so) desire to be part of the “Make America Great Again” movement. I expect such behavior from non-Christians. But Christians are supposed to approach issues like this from a different perspective. Jesus addressed greatness several times.

He said:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12)

and:

And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:33-35)

I’m not talking about pursuing excellence. If we follow the Apostle’s advice and do everything we do as doing it unto God, we’re going to pursue excellence. But the idea of greatness runs contrary to the idea of humility. Greatness is a comparative quality – it’s being set apart from the norm or average. It’s saying, “I’m more special than ________.”

GreatI fail to grasp how a commitment to Jesus, one who epitomized service to others, allows us a Christians to say, “We desire to be better than everyone else!”

I recognize that it’s impossible to lump everyone who says, “Make America Great Again” into a single group. But my observation is that the slogan, and many who promote it, embrace an “us vs. them” mentality that is at odds with the Gospel of Jesus.

Real humility doesn’t say, “I desire to be great!” Real humility says, “What can I do for you?”

So be patriotic. Pursue excellence in all you do. There’s nothing wrong with that! But be humble. Embrace serving others. Reject the pursuit of greatness as a goal. Let greatness be the result of a life of serving others and seeking to build others up. Remember Jesus’s words I mentioned earlier:

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled.”

Inappropriate Parents & Kids

1297856847128_ORIGINALThis last week Victoria Beckham posted a picture on Instagram of her kissing her 5 year old daughter on the lips.

And the digital world EXPLODED.

Many criticized her and called her ugly names. Many defended her, posting picture of them kissing their own kids. C’mon, people, is this really what it’s come to? Do we have nothing better to do than debate the parenting style of people we don’t know and will never meet?

Sigh – it seems that distance criticism is what we do best. So let’s talk about the actual issue here – appropriate vs. inappropriate affection between parent and child.

Our society is quickly taking up a position that all sexuality is okay as long as no one is hurt. Not just okay – but encouraged. Media floods our brains with images of same-sex couples kissing at pride events. Celebrities bounce from partner to partner and nobody bats an eye (plus it gives Taylor Swift more song writing material). And I think this oversexualization of society is the root of the problem. We’ve come to the point where many cannot see a kiss between a parent and child without reading sexual content into it. It’s not the parents who disturb me – it’s the people who read into the behavior who disturb me.

Much of what we consider to be appropriate physical behavior is culturally conditioned. Citizens in some countries greet each other with kisses on the cheek. It’s not romantic. In some cultures you sill see two men, best friends, walking down the street holding hands. It’s not romantic – it’s a sign of solidarity and friendship.

How far can a parent go to show affection and love to his/her child? I’m willing to look foolish for the sake of my kids. It reminds me of the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 we sometimes call “The Prodigal Son.” The basic premise is that the young son bails on his family, takes part of the family fortune, and blows it all in a way that would bring shame and dishonor upon his family. So he decides to go home and ask his father for a position as a servant, since he doesn’t deserve to be part of the family any more (but he still needs a job, you know?!) Jesus picks up the story and says:

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

The father saw his son from a long way off and ran to him. In the Ancient Near East, men didn’t wear blue jeans. They had tunics. Running would have meant pulling up his tunic. It would have meant exposing part of his legs to the public so that he could run freely. But getting to his son was more important than what society thought. So he hitches up his tunic and runs to his son. He hugs his son. He kisses his son.

Jesus is trying to teach us something about how God, our heavenly Father, cares about us. There’s also something to be learned about a love so fierce that we’re willing to demonstrate it in front of the whole world. It also says something to our kids when we’re willing to show the affection we feel.

So last night as I was putting my kids to bed I kissed each one of them – my daughters and my son – on the lips. I told them I loved them. Then I said good night.

And I’ll probably do it again tonight, too.

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My and my baby girl 🙂

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