Sunday, November 30, 2014

Natural Revelation

    This is a good post from my brother's blog, Natural Revelation. Personally, I love the woods, and this article explained well why many of us feel close to God in the woods. I know many others are like me, and feel 100 times closer to God by a little mountain stream than in a church building. So, here it is.

what is natural revelation and why does it matter?

Friday, November 28, 2014

Becoming a Servant

    Okay, today's post hurts. I don't want to post it, because I'm really, severely, sincerely, extremely not good at it. Being a servant is not my forte, but it does not dismiss the verses from Scripture that speak very clearly about serving others. One of the reasons I really enjoy writing this blog is that I learn new things or are reminded of prior things all the time. Posting almost daily forces me to take some time to slow down and read the Bible more than I normally would.

     Today's text will be from Matt. 20:25-28. It says, "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'"

      Convicting, huh? So let's break it up and look at it more in depth. Jesus begins with a reference to who I believe were the haughty Romans, the rulers of Israel at the time. Every Jew would have known and despised exactly what Jesus was talking about, the Romans love of pomp and showy displays of power, obvious even today by Rome's vast architecture that remains after 2,000 years showing their power, including columns in memory of their conquests.

     What Jesus was pointing out in them in the Romans was exactly what He didn't want the disciples doing among themselves. Pushing themselves to the forefront, demanding the position of prominence, and thrusting themselves to the position of leader. What Jesus asks for is the exact opposite of traditional leadership, a dirt under the fingernails leader, a serving leader, a humble leader.

     I'm sure many of y'all will recognize the wisdom here. Anybody who has worked with a leader in the past who has told you to push yourself to do something he won't try himself knows that it is really frustrating to work with those people. I'm blessed to have as one of my taekwondo coaches a man who will get down and do pushups with us, and push himself to his limits with us. My respect has grown incredibly for this man by watching him push himself with us instead of simply ordering us around. That is a leader that I will push myself to new limits for.

     Naturally, humans look up to someone who will work with them and for them even though at a station above them. The leaders I look up to the most that I've known personally are men who are more concerned about serving others than their own personal image or what people may think about them.

     And that is exactly the leadership Jesus not only desired but exemplified. Jesus, just a few short days in the future, would show perfectly what he meant in Jn. 13:1-7. Here He, the spotless Lamb of God, gets on His knees and does the job of the lowliest of slaves before His disciples, the very ones who in Matt. 20 are arguing about who is greatest. Here is God, on His knees, before man; the Creator on His knees before the Creation. It's a picture that's hard to miss the meaning of.

     All that's good and well, and I think we can learn a lot from that passage. I think the most amazing part is what's unsaid in this passage. This is just before Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem, His final trip into Jerusalem before His crucifixion. We see the disciples are so focused on rewards, both heavenly and earthly, that they are missing the fact that Jesus is with them.

     It's hard to blame them since it's very easy to take people around for granted, but the point is still valid. In their concern for their future rewards, they missed the person of Jesus Christ, standing right in front of them. Over and over, we see them come back to this question of their ranking, completely missing the miracle happening right in front of them in the form of Jesus' incarnation then death.

     I think we make the same mistake. In our efforts to look the best, or act the best, or get the top ranking in our church youth, we miss Jesus. When our efforts to look like the most manly man or the most virtuous girl take the place of our affection for Christ, we miss Jesus, we literally miss God Himself while He stands offering a relationship.

     It's the age-old problem of having good priorities, then ranking them wrong in the big scheme of things. Is looking like a manly man or a virtuous girl good? Absolutely! Are either one of them more important than the total centrality of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not! If we do these good things as fruit of our relationship with Christ, that's awesome. If we forego our relationship with Christ in order to work on our own morality, we've missed the whole point.

     So, we wind up back where we've been before, love. Serving others in love. It doesn't feel like something huge for God, I know. It doesn't give you the spiritual high that passing out tracts does, or maybe having an hour long quiet time. Our love for others is how we show our love for Christ. Our love for others is the fruit of our relationship with Him.

     Don't miss the small things in order to make yourself look impressive. Don't skip the little things so that you can add the big, spiritual, grandiose things to your Christian resume, because I don't think God is anywhere near as interested in our outwardly beautiful masks we've designed for ourselves as He is in the heart that so many times I've carefully hidden, in all it's pride, behind that mask. The disciples were much too busy building their impressive spiritual resumes to kneel and wash each other's feet. It was only the spotless Lamb of Heaven, the only one there with a truly impressive resume that knelt to show love, serving those less deserving than Himself. He is much more interesting in our love for each other and for Himself than He is in our outwardly spiritual actions.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bad News First

    The good news doesn't usually seem amazing until you consider the alternative. The fact that you're alive doesn't strike you as amazing until you realize that the alternative is death. Suddenly, what a moment ago was normal and commonplace becomes amazing as you realize what would be anti-climatic is really good news. You could be dead, but you aren't.

     The same is true of the gospel. The good news of salvation is irrelevant until after the bad news of man's depravity. Until I realize I'm sick, I couldn't care less if you're offering me medicine. Unless I realize I'm drowning, I don't care about a lifeguard. What I fear we do in our presentation of the gospel, both to unsaved and to ourselves at times, is to soften the hard part of the gospel.

     The common practice in American churches today, and in many of our own personal lives, is to try to get to the gospel with no recognition of sin. With our new feel-good gospel, we don't need to tell people that they are sinners in desperate need of grace; we simply need to tell them to try harder. Maybe we'll even tell them that Jesus came to save them, but we don't say from what. Even when we describe sin, too often we describe it as little black marks on your paper, not as an entirely black paper in need of being wiped completely clean, both of my sin and my own effort, before it is white.

     Sure we like good news; everybody does. But the good news of God's saving grace is only relevant after the truth of man's own depravity. Today, my focus will be on the depravity of man. As I try to focus on the gospel, I think it's important to lay groundwork, and the very essence of explaining salvation is to explain man's own failure, his own shortcomings.

     I just found a Strong's concordance in my mom's study, so my work load has been lightened considerably. Thank you, James Strong! Rom. 3:19-20 states this, "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may be accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin."

     So, stepping back even one step further, in order to understand sin, a transgression of God's law, then you must see God's law. I'm not going to even bother to look at the 500+ Levitical laws that are enacted upon the children of Israel, because it would take too long, and Jesus sums them all up perfectly in Matt. 22:37-40, where He says, "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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." I don't have to get fancy to discuss sin. All it takes to break Christ's commandments is to not love your neighbor perfectly, or to not put Jesus in His rightful place as Lord of your heart.

     You don't have to have cursed, committed adultery, lied, murdered, or committed idolatry to break God's law. All it takes is one selfish action, one simple "mistake". What we see painfully evident in the Bible is that these "mistakes" as we like to call them are not mistakes; they are the way we are born, in Adam. Through our father Adam, we have received a taste for sin. Rom. 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned..."

     As much as we want to think of our sin as isolated mistakes, failed challenges, or unmet moral goals, God has another word for it. Sin. According to Strong's, the Greek word is "hamartia", meaning literally "from sin-offense, sin". It's not a mistake, or imbalance in our lives, or a slip up. It's an offense against your Creator, the sustainer of your life.

     We like to soften the bad news to make us better people than we really are on our own. Paul doesn't pull any punches in Rom. 3:9-12 where he states, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin: as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God, All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."

     Not one of our actions is good. None of us can stand before God and call our lives mostly good. We instead stand guilty before God, naked and ashamed, completely at His mercy. No merit of ours pleads for us; instead even our own efforts stand in stark contrast to the sinless perfection that is required before God.

     But do you see the great service our own extreme depravity has rendered us? Instead of standing in a constant struggle to do more for salvation, instead we stand helpless and dependent on Jesus Christ. If we did not see our own helplessness, we would continue to strive and fail in the fruitless pursuit of "good enough".

     In our own effort to make the gospel less of a stumbling block, we have undermined its very core. In our attempts to alleviate the desperation of our own depravity, we have instead transition from man's utter sinfulness and the futility of his own moral efforts to moderate sinfulness. Many churches have succeeded in making a more politically correct gospel, where sin is no longer on offense against God but instead a mistake, a missed goal, a slip-up.

     But the problem now surfaces in all its ugliness. Instead of seeing the hopelessness of my own depravity when compared to the law, we now look at our sin with the law and all the clarity of our own sinfulness that it offers, and we think, "well, everyone messes up sometimes". Now, once again, the gospel is no longer communicating God's saving grace to man. Our new and "improved" gospel is now showing man that with more effort, more self-help, more self-confidence, he can correct his mistakes.

     When we remove the depth of our own sin, we remove the depth of God's grace. When sin loses its terrible price, then grace loses its awesome rewards. When nakedness loses its shame, clothed in God's righteousness is no longer necessary, no longer awe-inspiring.

     This is the result of a softened attitude toward sin. When we look at sin not as an offense against God, but as instead a grievance against my potential, or my goals, we no longer need God, we need a counselor. When using the law to provide contrast of perfect righteousness against the bleak background of my own sin, we see our sin in all its ugliness. When we remove the depth of sin, we remove the depth of grace from our appreciation.

     So, in this way we see the gospel is weakened all around. On both sides, man comes out on the losing end. Not sinful enough to lose all hope in ourselves, but not moral enough to get to heaven on our own, this comfortable, self-help gospel is more discouraging than the previous one. Not only have we abandoned what the Bible truly says about our sinfulness, but we have necessarily abandoned what the Bible says about the depth of God's love and grace, no longer extended to sinners, but to moderate saints.

     To put God's grace in all its perfection in glory into perspective, we must see our sin for what it is. Without the contrast of our own pointless effort, God's grace is simply a footnote on the page of human effort and achievement, and the result is hell.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


     Several months ago, our church was approached with the idea of going on a missions trip to Malawi, Africa. Probably twenty people attended the first meeting showing some interest, but when it came right down to it, because of finances, busy schedules, and other things, only two of us will be able to go in January, God willing.

      During these past few months as I've told people that I was planning to go to Malawi in January, I've heard some interesting responses, as have my parents. When people talk to me, they kind of expect a teenager to have some nutty dreams, but for parents to actually let their teenager go try out this nutty dream to see if it really is God's will for him to live the nutty dream, that's another story. So my parents have had to put up with the questioning from people more than I have.

      Last night, my parents told me that I better be thinking up some sort of response to people who cry, "What about America" or "what about Ebola?" This post is both to say what I think to those reading this blog and to help get a response in my mind for when I have to talk about this to questioning people.

      Let's start off with an easy one. "What about Ebola?" What about it? Africa is a continent big enough to hold more than three entire continental United States in it. There's plenty of room in a continent that size for Ebola to be in one corner and not in the rest. Plus, we have Ebola in the US. In fact, those in the US will be closer to Ebola patients than I will be in Malawi.

      The next question is a much tougher one. "Why? Why would you want to go to Africa?" This is going to be kind of a long, involved answer, so stay with me. One of atheist's best arguments against Christians is that we are hypocrites. We don't practice what Jesus said, so we probably don't actually believe it to be true. And sadly, they have a point. They're right in many cases. Many Christians are hypocrites; in fact, we all probably are in one way or another.

      Part of the reason I am going to Malawi is that I want to be a follower of Christ, not just a Christian. Let me explain. There's a group of people who get saved simply for heaven, simply so they won't go to hell when they die. Just add Jesus to their life as a good resolution, just like adding a gym to their life, and voila, their eternal destiny is secure. That is by far the prevalent attitude among Christians today. We follow Jesus for what He can get us out of, not for what He has called us to do.

      However, if you actually read the Bible, I think it's hard to miss that that's not what Jesus taught. In fact, Jesus rarely used the phraseology that we Christians like to use today, like "get saved." Jesus most of the time spoke of it as "follow Me." The Christianity Jesus taught is radically different from the one many of us want to believe in today (Lk. 9:57-63). So, my point is that if I want to be a Christian the way Jesus wants us to be Christians, it involves more than salvation. It involves more than just calling on the name of the Lord. Sure, that's all it takes for forgiveness of sins, but it shouldn't stop there.

      Jesus was very clear about his world agenda (Acts 13:47, Ps. 96:3, Rom. 10:13-15, Lk. 24:47, Matt. 24:14) in Scripture. So, when I have felt God leading toward the mission field, it really gives a pretty clear-cut picture. God issues universal commands to Christians to spread His name across the whole world, meaning that some Christians will have to leave to get this accomplished elsewhere. God issues personal commands to some, I believe myself included, to spread His name to the further reaches of the world, beyond where I live and am comfortable. I'm guessing 95% of Christians believe somebody else will do it, somebody not their son, not their daughter, not their cousin, or their parents.

     If I've made a logic mistake in this chain of thought, please show me. The simple truth of the matter is that we, as Christians, have the only means for thousands to escape hell forever. To say that it is inconvenient or stupid to take this news to other parts of the world is to me wrong. If I truly wish to follow Jesus Christ in a life devoid of hypocrisy, then I must follow where He leads and do what He says, right? What I sense from some is a double standard: if I a.) go on the mission field, then I'm acting impulsive and radical, or b.) stay at home, then I'm a hypocrite. If I have to choose, I'll be an impulsive radical.

      I guess I'll address the last issue I heard raised about this topic: "What about America?" Good point, America needs the gospel too. But c'mon, man, look around you! There are churches everywhere, literally Bibles by the thousands in book stores, homeless shelters and charity programs, along with government assistance here in America. Are these people honestly saying that we need to get America perfect before Christians move on to help others in other countries?

      For example, the place I'll be staying most of the time in Malawi is an orphanage. In America, we have the government funded orphanages, and Child Protective Services in case of abuse in the home. Malawi, although it officially has a social services wing, certainly can't keep up with everything, since even we in America can't do that. This orphanage grows its own food to support itself. In America, we have dozens of Christian orphanages across our country to help people in need, helped by church support and government funding. Malawi has very few of these advantages, and what they do have, they have on a smaller scale. Everything, that is, except number of orphans. Compared to America's estimated 120,000 orphans, which we'll toss in the estimated 400,000 kids with no permanent home in the US, look at Malawi's estimated 1,000,000 orphans. Malawi, a little country the size of the state of Pennsylvania, has twice the number of orphans, if we consider US kids with no permanent home as orphans, as the US does, almost nine times as many if we don't count the 400,000.

      Does this answer the question? The real question is not why would I go, it's why aren't more "Christians" going. When we look at Jesus command in 1 Jn. 3:17, we see this, "And whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?" This verse shows that those of us in disagreement on this topic can learn from each other. Those who think the US is the only country that matters should keep in mind that our brothers in Christ are not limited to the US. Those who think our only ministry is overseas should remember that our brothers in Christ are not limited to Africa. Our ministry is our love, both to the people of the United Sates and the people of Malawi.

      Lastly, I want my life to be in complete surrender to Jesus Christ. Atheists have good reason to feel contempt for many of our versions of Christianity, because they are right, many times it is indeed hypocrisy. Too many times we love Jesus for the warm, gushy feeling of religion and good morality that he gives us. Too many times we love Jesus for the sole purpose of escaping hell, then go back to our normal, comfortable, typical American lives, leaving no recognizable difference between a Christian and a normal working guy.

      I want my life to be a life for Jesus Christ. If I'm going to call myself a follower of Christ, than that's what I must do, be a follower of Christ. That part's not complicated; it's Biblically pretty clear. Following Jesus involves radical surrender from what most would consider a normal, American life. But that's what it means to follow Him, to love Him.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cat and Dog Theology

    Here's a funny but very true video my brother sent me last night. How often we give into "cat theology."

     On a more serious note, here is an excellent, but a little longer, video on the gospel.

Monday, November 24, 2014


    Ah, yes, the time has arrived to speak on the American tradition of Thanksgiving. We set aside one day a year to pray a super long prayer, stuff our faces with turkey and pie, then watch football. The description sounds typically American, doesn't it?

    Thanksgiving is not a day; it's a lifestyle. We Americans like to make it a holiday, a time for food, football, maybe beer for some, a time for all our typical lavish American-style holidays. And you know the problem with that? All the verses we read in the Bible (Ps. 95:2-3, 1 Chr. 16:34, Col. 3:17) about thanksgiving reflect an attitude of thankfulness that pervades life, not a single day.

     Americans like to categorize too much. Thanksgiving, thinking about blessings, yeah, that's for November. Jesus, little baby, manger, all that jazz, that's for December. I'm not just talking about unbelievers when I say Americans. I'm speaking of us; yeah, us, the "good" churched people, the people who get together on Sunday and complain about how my head aches, my muscles are sore, my chemistry teacher is horrible, and I hate English class.

     Have you ever noticed how up in arms Christians get about elections? I had a girl telling me that I needed to do my Christian duty during the last election by posting reminders to get out and vote on my Facebook page, something which I do not have. Somehow, Christians have gotten the idea that voting is a Christian's duty from some pretty scant Biblical evidence. Yet we march through Thanksgiving without even a second thought toward the idea of gratefulness toward God, something pretty plainly taught in Scripture. You don't see reminders for two months coming from church, websites, email, and Facebook reminding you to get out and be thankful!

     Why is that? As I'm writing this, I can only think of one reason (that may be because it's really late at night, who knows) for why we Christians think so much more of election day, and Veteran's Day, and Family Game Night than we do for the real meaning behind Thanksgiving. It's because we like the complicated. We like the big, grandiose ideas. We will reform America, from Congress to the White House, yay, applause. We honor veterans because of their sacrifice (and they richly deserve our respect; don't get me wrong) by recognizing them in church. Gratitude, on the other hand, generally is so common place it just slips through our line of sight as we read our devotions or listen to sermons.

     Gratitude isn't big. It isn't grandiose. It won't put you on the front page of your local newspaper. It's not an amazing groundbreaking idea or theological discovery. It's the simple, everyday, mundane times in life; those times it's easier to just let loose and unleash. It's those days you spill salsa down your white shirt; the day you get a flat tire on the way to church when you're supposed to sing the special; the day you sleep through your alarm on that busy school day; the day you do all of the above things on the same day; the day everything in you wants to scream out, "Why is life like this?!"

     Yeah, I know it's not earth-shattering. Maybe you already do it. Maybe you've always done it. Maybe you're one of those naturally up-beat personalities. I'm not, and this is for me. Gratitude for what we've been given seems like a cut-and-dried, not-contested idea, but for some reason, we don't do it. Maybe we do the condensed thanksgiving prayer before meals, right? "Father, thank you for this day, and thank you for this food, and for all your many blessings, and help me and my..."

      Normally, I would say take this week and think about gratitude, but that's exactly what I don't want you to do. Being thankful on Thanksgiving, although still probably not the norm, isn't unusual. What I think God wants us to do is be thankful in all things, whether that be what we consider good or bad, sickness or health, victory or loss. Don't save gratitude for one day of the year. Thank God for His blessings, His grace, His love, His mercy, His justice, and His salvation.

      Make gratitude your lifesong. Live a life that is grateful for the little things, the mundane things, and live one that can still sing during the storm because of the joy of little blessings, the little blessings people walk by and miss, the ones people hurry past to get to work or church that much faster. Make gratitude the tune you sing your life to. And those of you who know me and see me constantly, hold me to this.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Good Quotes

     I just ran across these good quotes from Rich Mullins; yes, again!

     “I would like to encourage you to stop thinking of what you're doing as ministry. Start realizing that your ministry is how much of a tip you leave when you eat in a restaurant; when you leave a hotel room whether you leave it all messed up or not; whether you flush your own toilet or not. Your ministry is the way that you love people. And you love people when you write something that is encouraging to them, something challenging. You love people when you call your wife and say, 'I'm going to be late for dinner,' instead of letting her burn the meal. You love people when maybe you cook a meal for your wife sometime, because you know she's really tired. Loving people - being respectful toward them - is much more important than writing or doing music.”

       “I have attended church regularly since I was less than a week old. I've listened to sermons about virtue, sermons against vice. I have heard about money, time management, tithing, abstinence, and generosity. I've listened to thousands of sermons. But I could count on one hand the number of sermons that were a simple proclamation of the gospel of Christ."

       “We were given the Scriptures to humble us into realizing that God is right, and the rest of us are just guessing.”

                                         Rich Mullins

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Some Good Quotes

     Although I've never had the pleasure to read this book by C.S. Lewis, it's certainly on my list of soon-to-be-reads. These quotes are from the book The Screwtape Letters. The perspective is that of an elder demon writing to a younger, less experienced demon. I think these are some very interesting quotes from an alternate, unusual perspective.

     “It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”

       “It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

       Here are some other good quotes from C.S. Lewis from his book Mere Christianity, another book on my soon-to-be-read list.

       “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

       “A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is... A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.”

       “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on thing and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something that is above you.”


Friday, November 21, 2014

The Prodigal Son (Part 3)

     Today, we will touch on the last character in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. This guy usually goes untouched in most analyses of this passage, although if you have grown up in independent or Southern Baptist circles, you may have heard one before. This is by far the most skipped over of the three characters. He is the responsible older brother.

     In a way, I think this really fits life well. I know in the case of our family, my parents had kids in two batches, with ten years between the two sets. The older of both pairs of kids were the more responsible. I don't know if this is true in every case, but I do think it's not uncommon for the older siblings to be the more responsible.

      The same is true in this parable. While the younger son demands money and leaves for the far country, we see the older son dutifully stay and apparently continue his responsibilities (v. 29). Apparently, this was the annoying older sibling that many youngest siblings complain of; you know, the one who is amazingly responsible and well-behaved.

      My brother used to be one of those people. He's gotten a little bit more relaxed in the last few years, but I still remember that he was the biggest proponent of me getting my own bedroom and not sharing his with him anymore. Why? Because I left my jammies out every day. Yes, I know, my sin was great!

      The point I'm trying to make though is that this was the good guy. He was responsible and apparently hard-working. As the younger brother leaves, we see the older brother stays, takes care of the family business, and apparently stays in submission to his father, even going so far as to say that he has not neglected a single commandment of his father later in the chapter (Lk. 15:29). Any way you look at it, this was that annoying brother who always did everything right!

      So, why am I talking about him today? In the parable, the older brother seems almost like a footnote pinned onto the end, an after-thought almost. The reason? Because Jesus was specifically targeting a different group of people with this part of the parable. So far, Jesus has been speaking to the crowds. In v. 1-2, we see that we have a conglomeration of people around him, publicans and sinners sitting next to Pharisees and scribes.

      So, not discounting that the entire parable was meant for everyone, because I think it was, it's not hard to figure out that Jesus was targeting the sinners with the first part of the parable. The younger son's wild, immoral living, his disrespect for the father, the father's continual love, and the son's eventual restoration were probably specifically aimed at the publicans and sinners there, although they also hit the Pharisees and scribes. The second part of the parable, the part I'm discussing today, specifically hits the Pharisees.

      This part of the story begins in v. 25, and we see the first mention of the older brother here. V. 11 mentions that there are two sons, but Jesus has up until now made no other mention of the oldest. And here we see the counterpart of the Pharisees, the outwardly law-abiding, civil, responsible hypocrite.

       Here was a man who was outwardly the model Jew. Obedient to his father, honoring the family traditions, not demanding of his own rights, etc. This was the guy who the Pharisees would sympathize with more than anyone else mentioned. They weren't the horrid sinner that the younger brother was, and they didn't see the need for a merciful, loving Father since they themselves were doing fine on their own.

       But the older brother's response to his brother's return is amazing, yet so true to our human nature. It's the same response we see from the workers in the vineyard in Matt. 20. Lk. 15:28 says, "And he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you so that I might celebrate with my friends, but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him.'"

       I think the stab at the Pharisees is very clear. Their anger over Jesus' apparent acceptance of former sinners into his following (Lk. 5:27) would probably have been well known among the masses of people gathered to hear Jesus. And his attack on them in the parable would have been just as hard to miss. Just as the older brother was angry that his sinner brother was receiving all the benefits, nay, more than he, the dutiful brother was, the Pharisees said the same thing. Why would Jesus promise a light burden and never ending life to the masses while ignoring the letter-of-the-law abiding Pharisees?

      I think it's very clear that the Pharisees had the heart of the older brother. Outwardly dutiful, inwardly feeling entitled to good things and happiness on his own merit. Yet, before we are too quick to point the finger at the Pharisees, let's examine ourselves. How often do we get upset that others receive blessings from God when they are "worse" people than we are? Is that judgmental attitude any worse than the Pharisees?

      I think we American Christians replicate the Pharisees in more ways than we care to admit. And I think the tendency to feel entitled to God's grace because of our "moral" lives, more entitled than the beggar under a bridge or the prostitute downtown, runs rampant in our comfortable, American Christianity. But what we don't realize is that by its very definition, grace must be unmerited. It must be completely external of any actions of our own.

      We want to act like the vineyard workers of Matt. 20. We want to get more grace, more mercy, more blessings because we've acted better, or were more spiritual, or prayed more, or read our Bibles more than the poor Haitian woman born in the slums. But the beauty of grace is that God is not handing out grace based on our good deeds. He gives grace to drown our sin, to not only remove our sin, but to replace it with his own righteousness.

      For some reason we just don't get it. Reading your Bible doesn't get you an inch closer to heaven. Giving to the poor, opening the door for ladies, being a good moral person leaves you just as far short of heaven as when you started, maybe further because of our pride and self-reliance in our actions. It is only when we come on our knees, as a sinner, equal to that adulteress, that murderer, this person, or that person, that we get grace. It is only by our repentance, not only for our sin, but for our reliance on our own morality for atonement, that we receive God's grace.

      So often, we feel as if we deserve more because of our own actions, and we don't. That was the error of the Pharisees and the older brother in this parable. It is only when we come to the Father saying "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son" that we actually realize who we truly are, not a good person who slips up every once in a while, but a rebel, a murderer of God's own son. And that is where God's grace comes.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Convicting Video

     The video speaks for itself, so I'll just briefly give credits. The song is "Tears of the Saints" by Leeland Mooring, and the voice of the person speaking is John Piper.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Investing Time (Part 2)

     I was not intending to come back and write a second part on the previous post I wrote entitled Investing Time. However, this is the biggest thing God really did talk to me about on the trip to Indiana that I took last week. Honestly, I'm not sure how I got this from the time I spent up there. That I remember no speaker preached on the topic, and Stephen (our "youth pastor") only touched on it briefly.

     This is going to focus on a completely different aspect of investing time than the post several weeks ago. The focus of that post was investing time in other people. Today's post will center on the idea of spending time with God. Anyone reading this who happened to be in my Sunday School class last Sunday heard what I told the class. This will be a more in-depth statement here than I had the time or words to say then.

      On the trip to Indiana, we drove for about 34 hours there and back. Imagine eight guys, one mom (poor lady), and an untitled, unpaid youth pastor stuck in a van together for 34 hours. Out of necessity, we all got to the end of the trip knowing each other a lot better than when we all climbed into the van. Why? Because we spent time together, whether we liked it or not! And the fact that I had that time with those guys drew us closer together.

      For some reason though, I've always seemed to think my relationship with God is different, that I will somehow get to know Him well by praying before meals and doing a compulsory Bible reading in the morning. But it doesn't work that way, with friendships or with God.

      You can learn all the facts you want about God, Bible trivia, Bible stories, theology, etc. Those things may help you understand God, but they don't build that relationship where you can hear God's voice. You can have all the facts in the world and still have no relationship with God. And with no relationship, facts are worthless.

      So in this post, I'm going to try to make some suggestions that may or may not help you spend time with God. I think how we draw closer to God is often affected by our personalities, meaning that while I may find a day in the woods to be a therapeutic, spiritual experience, it wouldn't be for my mother. She hates the woods. I may be able to spend time praying and so on outside, she would just be thinking about getting away from the mosquitoes and ticks. On the other side of the coin, she can do her quiet time in her bed after she gets up or at her bathroom sink. When I try to do devotions where there's stuff around me, I can't concentrate. When I'm in bed, I go to sleep. So, to each his own! My purpose here is simply to give some suggestions.

      First off, find a quiet spot and set it aside as the spot you will do devotions. You don't have to do it there every time, but it does help get your mind in focus. I remember an amazing time with God I had once down by the lake in the back of our subdivision during a storm. It was probably the closest to God I have ever felt, and I remember it crystal clearly. Anyhow, every time I walk by that spot, I remember that time. And whenever I have something really troubling me, I head down to that spot just to pray and think.

      I'm not saying have your quiet time there every day unless you want to. I don't. I have mine there maybe once every few months. Still, I would set aside a spot where you can go, free of distraction, preferably away from other people, and just pray, read, and listen.

      Secondly, this may seem like a clear-cut help already, but still, take the time to do it. I realize we're busy and we don't have time all the time to just sit for an hour. I'm not saying do it every day (although that would be great); I'm just saying take the time to calm down, and listen. Picture talking to a friend. Do you ever pour out your heart to a friend that is tapping his foot, ready to go as soon as your done? No, because you can tell he's not interested and he doesn't really care. When we're already thinking about where we're going next, we miss what God would show or say to us now. So set aside some time to spend with God where you can just ignore the clock.

      My brother and I were talking on the phone today, and I'm going to bring this up to emphasize what I said earlier. We were talking about how to he and I, a day in the woods actually makes us feel closer to God than a day in church. Why? Because it's time that we're alone, not talking, not listening to music or preaching, but completely alone that God speaks to us the most.

      Why did I tell you this? Because, as I said earlier, each of us have different needs. My brother and I both feel the need to get back in the woods and "recharge" if it's been a while. Others wouldn't find a day in the woods spiritual in the least. So don't go out into the woods expecting great messages from God if you hate the woods. There's nothing sacred about the forest. That's just how God speaks to me. He may speak to you differently; I'm just trying to get you to take the time and find out.

      Thirdly, I want to mention that quiet time can be just that, quiet. You don't have to read your Bible, pray, or sing to be with God. When I'm in Georgia fishing some little stream in the middle of nowhere, I feel like I'm with God, even though I don't have a Bible on me and singing is the furthest thing from my mind. I may even be praying in my head; I don't know. Just take quiet time to spend with God, time to listen to Him.

      Lastly, I want to bring up one last maybe helpful idea. I really appreciate how honest our leader was with us. All of us know how when you're at a camp like that, you get that super spiritual, walking on air, flying through clouds feeling, right? When we'd finished one particularly good session and we all felt super spiritual, he got us all together for a meeting afterward and told us that we were all feeling great now, but by Monday, our enthusiasm would die down and we would be back to our normal lives, and if we didn't change something, we would go right back to the way we were before.

      And he was right. Monday came and went without me really spending any time in the Bible. Tuesday I spent hardly any, and I wound up reading the Bible at 12:00 at night. Needless to say, I got very little out of it. Today, I didn't spend much time in it. You know why. 'Cause the high is gone. I don't feel super spiritual right now. I don't feel like God is sitting next to me. I feel all the pressure, music lessons, school, taekwondo deadlines, CLEP tests, being sick, all the things that I was so far away from at the conference, coming back, and I'm fighting myself not just to drop into bed tonight without reading the Bible. And this is why my youth pastor's advice was so good.

      His advice? When you don't feel like, just suck it up and do it. It's not going to be fun all the time. You're not always gonna feel that close to God. There are days you may not want to pray, or sing, or read Scripture. And you know what you have to do? Just suck it up and do it.

      His advice was pretty sound. I've just begun trying to learn some guitar chords, something I've always wanted to do. And after just two days, the fingers of my left hand that have been attempting to hold down the strings hurt every time they touch anything. And you know what you do then? Yeah, that's right, suck it up and just do it. I remember my taekwondo coach sending several of us guys an email with a picture of a man doing pushups, just sweating and the veins of his neck bulging. The little caption underneath read, "Shut up and train."

      All these little anecdotes are for the same reason. If you want to be closer to God, you've gotta spend the time, investing it. If you want relationships, you have to invest the time, not always fun time. The strongest friendships I have haven't come overnight. It takes time, and not all the time was fun.

      This isn't the most light-hearted post I've ever written, but I hope in some strange way it encouraged you. I hope it encouraged you to go spend time with God. So find your quiet place. It can be a certain tree in your yard, a certain corner of your room, or a certain cove on a lake; it doesn't really matter. The important thing is that you take the time to listen to your creator.

The Prodigal Son (Part 2)

     Today, I'm going to continue the series I started yesterday on the parable of the prodigal son. Yesterday, I focused on the prodigal himself; today, I will focus on the father, by far the most beautiful character of the story. Although the prodigal is apparently the focus and main character of the story, I think Jesus wanted to make an equal impression with His account of the Father.

      The contrast between the son and father couldn't be any more striking. The father's love in contrast to the son's disrespect could not have been missed by his hearers, and I think that's the point of the parable. It's not just to talk about the son's sin, but to talk about the father's love.

      God graciously gave the son the opportunity to do what he demands to do. In the son's free will, he leaves the father. But notice that even in his rebellion, he is dependent on the mercy of the father. In order to get to the far country, he had to ask his father for money! In the same way, we, even when we think we are the most independent from God as is possible to be, must still breathe every breath as an undeserved gift from God.

      I think the most beautiful part of this entire passage is Lk. 15:20. "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him." The idea I see here is that the father was looking up, watching the road his son would be coming back down, and when at last he sees what he was waiting for, he runs to meet his son.

      I didn't really understand the significance of this until I read John MacArthur's book on this parable. I'd always just read that the father ran to meet his son as "well, the father got excited and ran to meet his son, so?" In Jewish culture, men did not run unless they were in battle or a messenger for two reasons. One, they were the patriarch. They had their dignity, something hard to maintain while sprinting across a field like kid. Two, these men wore long robes. In order to run, they had to pull up their robes (much like girls do today). Again, it's very hard to maintain dignity while running across a field like a schoolgirl, with your bare legs showing.

      Point is, running simply was not done by adult, well-to-do men. Yet we see the father, completely careless of any custom or tradition that stands between him and the sinner, dashing, forgetful of dignity, his own status, or that of the sinner's, to his hug his son. To hug his filthy, rebellious son, fresh out of a pigpen. 

      Let's just think about that. Can you imagine the scandal of this in the village? The rebellious, law breaking, stinking son returns home, and the wealthy father runs to meet and hug his son. This love is hard to comprehend. I know whenever I come home from a long taekwondo workout and my mom tries to hug me, I always keep her away until after I shower, because I stink! I can't even imagine what this guy must have smelled like.

      Not only was it a bad smell, but even the smell was a defiance of the law. The law demanded no contact with pigs, and here was a guy who smelled like one, literally! And in hugging the sinner to himself, the father bears the same stigma, the same reproach of the smell with the son. 

      Hmmm, have we heard something like that somewhere else in the Scripture? A rebellious sinner, a loving Father, an innocent God bearing the reproach for a sinful man, then adorning the man with His own robe and ring, then showering him with blessings? Sound familiar?

      And yet again, we see God's grace. We see a son who in most Jewish families would have been disowned by the father instead greeted and showered with good things from the hand of the Father. A robe, an article of clothing that would have completely covered his nakedness, a ring, showing his son-ship status once again, and sandals, giving protection. A fatted calf, to provide for his need of hunger. We see the Father loving the undeserving son way beyond what we would call fair! This is a feast!

      I think this was one of Jesus' points of this parable. Not only was He attempting to show the son's (Israel and all mankind's) rebellion, but He also wanted to show in the same motion the father's (God's) love, despite our rebellion. It's a beautiful picture, if we take the time to read it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Prodigal Son (Part 1)

     Today is going to be the first installment in a series about the story of the prodigal son, a parable by Jesus that is probably known to everyone reading this blog. To me, this is one of Jesus' most beautiful parables. In contrast to many of Jesus' other parables, this one doesn't just focus on one topic. This parable touches on hypocrisy, God's love, and man's depravity.

      I'll be up front about this parable. I love this parable. Jesus touches on hypocrisy, sin, forgiveness, and love in the same parable, rebuking the Pharisees, giving hope to the sinners, and praising the Father all in the same motion.

      Today, I'll be speaking about the character that gets the most emphasis in the story itself, the prodigal son. In this story, the prodigal son is the bad guy, the sinner, the rebel. That's how Jesus gives hope to sinners that the Father still loves them, even through their sin.

      We see the prodigal son begin the parable (Lk. 15:11-32) with greed and amazing disrespect. "The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the portion of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them." I honestly cannot picture any son asking his father for his inheritance, not only before his father's death, but to his face! This guy was brazen!

      V. 13-14 really sums up the prodigal's life. He got as far as he could from his father, abandoned Jewish law, and seemingly turned himself over to whatever he wanted to do. We don't know how long he was away, but we do see that he completely runs himself out of money. The fact that the father states that there was a fatted calf to be slaughtered, a ring to put on the son's finger, and a robe to adorn him with later in the chapter means that this was a family of means. According to Levitical law, the younger son got half the portion of the oldest son. Since there were two sons, the older would have received two-thirds, and the younger one-third, still a large chunk of cash. That should really show the amount of wild living this young man was doing to demand what was probably a very large sum of money.

      V. 15 really shows how far this young man had fallen. To a Jew, pigs, and any work involving pigs, was the lowest of the low. A practicing Jew would never have had anything to do with pigs. So this means one of two things: 1.) the prodigal was so hungry and destitute that he no longer cared or 2.) the prodigal had long since forsaken his religion, so going on more step further against the law was no problem. Either way, this guy is as low as you can go. When you, as a Jew, are considering eating pods (v. 16), which I've read is actually indigestible for humans, that belongs to the pigs, it's not really possible to go much lower.

      That's who this parable is representing: the sinner who holds out as long as they can against God, the sinner who tries everything until he has exhausted all other avenues of possible escape, the sinner who is willing to take God's mercy in letting him live, then squander it by abusing the love shown to him, the sinner so scarred by sin that he looks for any way possible but back to the father's arms. That is the main character of the tale, a sinner so low and disgusting most Jews would simply avert their eyes.

      Jesus' point cannot be missed in this parable. The depravity of man is impossible to miss as we read this. This guy is not kinda sinful, sorta sinful, or maybe sinful. He's just plain sinful! Jesus' point to the crowd was very clear; salvation is offered to the very worst of the worst. It's offered to those who have sinned terribly, to those who have rejected God before, to those who have turned their back on God's precepts, to those alienated from their own friends and people.

      That's beautiful grace. A grace that is offered, not just to the "good", but to the bad. A grace that isn't for the "clean", but for the dirty. A grace that is seen as pointless until we see our fault, our sin, our rebellion, just as the prodigal did in the pigpen. A grace that loves the unlovable, the outcasts, the sinners. A grace that stands forever, in stark contrast to man's blind indifference to the Father's love. That's grace.

      Obviously, I'm leaving off the happy ending. Tomorrow I will discuss the father in the story, and necessarily, the ending. The good news of the father's love means nothing until after the bad news of the son's rebellion.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Quick Quote

     "What would it look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over a half century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia, all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say 'Yes, sir' and 'No, ma'am', and the churches would be full every Sunday...where Christ is not preached."
                                                       Michael Horton, Christless Christianity

      It's very easy to make Christianity a list of do's and don't's that should be done to make your life run more smoothly, or to give you purpose. It's very easy to skip over man's sin and instead focus on our own abilities and personal achievements. But that's not Christianity, and it's certainly not the gospel. True gospel is a stumbling block, a "rock of offense". And in our efforts to remove the offensive part of Christianity, we've removed the most pivotal part, Christ himself.

      Below is my favorite song by Christian artist Michael Card. Although the song was written in the 1980's, I think the message is still true today.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Real Me

     Today, my Sunday school teacher spoke at length about the double life many of us lead on the internet. How? Because you can act much more spiritual than you really are when you can polish and edit everything before actually posting it. You can take the time to think out the most spiritual way to say something.

      Today's post is an effort to put out there who the real Taylor B. is. It might be really easy to look at the blog and think that I'm really spiritual or theological (or dumb, maybe you disagree with me). My attempted focus of this blog is Jesus. I don't want anyone here to read this blog because you want to know what Taylor thinks. Read instead to learn about Jesus, to know Him better. That said, my purpose today is to put out there some of my own failings.

      It's really easy to always put the prettiest side of our lives forward. Just ask my brother; he'll tell you I can be a rascal. I don't want to do that. I want anyone reading this to realize just how much I don't know, and I guess that's my first point.

      1.) I don't know everything. I'm sure some of you are out there thinking, "Duh, we all noticed you don't know everything!" The fact of the matter is, I don't know the answer to a lot of things, spiritual or otherwise. And I'll be honest that I really struggle with the fact that I do not understand some things that I believe, or at the very least struggle with the fact that I can't articulate what I believe on certain topics.

      2.) God doesn't always feel like he's sitting next to me. Look, I don't know about other bloggers and writers. They might be more spiritual than me, but honestly, there are times I feel really far away from God. There are days that I don't want to read my Bible, or pray, or sing. There are days I want to forget God even exists.

      3.) There are days when I doubt God. Again, I just read from other people sometimes, and I'm just thinking, "Seriously?" These people are like angels; they have perfect faith, all the time. I'm not like that. I wrestle sometimes with whether or not God is really sovereign, or if He really cares.

      4.) I don't always do things for the right reasons. Although I try not to, I find myself doing a lot of the "good" things I do for the praise of men. It's probably the thing that irritates me the most about myself. I constantly do things, or say things to improve others opinion of myself or my spirituality. True spirituality is done for an audience of One.

      5.) I don't always want to do the right things. I fail, a lot! I make a lot of mistakes, more than my fair share. And there are days I just don't even want to try, that I'm just tired of it all. There are times I just want to sit back and not worry about reading my Bible, or praying. There are days I really wish I could feel peace about teaching taekwondo when I get older. I may feel God leading toward missions, but it would be a ton easier to just do what I really feel like doing.

      6.) There's a side of me that really wants to paint this into a prettier picture than it is. I guess that's why I love God's grace so much. Why God loves me is something I will never figure out. I honestly cannot get over even the basic part of the question, not only why does God love me, but why doesn't he just kill me, or why is He even mindful of my existence. Part of me really wants to make myself look really spiritual. Part of me wants to paint a pretty picture of all my spiritual successes and skip the failures. Part of me wants to skip my depravity and go straight to how great God is without touching on my own failures. Part of me wants to talk about my sin in general terms that never really touch my pride. Part of me wants to walk on tiptoes around my own failures while attacking those I see in others.

      7.) Although in head knowledge I may know that God is in control, I still carry great fear about the future. Who will I marry? What will I do for work? Is missions really God's calling on my life? Am I wasting time I should be using doing something else?

      8.) I don't always here God's voice. Just this last week, I was sitting by a lake praying during the teen conference I attended, and I was wrestling with whether what I was hearing was God leading me in a certain direction or whether that was me convincing myself that it was God telling me to do something that just so happened to line up with what I wanted Him to say. All that to say, I'm not some sort of amazing teen that God is constantly whispering divine messages in my ear or sending me sacred dreams.

      9.) When I do hear God's voice, I too often ignore it. I can't begin to tell someone how many times I have felt God nudge me to give out a tract, or give money to a beggar, or take the time to listen to a friend that needs a willing ear. Again, I'm not a Christian superhero that can see dreams from heaven, then interpret them, and then act on them immediately. I'm more like the guy who wakes up rubbing his eyes going, "Wow, that was a weird dream", then doesn't even think of it again.

      Some of y'all are probably asking, "Why is he writing this?" Truth be told, it's for this simple reason. I want it to all be on the table. I want to be really honest. I want people to know that I'm not an amazing Christian or a really mature teenager. I'm just an average teenager that wants to know God better. You don't have to be an amazing person. You don't have to be perfect. God isn't waiting for you to reach perfection before he extends grace.

      Just today, I was speaking to a friend about our mutual tendencies to criticize ourselves for not being good enough, or not measuring up. This friend mentioned that up against the standard of a perfect sibling, they just don't measure up. And I guess the point that kinda came through after thinking about the conversation was that that's true for all of us. If we line ourselves up against the standard of Christ, we too see that we fall hopelessly short.

      But that's the beauty of God's grace. God isn't standing on the other side of your sin waiting for you to figure it all out and eradicate it before He will speak with you. He wants you. He desires you. He is jealous for you. He longs for communication with you.

      So I wrote this post for two reasons. One, to specify that I too struggle with these things. I'm not immune to temptations and sin, by any stretch of the imagination. Two, I wrote it for the purpose of telling once again the beautiful story of God's redemptive grace over our own sin.

A Favor for a Friend

     Tonight, a friend asked me to post a song on here so that she could listen to it on repeat. So, here it is! This is In the Night by Andrew Peterson, one of my favorite songs by him.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Quick Post

    Tomorrow morning I will be leaving for Indiana until Saturday. The teen conference I will be attending does not allow electronics, so I will not be posting during this week. Please pray that I will be receptive to anything God wants to show me. Also, as I've mentioned, I will be presenting a sermon while I'm there, so again, pray I don't mess up big time! As I mentioned to a friend I really don't want God to be listening going, "Oh, that's bad... Oh, no, nope, nope... Hold on, Taylor, don't say it, AAHH!" Anyhow, please pray for the things mentioned, along with safety during the long drive up there.

Counting the Cost

     I'm leaving on a trip for Indiana next week for a teen conference, and one of the opportunities there is to present a short sermon as a competition for a partial scholarship. Anyhow, as I've been reviewing verses on the topic I'll be speaking about, I've been struck again by how radical Jesus' call to follow Him was.

     Mark 8:34-35 says, "And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, 'Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel's, the same shall save it.'" Is that comfortable or what?

      Think about it. That's not a normal motivational speech. I've heard some motivational talks from coaches in the past, but think about if this one came from a coach. "Anybody who wants to be My disciple has to deny what he wants, take up a symbol of torture and humiliation, and abandon anything standing in the way of our relationship. Oh, and it's not so bad to die." Really?

      That's what Jesus said to the apostles. That seems just a bit on the radical side, doesn't it? So let's look at it a little bit at a time, and really think about what Jesus was saying.

      Let's look at the first part, "let him deny himself". Seems pretty clear-cut on paper, but acting on it sure isn't easy. Just a couple chapters over in Mark 9:35 Jesus says, "...If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and the servant of all." Deny what you want, what's comfortable for you. Deny the desire to be first.

      But look what his suggestion is to replace your desire to promote yourself: a cross. A cross didn't used to be a symbol of Christianity. It wasn't something you hung around your neck. It was the absolute most painful way to die, a sign of Roman occupation of Israel and their cruelty. The Jews absolutely despised the cross. That's the symbol Jesus chose to personify ideal self-denial.

      Lastly, Jesus finishes with a demand I've posted about before, to follow Him. We are to imitate Him and follow His leading and commands. That's what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

      I'm going to close with this thought. In thinking about what I was going to say next week, one of the things that came into my mind was this. When we think about counting the cost of following Jesus (Lk. 14:26-33), it doesn't come naturally, because honestly, we don't have persecution in America. What cost are we counting?

      In Jesus' day, counting the cost was a necessity, not an option. To follow Jesus was not figurative; it was a literal following of Jesus around the country, and doing it involved abandoning what held you back. To some like the disciples, the cost might involve having to abandon family and jobs, for the rich young ruler it would have involved the forfeiture of his wealth and titles, and for Nicodemus it probably cost him a lot of prestige among his associates on the Sanhedrin. Any way you looked at it though, there was a cost, and it was pretty obvious.

      For the first 300 years after Jesus, the cost was pretty clear cut too. You accept Jesus, you become lion food, or a torch for the emperor's garden, or sawed in two, or something like that. Again, accepting Jesus naturally caused you to count the cost since following Jesus might literally mean picking a cross.

      But what is the cost today? Because as much as many Christians say we are persecuted in America, let's be honest and admit that what we experience doesn't qualify as persecution. The Chinese church would beg to differ with anyone who considered America a persecuted church. And the lack of an obvious cost has made us believe salvation is cheap.

      And in a way it is. In fact, it's completely free, devoid of any needed works from you. But the cost of following Jesus after salvation, and the relationship we want to have after our conversion is exactly what Mk. 8:34 said. To deny yourself. To put other's needs above your own. That's the cost of following Jesus today, and before you say, "wow, that's easy", go try it first. It's not as easy as you think (although easier than being lion food)!


Friday, November 7, 2014

The Gospel by Propaganda Petty

     Here's a style of music that I don't particularly care for normally, but in this case, the words outweigh any distaste I may have had in the past for this style. This is one of the clearest yet concise presentations of the gospel, certainly in song, that I've ever heard. This is also the song that I think of when I hear pastors declare that in order for music to be appreciated by God, it must be from a hymnbook. Here's a man using a gift to proclaim the gospel, so listen and appreciate the gospel.

Investing Time

     I've mentioned before here how much I fear we as Christians prefer discussing deep theology over actually applying the things Jesus taught to our lives. Deep theology is great, but the reason it's great is that it increases our understanding of Christ and the gospel, and that understanding should result in fruit.

     I think one of the most neglected areas in my life is patience with other people. There isn't a whole lot that irritates me more than someone rambling on and on about a topic I don't find interesting. I know, kinda selfish, but still! I really struggle with showing patience with other people, sitting still and listening to other people talk, and so on.

     The problem with that is that that is not what I see Jesus doing in the Bible. Jesus, of all people, had the right to pronounce a topic too unimportant for his notice, yet we see him show an astounding quantity of patience with other people (John 4:3-27). I mean, really, you have to have an enormous amount of patience to keep ministering to people who watch you perform miracles but don't believe you're God, or to hear your disciples bickering from the beginning to the end of your ministry about who will be first in Heaven, even down to the Last Supper. We all know how it feels to be trying to teach someone something and they just don't get it. Imagine how often that must have happened to Jesus, who possessed all knowledge, because we see it recorded constantly in the gospels. That's patience!

     What we see Jesus doing constantly is spending time with people, speaking to the crowds one minute (Matt. 5-7), then sitting down the disciples and talking and asking them questions (Mk. 8:27-33, John 14), and later spending time with a Pharisee (John 3), and then some with friends (Lk. 10:38-42), and healing the wounded (Mk 10:46-52). In each of these cases, Jesus is spending time talking to people, pointing them to the gospel and to a further relationship with himself, or addressing a need in their lives, whether that is through a long sermon, or asking questions about their understanding of who He was, or sharing the gospel, or just teaching Mary and Martha, or using his power to heal. In any of those cases, we see Jesus taking time to invest in people.

     I think if we try to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, we should do the same. Take the time to talk to someone about Jesus, discuss a Scripture with some friends, listen to a friend's problems.

     One of the biggest regrets I have was how I responded to a boy I use to train in taekwondo with. This guy's father was out of the picture, was very different from me and had a very different worldview, and the result was, I avoided him at every possible turn. I, unfortunately, did not help my dad plan an fishing outing with him like my dad proposed, mostly because I didn't like how awkward it was to hang out with this guy. I regret that now, strongly, because several months after our discussion about taking him on an outing, this guy tried to commit suicide. He moved away before my Dad and I could talk to him again. Talk about a lost opportunity, and that because I didn't want to be awkward!

     It's really easy to write off people because it may be awkward to listen to their way of life, especially if they're an unbeliever. It's really easy to ignore someone just because we don't want to take the time to listen to them. It's really easy to procrastinate and think, "I'll listen to them when I have more time." That day rarely comes.

     We should take the time to invest in each other's lives. When a friend needs to talk, don't just cut him off and switch the topic. If a friend needs encouragement, give some encouragement. Invest your time in someone else's life. Sure, it may be awkward, but get over it. You'll live, and you'll probably be helping your friend out.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

All Things are Possible

     I love having friends that teach me things. Sure, as they will testify, I will sometimes argue with them for days by email about it, but I do learn things from these discussions. Very often, I make mistakes (just ask my brother; he'll be happy to talk to you), and it's kinda nice to have friends point those mistakes out before someone not-so-friendly points them out!

     Anyhow, all that to say, I have one friend who reminds me of one particular verse constantly. I tend to struggle in the area of trusting God. I tend to forget that God promised to meet my needs and start scrambling to figure what I'm going to do. And every time, without fail, this friend quotes this verse, Mark 10:27, "And Jesus looking upon them saith, 'With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible." And usually, I just kinda sit there with a dumb look on my face thinking, "oh, yeah, why didn't I think of that?"

     That's what I'm going to be talking about today. I think sometimes we acknowledge that this is true in our heads, but not deep down. Intellectually, we may admit that God is all-powerful, but do we practically believe it, enough to apply it to our lifestyle? I mean, seriously, if we believe God can do anything, don't you think that would change how we live? Don't you think we might be a little less concerned with God's calling for us necessarily making sense, and rather place faith in the absolute power of our God?

      Let's be honest, this is a pretty simple verse. Most of us Christians have probably read it or heard it a dozen times, but has it ever made a connection, 'cause it really hadn't clicked for me. "All things are possible." Anything, everything, no single thing is outside the realm of the possible with God.

      The first thing I try to do when I look at an isolated verse like this is go back and look at context. This verse comes right after a question from the disciples about how man can be saved. Jesus response simply reiterated what's been said a lot on this blog recently. "With men, it is impossible". You can't get much clearer than that. By yourself, without God, redemption is impossible.

     Has that made a connection in our minds, that without God, you are totally, utterly, hopelessly lost, and there isn't a thing you can do about it? It's not that salvation without God is unlikely, or really difficult, or uncomfortable; it's impossible. There isn't the most remote chance that you could save yourself.

      The beauty of Christ is that it doesn't stop there. Salvation is made possible through Christ, through His incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. We owe it all to Him. It's not that we can claim an "assist" from God; it's that we owe everything to God: life, joy, peace, salvation. Without Jesus, it's impossible. It's hopelessly out of our reach.

      That's what we owe Christ. Not because He gave us a little help, but because He stepped down into our messed up, sinful world to bring about what was impossible for us to do.

Finally, not Rich Mullins!

     Okay, so here's an Andrew Peterson song I really like. I've been known to have this song going on repeat in my bedroom before, so I tend to have it engrained on repeat in my memory!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A Not-so-quick Quote

     In my opinion, this is one of the best quotes from David Platt's book Radical. I think he makes a very interesting and valid point.

      "...we are afraid of what it might mean for our lives. So we rationalize these passages away. 'Jesus wouldn't really tell us not to bury our father or say good-bye to our family. Jesus didn't literally mean to sell all we have and give it to the poor. What Jesus really meant was...'

      "And this is where we need to pause. Because we are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with.

      "A nice, middle-class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn't mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that He receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, He loves us just the way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that matter, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream.

      "But do you and I realize what we are doing at this point? We are molding Jesus into our image. He is beginning to look a lot like us, because, after all, that is whom we are the most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshiping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshiping ourselves."

                                         -David Platt, Radical

      Is this a demand for every person to go on the mission field or sell everything you have? No, absolutely not. The reason I posted this is as a reminder that we need to look at the Bible and listen to Jesus objectively, as truth, whether or not it agrees with our cultural norms.

      Is it necessarily cool to give money to a beggar? No, in fact, in some cities in Florida, it's illegal! But that should not be the deciding factor in our listening to Jesus' voice. Is it necessarily cool to listen to a friend who's burdened and having trouble at home? No, and it may not be fun. But Jesus didn't guarantee a fun and games life. In fact, He guaranteed the exact opposite.

      The American dream, our personal preferences and comfort zones, and accepted cultural norms should not define our Christianity. That's a position for Jesus Christ alone.

      So, this week, read your Bible objectively. Don't try to interpret it comfortably, or through the lens of acceptance among others. Instead, listen for Jesus' voice. If it tells you to go on the mission field and empty your bank account, great! If he tells you to give $10 bucks to a homeless guy or let a friend talk your ear off, awesome!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why are You far from me?

    One of the things that I struggle with the most is the feeling that God is far away. One of the things I try to do on this blog is be honest. And honestly, very often, I feel very far from God. And again, honestly, there are times that I don't feel like reading my Bible, or praying, or singing, or even blogging about theology.

     We all know the high you get after a teen conference, or an especially convicting sermon, when you feel really close to God. And I'll admit, the feeling is awesome. You have faith in God, you're trusting His will, you're listening to Him, Bible reading is fun, and praying just comes naturally. The problem is that, as enjoyable as it is, those times are probably not the norm.

      In Ps. 10:1 we see David having the identical feeling. David certainly had his times of feeling very close to God, as we see throughout the Psalms (Ps. 11, 18, 23, etc.). However, very often, as in Ps. 10, we see David with that low feeling of a distant God, one that didn't really hear him. V. 1 says, "Why do You stand afar off, O Lord? Why do you hide Yourself in times of trouble?" I've certainly felt that way before, when you just stand there and say, "Where are you, God?" A similar verse is just over in Ps. 13:1, "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?"

      First off, it's comforting to me that David, the man after God's own heart, also had that feeling. But it also tells me that it will happen at some point throughout your life. So what should we do when that feeling comes on?

      The thing that helps me is the realization that my feelings do not define the truth. Very often, I've felt fear walking into something completely safe because of my own false illusions.So my relationship with God should not necessarily depend on how close I happen to feel at the moment. The feeling that God is far away does not make that statement true.

      David's peace, even during those times when he stood wondering where God was, came from His knowledge of God's love and sovereignty, not from a feeling that God was close. V. 15-18 show David's hope despite God's seemingly being far away. "The Lord is King for ever and ever; Nations have perished from His land. O Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear, to vindicate the orphan and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror."

      What is David's response? Peace. Rest. Why? Because even when our feelings say that God is far away, the Scriptures show us He has heard. David states in v. 16 that God has heard his cry. That is the basis for my faith, not my feelings. My basis for my faith in God is a knowledge of the nature of Christ over my own feelings.

      Obeying God when we're not on that spiritual high shows that we're obeying for the right reason. When we obey God on the high, that's great, but natural. I'm a guy, so I'll use an example that makes sense for me. If a guy likes a girl, it's natural to be nice to her when she's paying attention to you, right? But it really shows whether or not you really like her when you do nice things for her that she will never notice, things that don't get instant recognition.

      It's natural to obey God when you have that high feeling that you're about a foot away from heaven and sitting in the very presence of God. It's fairly easy to obey, right? But the difficulty is when God seems far away, and it's really easy to fall into the temptation that God won't care 'cause He's not paying attention. Maybe you tell yourself that you'll repent of it after you've had your fun and you're ready for the next spiritual "high". But the truth is that you show your love for God by obeying even when you don't feel His breath down the back of your neck.

      So if you're going through one of those times, don't be discouraged. It's part of the Christian walk, not that God has abandoned you because you're a terrible person. Just keep obeying, keep listening. This is one of those things that I have to tell myself constantly, because I fall for those temptations above more than anybody else reading this. Rest. You're status with Jesus isn't dependent on feelings, but on Jesus' work on the cross. You're secure, whether you feel it or not. God is still sovereign.



Step by Step

     Okay, you're probably tired of Rich Mullins by now, but here goes. Here's another of my favorite songs by Mullins. (As a musician, that's frustrating. He's not even using sheet music, or even looking!)

Awesome God

     One of the problems we as humans struggle with that God shows perfection in is the area of balance. Not physical balance, but spiritual balance. We see that too often we either think only of God as a supremely sovereign, righteous Judge and thus fear Him, or only of a meek, forgiving Jesus from a manger and thus lose all fear of Him. The problem? God isn't limited to only one manifestation of His attributes.

     God shows complete perfection in how he is completely balanced in all His ways. For example, He is supremely just and at the same time absolutely merciful. How is it possible that God can be seemingly opposite in several areas yet not contradictory? Very simply, He's God. He wrote the rules! But at the same time, in a way, it makes sense. If God was completely just, would He really draw us to love Him? No, we'd all be dead. If God was completely merciful, would we fear Him for His power? No. So in order to be perfect, God must have the balance of attributes that we humans do not have.

     The point of today's post is to point out the side of God that I usually don't mention when I speak on grace: God's awesome power. I believe the entirety of the Bible is the message of the Gospel, and thus, references to God's awesome power build our perception of the Gospel, just as Romans or Galatians does. Toward the end of the post I'll show how this particular attribute of God once again contributes to the enormity of His grace.

     Job 38 is, to me, one of the most jaw-dropping chapters of the Bible. Elihu has just finished his long speech to Job when God decides to step in. I would encourage you to read the whole three chapter section, but here are some of the most eye opening verses in chapter 38. V. 1-4,7-8,12, 17 states, "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said, 'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, And I will ask you, and you instruct me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?.. When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy. Or who enclosed the sea with doors when, bursting forth, it went out from the womb... Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, and caused the dawn to know its place?.. Or have the gates of death been revealed to you, or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?'"

     That is just a quick overview of the absolutely breath-taking argument that God presents Job. I want to stop for a moment and look at what he actually says there. The first thing God points out is Creation, the power it would have taken to create ex nihilo, out of nothing.

     The next verse makes the claim that when creation occurred, the stars and the angels sang out for joy. Look at the immense power demonstrated here. Even the angels, powerful beings though they are, saw the works of God and shouted. Can we do any less?

      God next sarcastically asks Job where he was when He enclosed the sea. Think about that. I, for one, really am not a big fan of the ocean. I'll go, and I'll have fun, but the ocean's raw expanse and power scares me to a certain degree, and I'm not scared of much! Think about the absolute power it would take to stop water rushing through a gap in a dam, much less the entire waters of the oceans. This is what God did. I can't even imagine that kind of strength.

      Next statement is probably even more jaw-dropping. Have any of us humans ever commanded morning to dawn, or shaped a day for our own plans? God's control doesn't cease at earth; He reigns over the entire universe, and He shapes for His will.

      The final verse I mentioned to me is the most amazing. Even death is no obstacle to God. The gates of death are open to Him, because His power reigns. It reminds me of one of my favorite verses, Ps. 139:8, "If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, you are there. If I take the wings of the dawn, If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, Even there Your hand will lead me, And your right hand will lay hold of me." God's power is infinite, even over evil. Think about that. Hell, the epitome of evil and darkness, is an open door before God.

      I'm going to shift over to Psalm 97, another awesome chapter, so I'm going to write down v. 2-5, 9. "Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. Fire goes before Him and burns up His adversaries round about. His lightnings lit up the world; The earth saw and trembled. The mountains melted like wax at the presence of the Lord, At the presence of the Lord of the whole earth... For you are the Lord Most High over all the earth; You are exalted far above all gods."

     Once again we see descriptions of God's power. Fire goes before God to consume His foes, fog surrounds Him to shield His holiness from our eyes, He sends lightning throughout the whole earth, and the earth trembles before Him.

     I think my very favorite place I've ever been is the Colorado Rockies. My family take a trip there every year, and every year I'm amazed at God's creation there. The mountains are just so majestic. But look at what the Psalmist says. These mountains, even the big (for Colorado) 14,000 footers melt like wax before God. Wax! Soft, impressionable wax! 14,000 foot tall rock formations are soft as wax before God.

      But how does this tie into God's grace, 'cause we all know that's my emphasis on this blog? Here's how: the greater the power of the individual wronged, the greater the punishment toward the wrongdoer, right?

     Let me give an example. Let's say there's a bully in the gym, and he just looses it. He just lets loose and belts Billy Bob in the mouth. Now, here's the way this goes. If Billy Bob is 85 pounds, 4'5" and exercises once a leap year, the bully will probably get away scot-free. What if Billy Bob is 6'8" though, weighs 260 pounds, and is a world heavy-weight boxer? Well, our little bully friend is going to have a bad day, won't he?

     Why? Because he wronged someone of immense power. That's why a proper understanding of God's power influences our appreciation of His grace. If God was a weak God who couldn't punish you anyway, would His grace mean much? If 85 pound Billy Bob forgave the bully, would the bully appreciate that much?

     But what if linebacker Billy Bob forgives the bully. Suddenly, forgiveness means a lot more, because Billy Bob has the power to enforce justice or grace, yet he chose to show mercy.

     That's what makes God's grace so amazing. He doesn't forgive us because He doesn't have the power to see justice done; no, he forgives us because of His boundless love despite His power. And that should increase our appreciation for His mercy. God forgave our rebellion, went a step further and covered us with himself, even though He had the power to extract every last penny of retribution. That's why grace is so amazing. That's why we should never be able to get over it!