Jesus

This Week's Recommendations

This Week's Recommendations

1.      Let the Children Get Bored Again: Pamela Paul speaks wisdom to our age that runs from boredom, "Boredom teaches us that life isn’t a parade of amusements. More important, it spawns creativity and self-sufficiency."

2.      Survey Says That Evangelism is Far More Prayed For Than Practiced: Aaron Earls shares the results of a recent survey that ought to call us to boldly speak the gospel to our neighbor.

3.      Guard Your Heart From Adultery: Robert Wolgemuth reflects on how seriously we ought to take any hint of adultery in our marriages: "When you are hiding a secret from your wife, this qualifies as “for worse.” You feel this in your gut. It keeps you awake at night..What’s for certain, however, is that the situation you’re putting yourself in is going to have an impact on you. It’s inescapable. Keeping secrets is like standing chest-deep in water, trying to hold a beach ball down. It takes both hands and lots of energy. But eventually, physics will win out. You’ll run out of energy and the ball will explode through the surface. You will be found out.

4.      How Can We Know that the Bible Teaches that Jesus is God? Justin Taylor offers this tight argument: "Finally, it’s worth remember the helpful summary by the late great church historian Jaroslav Pelikan: ...The oldest surviving account of the death of a Christian martyr contained the declaration: “It will be impossible for us to forsake Christ ...or to worship any other. For him, being the Son of God, we adore, but the martyrs . . . we cherish.” The oldest surviving pagan report about the church described Christians as gathering before sunrise and “singing a hymn to Christ as to [a] god.” The oldest surviving liturgical prayer of the church was a prayer addressed to Christ: “Our Lord, come!” Clearly it was the message of what the church believed and taught that “God” was an appropriate name for Jesus Christ."

5.      7 Lies the Church Believes About Singleness: Great stuff, as always, by Sam Allberry: "Certain misconceptions never seem to go away: The Great Wall of China is visible from space (it isn’t), or shaving makes your hair grow back thicker (it doesn’t). A significant misconception that has been around for many years is that singleness is a bad thing. This is partly due to a confluence of our culture’s focus on romantic fulfillment as key to being whole with common Christian thinking that marriage itself is the goal of the Christian life."

You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus by JD Greear

You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus by JD Greear

If you’re a child of the 80s like myself, the phrase “your own personal Jesus” is heard channeled through the distinctive voice of Martin Gore of Depeche Mode whose massive 1989 hit democratizes the first century Jewish Messiah. Gore tells us to “reach out and touch faith” through whatever experience we can create that makes us feel as though someone hears our prayers and cares.

Martin Gore’s vision of a personalized Jesus is truer today, thirty years after his song hit the charts, than it has ever been. JD Greear wants to lovingly but firmly let us know that You Don’t Get Your Own Personal Jesus in his thin volume by the same name. “Sometimes I hear people talk about ‘my God’ or ‘my Jesus’ as if he were their possession,” Greear reflects. But strangely absent of our personalized visions of Jesus are Jesus’ own claims of who he is. Unhappily for those who like to shape Jesus in their likeness, Jesus tells us that he is, in fact our Lord.

It makes sense that we think we can remake Jesus in our own image. Why shouldn’t we? Our social media feeds cater to our desires, my Amazon webpage is distinctive to me, your Netflix suggestions reflect your tastes. Why shouldn’t we be able to craft a Jesus who suits what we would like in a Savior? Greear reflects, “Those of us who have grown up in a consumeristic Western culture envision an Americanized Jesus who is one part genie, one part fan club, one part financial advisor, one part American patriot, and several parts therapist. Our ‘God’ makes us more narcissistic and materialistic, not less.” In Voltaire’s words, “God created man in His own image, and man has been trying to repay the favor ever since.”

The Discipline of Today

The Discipline of Today

I love dreaming about and planning for tomorrow. Want to draw up a strategic plan? Count me in. Want to talk about which young NBA star will have the best career? Let’s go. Do you have predictions about the 2020 presidential election? Pull up a chair. Want to prognosticate about what the church is going to look like in 20 years? Sounds like a blast.

I’m wired for planning. Thoughtful forecasting can be powerful to the person who is willing to expend the energy preparing for their future. In fact, I wrote a series of blogs on how important it is to have a strategic plan for your spiritual life. But while planning has its place in the Christian life, it can also serve as a distraction or even fuel for sin.

The focus on tomorrow can feed discontentment, ingratitude, and laziness. If you’re like me, there is a danger that we can poorly steward the relationships and meetings that God has for us today if our eyes are too focused on the horizon. None of us like meeting with someone whose focus isn’t on us but past us: they tap their foot, look at the clock, and follow other (apparently more interesting people) with their eyes.

The Light and You

The Light and You

I was born in Fairbanks, Alaska. During the dead of winter, there are several weeks where the sun skims the horizon for a mere four hours a day.[i] If you move north to the Arctic Circle, there are days with no sunlight at all.

Can you imagine a world without light? A world where you can’t see your hand in front of your face?

A world without light is a world of terror and fear. It is a world where nothing is revealed and everything is hidden.

Jesus tells us that the world was dark before he came into it. In John 8:12 he tells us that he is the light of the world. Without Jesus the world is utter blackness.

And we are made to be the light. But before we can become the light, we need to have the light illuminate any darkness in us.

In Luke 8, Jesus talks about the lamp that comes into our lives: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”[ii] 

This passage is usually misunderstood.

The Villains of Christmas: the Baby Jesus

The Villains of Christmas: the Baby Jesus

Merry Christmas!

One of the most cringe-worthy prayers ever prayed on the big screen is prayed by Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) in Talladega Nights. In his prayer, the immature Ricky Bobby keeps referring to Jesus as “baby Jesus.” At one point his wife interrupts him, “You know, sweetie, Jesus did grow up. You don’t always have to call him baby. It’s a bit odd and off-puttin’ to pray to a baby.” Ricky Bobby responds, “Well, I like the Christmas Jesus best.”

The final villain this Christmas, baby Jesus, might be as alarming to you as Ricky Bobby’s prayer. Before the mob forms, allow me to explain what I mean by saying that the baby Jesus can be a villain of Christmas.

How many of us also “like the Christmas Jesus best”? We might not say it out loud, we might not pray to “baby Jesus,” but in reality, we keep the Jesus of our faith small and contained. How many of us happily maintain a childish, trivial faith? How many of us effectively keep Jesus in the manger?

The Villains of Christmas: The Innkeeper

The Villains of Christmas: The Innkeeper

Every self-respecting children’s nativity play has Mary and Joseph greeted by the gruff Innkeeper who rudely tells Mary and Joseph that there’s no room and then, for good effect, slams the door in their faces. What was the motivation of this heartless hotel manager? Why didn’t he find a place for this pregnant woman? Today we met the second villain of Christmas: the Innkeeper.

The biblical story isn’t nearly as clear as to the backstory of this Innkeeper. There is a just a fleeting reference to the incident and that reference only occurs after Jesus’ birth. Luke tells us simply, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”[i]

Unlike last week’s obvious villain: Herod, the Innkeeper is a little trickier to decipher. In the ambiguity, though, we find ourselves and the reality that Christmas reveals in us the sneaky villain of a lack of prioritization. Surely the Innkeeper should have been able to find a place for Mary and her child.

Let’s first briefly consider who this Innkeeper might have been and why he didn’t have room for Mary and Joseph.

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Timothy Keller

Everyone suffers. And yet perhaps because of the age in which we live, there have been few cultures that have struggled more with suffering than ours. I’m currently reading a popular book on loss and I’m struck by how vapid the wisdom of our age is in the face of suffering.

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is, quite simply, the best book on suffering that I’ve read. Keller deals with the subject philosophically, theologically, and practically. Each treatment is successful on its own, and combined they pack a unique punch as Keller engages mind and heart alike.

Timothy Keller is such a unique author. His books range from the incredibly accessible: The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods, to the slightly more rigorous, but still very accessible apologetic, The Reason for God, to the more rigorous practitioner’s guides such as Generous Justice or Preaching. Part of Timothy Keller’s unique gifting is his ability to write so well in each of these genres. Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering is the most rigorous book by Keller to date and yet the book is every bit as well written as any of his best.

Contemporary westerners are repelled by suffering and death. On the stage of world history, our fear of death is abnormal. Keller quotes an author at The New York Times Magazine, who, after the tragic sniper shootings in the Washington DC area reflected, “The fact is, staving off our own death is one of our favorite national pastimes. Whether it’s exercise, checking our cholesterol or having a mammogram, we are always hedging against mortality. [And yet] despite our best intentions, it is still, for the most part, random. And it is absolutely coming.”[i] This aversion to suffering and death is a cultural blind spot and means that we naturally approach the topic with naiveté.

Forgiveness Like a Child

Forgiveness Like a Child

Most every night a transformation happens right as our put our 20-month-old foster boy down to bed. Minutes after he is happily reading books with me and seconds after he is sweetly swaying in my arms as I sing to him, he transforms. The moment happens as I place him in his crib. He rolls over and, with big tears rolling down his fat cheeks, he wails. As I leave the room and close the door, he stands in the crib, looking at me with pleading eyes. “How could you abandon me?” his eyes ask.

The sun sets, the moon rises and sets, and the sun rises again. I open his door to find him sleeping. I turn off the sound machine and open the window shade. He hikes up his cute bottom in the air, rolls over, and pulls himself up and greets me with the biggest smile you’ve ever seen. I smile back and he giggles.

Forgiven.

Fast forward several hours, and a couple sits on my couch in my office. He can’t move past the fact that she won’t make love to him. She can’t move past the fact she caught him watching porn.[i]

Not forgiven.

The claws of unforgiveness are sharp and relentless.

Nonviolence and the Christian: But What about the Swords?

Nonviolence and the Christian: But What about the Swords?

The strongest counter to my argument that the Bible teaches an ethic that disallows us from taking another person’s life, even in the defense of oneself or another, is found in the episode about buying swords that several mentioned. I am going to push pause and answer that question about the interaction in Luke 22 as best as I can before finishing our series next week addressing the question of violence and the military.

The exchange between Jesus and his disciples happens right after the Last Supper and before Jesus prays on the Mount of Olives (and is subsequently arrested by the Roman cohort).

And [Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They [the disciples] said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”[i]

This is the clearest biblical text that supports self-defense.[ii] It seems pretty cut and dry. Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords. So, how would I interpret this text?

Nonviolence and the Christian: Jesus' Ministry

Nonviolence and the Christian: Jesus' Ministry

Violence was contrary to everything Jesus stood for. In fact, Jesus absorbed the violence of human beings to bring about peace.

The conclusion was from our first post was surprising: that God in the Old Testament was not a God who endorsed violence.  The conclusion of this post is equally unsurprising: Jesus strongly opposed violence. But what may be surprising is how that very position by Jesus was a stumbling block for his contemporaries to see him as Messiah.

Jesus wasn’t the only one who claimed to be Messiah who walked ancient Palestinian soil. Two of those who arrived on the scene after Herod the Great died were Simon and Anthronges. Both led independent revolts against the Roman Empire, with the “principle purpose… to kill Romans” and reclaim the throne by force. The Roman Empire crushed both revolts and executed both men who claimed to be Messiah. The Zealots waited with bated breath for a Messiah who would overthrow Roman rule by force and reclaim the Promised Land with the new Davidic king on the throne.

And then on the scene arrived a Jewish peasant, who talked about the arrival of a kingdom, but a kingdom that “is not of this world.” In fact, Jesus explains to Pontius Pilate, that “if my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting… But my kingdom is not from the world.”[i]

In other words, Jesus’ pacifism was not just a quirk of his ministry, it flipped the very expectations of who the Messiah was supposed to be.