January 2008 - Posts
I would tell people that Love exists.
I would tell people that cynicism and hopelessness are not inevitable.
I would tell my fellow earth dwellers that the world is in the crapper…but another world is possible.
I would tell them that they are the voices that can usher in such a world.
I would tell them I don’t blame them for resisting such ideals.
I have a hard time believing it myself sometimes.
but I would tell people I believe these things - despite the fact my actions rarely manifest such words.
This doesn’t really clearly articulate what I wish I could say.
But if it did…I would be what I was intended to be.
Sometimes, when I have a chance to share about Christ's awesome gift with someone just one on one....I chicken out. Why is that? Why am I so afraid to share Christ with someone? I think in large part it’s because I’ve complicated it. I’ve bought into the idea that you have to be a biblical scholar or have a really airtight answer prepared for evolution or premarital sex or a million other sticky topics before you talk with someone. And then I see how Christ did it.
In John 4 we get the famous conversation with the woman at the well. I never realized how simple Christ approaches the whole situation. Here is the first thing he says to her:
“Will you give me a drink of water?”
That’s it. That's it! That’s his entire opening statement. Not “Do you want to know the eternal love and salvation of the heavenly father?” Not, “Do you want to interact with the living fulfillment of prophesy?” He just asked for a drink.
What was special about that though was the context. No respectable Jewish man would ask that of a Samaritan woman. So by asking that question he was doing a lot more than getting some water, he was doing the unexpected.
I think that, the idea of doing the unexpected, lies at the very core of being a follower of Christ. For above all, we are called to love, and love is never expected. Helping an enemy at work on a project is never expected. Making the first steps toward your mom even though she owes you an apology is never expected. Volunteering at a local shelter is never expected.
But when we do the unexpected, we raise questions. Just like the Samaritan woman responded by saying, “How can you ask me for a drink?” we cause people to wonder. That’s one of my favorite parts of the prodigal son story. When the older brother comes home and asks about the dancing and the music. He’s finding out about the unexpected. He’s swept up in the unexpected and can’t help but ask questions. And I think that’s what we are called to do. To live our lives in such a way that people can’t help but ask questions.
The one I have for you today is simple, “When is the last time you did something unexpected for someone?”
The previous post was intended as a discussion starter. You fill in the blank in the comments area. Okay, one more time. Chirstians drive me crazy when they.....
There are a handful of biblical characters I like to identify with from time to time.
Jonathan for instance, is a great model of faith in action. David, for his failures and subsequent return to the Lord. Joseph, for his endless patience and trust even when his path led through the depths of jail. I've actually been in jail. There is no shortage of heroes in the Bible.
But what about the villains?
Clearly, satan is first among their rank. Countless verses describe his evil, a mouth that only knew lies, hands that only knew pain. But besides him, who else is considered the "bad guy" in the Bible? Certainly Pharaoh and his enslavement of the Israelites. Baal and the pagan worshipers that prostituted themselves as his feet. There are people groups that killed their children to different Gods and maybe without much thought our list of enemies in the word can grow long. But one that often sticks out is Judas.
Judas betrayed Christ with a kiss. Judas turned the Lord over to his eventual death. Judas sold the savior of the universe for only 30 pieces of silver. And here in my safe, comfortable little life it's easy to point the finger at Judas. To marvel at his depravity. To judge his willingness to sell Jesus for such a small sum.
And it was small, or at least that is what scholars argue. There is debate about shekels or drachmas or denariis, man I hope I spelled all that right. Some authors place the value of those 30 pieces of silver at around $15,000. 15 grand. The value doesn't really matter though, because if I'm honest, I've sold Jesus for a lot less.
When I choose to watch a movie with questionable content, I'm selling Jesus. When I engage in a conversation or mocking gossip that wounds others, I am selling Jesus. When I lie or exaggerate, I am selling Jesus. When I choose blow my top instead of forgiveness, worry instead of worship, impulse instead of prayer, I am selling Jesus.
At the end of the day, I have sold my savior for much less than 15 grand. I am Judas. I am the one desperate for forgiveness. I am the one tempted. I am the one in need of grace.
And the next time I try to judge someone as a "bad guy," I hope I'll remember that.
Yesterday I read something in Luke 23 that I thought was interesting. This is the chapter where Luke details the death of Christ, but these two verses are at first glance, very tiny. This is all they said;
55The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.
In the midst of Christ’s death on the cross they’re pretty small, but I don’t think the Bible has many bridge sentences. That is sections that are only there to connect two important things. I think when you look, when you study, you can see the meaning behind even the smallest verses.
When I looked at these, I was surprised to find a powerful testament to the importance of the Sabbath. Christ had died. These women were going to perfume and honor his body. But they waited a day because it was the Sabbath. They put the Sabbath above the need to treat Christ’s body with respect and tenderness. They “told” Christ “wait” so they could keep the Sabbath.
I don’t keep the Sabbath all the time. I do work oreinted things on Sundays for my *** Ministry, probably because I don't have much other time to do it. I check my work email and do about a billion things that probably break the Sabbath. But maybe I need to rethink that. Maybe I need to treat it like these women did. Maybe I need to jump it above everything else and just be still on Sundays. Maybe you and I need to just rest.
The reason I read the bible is pretty simple. For me, it gives God words. I feel like the more I read, the more source material God can pull from. Not that he needs the bible to speak to me, but I need the bible to understand him.
For instance, on its own, if God told me, “don’t count your men,” I wouldn’t know what that meant. That statement, removed from Biblical context, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But because I read 2 Samuel 24, I have an idea of what he’s talking about and it’s an oddly appropriate story.
In that chapter, David counts his fighting men as a way to reassure himself. He wants to feel strong and powerful and so he numbers how many fighting men he has. It’s a big production, with God and even satan coming into the picture when a number counting incident is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 21. The lesson though is pretty clear, trust God, not your numbers.
What are your numbers? My numbers are the amount of Preteens I have on Sunday and Wednsdays. That’s really silly considering how small they are, but there it is. I am like a gambler pulling a slot machine handle when I sit in a meeting on Tuesday afternoon wondering if the amount of kids that were there is up or down. I don’t know why I worry about it so often. Maybe it makes me feel successful knowing X amount of preteens are coming to my Bible Fellowship class and worship service from XX different schools around Knoxville.
But it’s similar to David counting his men. Ultimately, it’s not about numbers or first-time visitors. It’s about being a faithful steward of my talents. So starting today, I’m not going to look at or worry about numbers, until they are put in front of me.
How about you? Is there a bank account you count often? Do you manically look for new emails or count the number of friends you have on Facebook?
Is there an area of your life you need to quit counting and start trusting God in?
The world is pretty big. There are a lot of countries, with millions and millions of square miles of people and land and ocean. The universe is even bigger than that. I’ve never been but from the photos I’ve seen it’s massive. Pathways of stars, belts of black holes and galaxies and planets. It’s just endless, and somewhere up there, God knows the teenager I talked with last night....He knows that her boyfriend broke up with her.
Maybe he doesn’t. I mean, maybe he’s up there and he’s working on really big stuff. He’s healing famines and trying to bring peace to war torn lands. The greatness of his issues makes your little issues look ordinary and simple and maybe even boring.
But it’s getting harder and harder for me to think that. Every now and then I come across a verse that shakes my deep belief that I am beneath God’s radar. One that I found recently was Psalm 56:8. Here, in what hopefully makes me look pretty smart, is the King James Version:
“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?”
I admit, that’s not the clearest word in the world, so here’s what the New Living Translation says:
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
I think that’s beautiful. Can you imagine that? Can you picture God doing that? Taking his giant hands and tenderly picking up every single one of your tears? Knowing why it came, understanding what it means, placing it in his bottle. Waking up in the middle of the night to look at it. Standing there in his big God kitchen with the night dark and the windowsill empty except for your tears. A hand holding that bottle and wishing it was you instead that he was comforting.
That’s how God spends his days.
That’s how small this big universe is.
One of my favorite words God uses is “I.” That’s probably pretty simplistic but I love how it puts life on him and takes it off of me. Have you ever thought that maybe God needed your help? Nobody ever says that but sometimes I think we do things to kind of move along his plans. Like maybe he needs us to finish something or start something or go that final yard. So we pitch in and help him out.
The line between doing something for God and doing something instead of God is pretty blurry to me. I have a hard time understanding when I’m going too slow or when I’m going too fast or even really when I shouldn’t be doing something at all. I read something in Ezekiel that hit home. Here are some verses from chapter 36:
1. I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor
2. I will show the holiness of my great name
3. I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
4. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean
5. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
6. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you
7. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
8. I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
9. I will be your God.
10. I will save you from all your uncleanness.
11. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you.
12. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine.
13. I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.
14. I will do it.
15. I will yield to the plea of the house of Israel and do this for them:
16. I will make their people as numerous as sheep
Wow, 16 times God tells the people that he’ll be the one to do the action. (And I only took a few of the statements he makes.) He puts it on his shoulders. Read the list again and look at the things he promises. My favorite is probably number 8. (What’s yours?)
I like that 8 because I have a really hard time following his decrees and carefully following his laws. But thankfully, it’s not just on me. Tomorrow when I wake up, I can trust that he’ll put a spirit in me and move me to follow his decrees. I don’t have to go it alone.
I can rest safely in the words “I will.”
The closer I get to God, the less I seem to understand.
That feels backwards. Nothing about the rest of my life works that way. The more time I spend reading about sports, the more I know about sports. The more time I spend with my wife, the better I know my wife. The more time I spend practicing beekeeping, the less times I get stung.
I used to get really frustrated by that idea. I thought that the more I knew God, the more I would know in general. I guess I wanted to unravel his mysteries or probe the depths of his abyss. Both those sentences kind of felt like something from the Left Behind book series, but you know what I mean.
I got so mad at that idea until I read some verses that all but promise I won’t be able to grasp God. There are a number that do, but my favorite is Philippians 4:6-7. Here is what it says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
If you’re a worrier like me, then you’ve muttered this comforting verse many a cold sweaty night, but I don’t want to miss the last sentence. In it, we are assured the peace of God, “which transcends all understanding.”
We are promised that we will not be able to understand the peace of God. No matter how long we walk with him or how often we read his word or where we go to college or how many verses we memorize, his peace will transcend our ability to comprehend it.
That’s a comforting thought for me. In a lot of ways it releases me from trying to figure his peace out. Instead of trying to figure it out, I get to experience it. Instead of dissecting it, I get to drink it in.
And that’s a pretty peaceful idea.
Grace or the concept of forgiveness is one of the most difficult ideas to really understand. It just doesn’t make sense. I think it’s because it’s not natural.
When someone at work does something underhanded to me, revenge is usually the first thing that enters in my head. I don’t want to forgive it because that’s not a reflex. Revenge is a reflex emotion.
It’s automatic, it’s one of those things we have to use willpower to stop. Forgiveness is something we have to use willpower to start. But God’s not that way.
One of my favorite examples is how he refers to David. The truth is that a lot of books could be written about the life of David, but this is such a small reference that it’s easy to miss.
In 1 Kings 14, God has passed on a message for Jeroboam, who He’s really upset with. This is what he said:
“I tore the kingdom away from the house of David and gave it to you, but you have not been like my servant David, who kept my commands and followed me with all his heart, doing only what was right in my eyes.”
Did you hear/see that? That is crazy. God, the all knowing, says that David kept his commands and did only what was right in God’s eyes. Let’s do a quick review of David’s life.
Helped create a family situation where a rape led to a war that claimed the death of thousands and thousands of people.
Married tons of women.
None of those things seem like something that was right in God’s eyes. How can God refer back to David as a servant that followed with “all” his heart. That doesn’t make any sense at all.
But then forgiveness enters the picture. The adultery? Forgiven. The murder? Forgiven. The civil war? Forgiven. It was all forgiven, so much in fact, that when God referred to David, he could say he only did what was right in my eyes.
I don’t believe in forgiveness sometimes. I doubt it. I think that when God tells Moses about me he might say, “He’s a good kid, trying hard, but I swear he blows it most days.” Instead though, when I read verses like this, I feel hopeful. I feel like maybe forgiveness is bigger than I imagine. Maybe it’s wilder and truer and well, maybe forgiveness is real.
Someone of Godly counsel once told my wife and I that, “you both have tremendous insight into Jesse.” He said this because I wouldn’t shut up. I swallow hours of time with thousands of words about me. My questions. My hopes. My fears. There is no shortage of ways I will describe and ramble when the topic is me.
It’s ironic to even admit that because this blog is about me. Cell phones, text messages, e-mail, and I still can't find enough space to talk about me. Yay wordy narcissism.
I’ve tried to talk less, to use less words, to be more careful about the way I ramble but it never works. If someone makes just fleeting eye contact with me in an elevator it seems I open a flood of words.
Recently though, a few verses in Numbers hit home. You have to love the Israelites. They’re like a traveling circus of mistakes and failures. They are sermon illustrations with legs, the worst and best of what mankind can be. That said, here is the story that taught me a lesson about brevity, and I'll try to be brief. (*joke, insert laugh here)
The spies have been sent into the Promised Land to scope things out. They come back and are divided into two groups. The people that are afraid to go in and then the people that think it’s possible (Joshua and Caleb).
Here is what the spies that are afraid say in Numbers 13:
"We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along the Jordan."
Wow, that’s a mouthful. More than 70 words, most of them reasons they can’t do it. They quickly mention the milk and honey but then launch into this “but” diatribe. The people there are powerful. The cities are fortified and large. There are giants and more types of enemies than we can count.
And then as if that were not enough they say,
"We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are. The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them."
All told, we’re looking at 128 words of doubt. I love too that in the midst of it they call themselves grasshoppers. (Ever look back and said “Ugh, I’m such an idiot? That guy did.”)
I can just see myself doing the same thing when I’m faced with a challenge. I ramble. I get a little sweaty. I try to “word my way out of trouble.” But how did Caleb respond to this? Here is what we’re told:
Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it."
That’s 16 words. About 15% of what the other spies said, but he knows it doesn’t matter. He knows that it wasn’t about the words. It wasn’t about the odds or the giants or the hardships that lay ahead. It was about God....and He’s big. So Caleb’s words got to be small.
I like that idea, allowing my words to be small and God to be big. Allowing my mouth to be silent while God’s hands are loud. Allowing Him to be Him and me to be me. Even if that means being quiet.
At some point in my life, I'd like to write a book about people that own exotic pets that eventually maul them. I'm talking about the rappers you see in the news that say stuff like this: "I raised that tiger since it was a cub. It was a member of my family. I had no idea it would attack."
I think what happens in situations like that, is that people get used to the wild, untamed power of the animals they have. The guy that raised a 12 foot boa constrictor forgets how strong the snake is because he grows accustomed to the snake. It's familiar. Like the Vegas magician that got mauled, the strength and power and danger of the animal dulls over the years until you ultimately forget how massive a tiger is.
But when I read 1 Chronicles 13 I realized that in some ways I had done the same thing with God. In that chapter, David is moving the ark. One of his men, Uzzah, touches the ark when it starts to slip and God kills him. His hand brushed it and he was struck dead. He came in contact with the living Lord and lost his life.
What was in that box, in that ark, was massive and powerful. It was uncontrollable and deadly and amazing. When Uzzah didn't respect it, didn't treat it like you treat something that important, he lost his life. How am I any different?
I have the power of the all mighty God living inside me. Within this temple of a body beats the holy Lord, the Alpha and Omega, majesty personified. And yet, I treat it like Uzzah. I treat it casually. I doubt it's ability to help me or sustain me or protect me. I act like it's not that important.
The other thing these verses showed me was how great a chasm Christ crossed for us. Uzzah died when he touched the ark. Because Christ died for me, the ark dwells within me. It's not that I can touch it now, it's that it touches me. Every second of every day, it invites me in and draws me out, to not just touch, but build my life within that box.
You've got something big inside you too. Don't forget the beauty of that.
I used to be afraid that God was going to make me a missionary and send me to Jabooty. Nothing against that city and country, but it felt a long way from home and not somewhere I wanted to go teach people the Jonah story.
And I honestly thought that if I gave my all to God, that if I turned over my whole life, he would turn it upside down instantly. So I held back. I gave him chapters. I shared my relationships, my school life, my home life, but kept certain things for me, because He couldn’t be trusted. I didn’t want to do the stuff I knew he was going to make me do.
Have you ever felt like that? That if you said to God, “wherever, whatever and whenever,” your life would be just wrecked? I did, but in the Bible, Jesus doesn’t seem to ever do that. One of the verses that really convicts me is Matthew 4:19. Here is what it says:
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
Christ was talking to Simon and Peter when he said that. They were fishermen. That statement made all the sense in the world. But in my interpretation of God, that doesn’t work. Isn’t God supposed to shake our lives up and send us to do far away things in far away places? I mean Andrew and Simon were probably good at fishing, they understood it and maybe even liked it. So why would God ask them to do that? Shouldn’t they go to Jabooty?
I think the truth is that when we turn ourselves over to God, he doesn’t make us into someone else. He makes us into who we have always been. He amplifies the parts of us that are true. He purifies the dreams we’ve always had or the skills we’ve always used. He doesn’t turn poets into mathematicians or scientists into painters. If anything, I think he gives artists even more colors to create with, scientists even bigger labs to experiment in and so forth.
I’m a people person and I love people. When I gave my life to Christ, he didn’t ask me to stop being around people. In many ways, he asked me to start loving people.