Tag Archives: Jesus

John 9, My favorite Jesus Story

One of my favorite questions to ask people is, “what is your favorite Jesus story?”  (a trick I learned from my older brother Jeff)  I love this question because it tells us a great deal about each other.  It tells me if a person actually reads the Bible or if they just regurgitate stuff their pastor has said.  It tells me if they have certain theological dispositions and tendencies.  It lets me briefly peer into their inner workings and attitudes towards religion, faith, and culture.  I thought today I’d share one of my favorite Jesus stories with you.  It will come in multiple parts, this is part one.

In John 9 there is a man who was born blind begging on the side of the road.  Jesus’ disciples ask, “whose fault is this man’s blindness?  Did he do it or His parents?”  Now, this question indicates a very peculiar understanding of life.  These men believe that bad things happen as a direct result of our individual wickedness.  To be sure, sometimes we suffer consequences of our sin in a dramatic and dire way.  For example, you end up in Jail if you break the law.  You may get sick and not be able to think as clearly if you are enslaved to alcohol or mind altering drugs.  Or you may end up losing jobs and being broke because you cannot overcome some sort of addiction.  Whatever the case, there are certainly consequences for individual sin that sometimes have great ramifications.  But, this is not the case with every trial and infirmity.  This poor blind beggar is simply blind.  Sin exists in the world and as a result death and infirmities plague EVERYONE.  This man is not guilty of being blind.  He simply is blind.  His own guilt is no greater than anyone else’s and he may actually be more righteous than the disciples!

To be clear, the true indictment should be laid on the community that surrounds this man.  The question the disciples ask is, “why is he blind.”  The question Jesus would have them ask is, “why is no one doing anything about this?”  Jesus asserts, “This man is blind so that the works of God would be shown.”  Cases of infirmity, sickness, and disease exist so that we can show the love of God to one another and recognize our common need for Christ.  So this story begs the question, where is the community of redeemed believers who follow God?  Why have they not taken care of this one?  Jesus kneels down and heals the man.  In Jesus’ example, we are beckoned to do the same thing for the broken around us.

Read the scene carefully, He doesn’t say a word to the man.  Just puts some mud on his eyes and says, “go wash that off.”  It must have been the weirdest thing that man had ever had happen to him.  I’m a little surprised that there is no record of the blind man’s verbal response.  I imagine that this must have been almost offensive, as Jesus’ healings often seem to be.  (He is always initiating healing with a rather offensive statement.  C.f. Jn 5:6, “do you want to be well?” or Mt. 12:13 to the man with the crumpled hand, “stretch out your hand.”)  I can only imagine what he was thinking, “what do you mean, ‘go wash this off!?’ of course I’m going to wash this off, you just put cold wet mud in my face you big bully!”  And yet, once he has washed it off, he was healed.

We are called to work this mission.  We are called to bind up the broken and take care of those who have shattered souls and lives.  It is in these broken people that we find the love of God is most fruitful.  It is in the broken community gathered around to aid each other that we see the Life Eternal at work.  So, get to work Christian!  Find some broken people and lift them up!

What’s your favorite story?

The Seven “I Am” Statements, pt. 3

This is part 3 of a 3 part series, you can find 1 here and 2 here

I Am StatementsRight in the center of the “I am” statements Jesus proclaims something great about Himself. The first three statements are made as invitations to those who are religious and do not believe. They are repeated. They are pleading statements. They are spoken in earthly terms. The concluding three are spoken to those who believe. They are eternal in perspective. They are spoken only once. In the middle of the two sets stands a transition between the plea to follow and the commands to obey. Right in the middle the Gospel writer records Jesus as stating, “I am The Shepherd, The Good One!”

As we have seen in the “I Am” statements, Jesus connects Himself to Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 34, God scolds the leaders of Israel as false shepherds who are killing the sheep. He calls them wicked for slaughtering the fat ones for themselves, for ignoring the lame, and for selfishly providing for themselves alone. God then says that He will be the Shepherd of Israel and will be done with these hired hands!  Jesus connects Himself to this passage rather blatantly. When Jesus speaks of hired hands you can almost feel Him pointing at the priests and leaders.

The Shepherd of Israel has come and He is all powerful and King!

It’s fascinating that Jesus uses the word “good.” It’s fascinating that Jesus uses this word because it means “intrinsically good.” Let me back up for a moment.  In the New Testament there are two words we translate as “good.” The first is “agathos,” meaning benevolent or charitable. The second is “kalos,” meaning intrinsically good. Jesus says that He is Kalos! He is intrinsically good. Jesus is not merely doing good things or being nice as a shepherd.  He is the Good Shepherd.  He is the One, The Shepherd that is Good. It is not merely that He does good things or behaves in a good manner, He IS good. Thus the call of Jesus to follow becomes a call to have Him define what is good or not good.  It is a call to surrender your rights to choose for yourself good or evil. It is a call to submit to His definitions of good because He is Good.

The call to follow Jesus is the call to surrender what you think makes you good in order to obey the One who is good in Himself.  The Shepherd has come.

Climbing the Mountain

climbingA man climbs a mountain. Every once and a while he turns and looks out over what God has made, and he is privileged to see the greatest sights imaginable. He watches the valley grow smaller and smaller as he pushes his body to ever greater heights. He sees animals of different altitudes, and watches as the trees grow thin and the air grows crisp around him. He takes note of the way his hands and feet begin to burn as he strives to reach the top of the mountain. He clings to the great rocks and presses himself into them as he climbs further. He is learning this mountain. Every clip of the carabineer, every crack he can grasp onto, every slide and toe grip of his foot brings him closer to his goal and intimately closer to the rock he is climbing. Finally, exhausted, he reaches the top and turns around to see the view he has been laboring so hard to see. He cries tears of joy at the majesty before him.

Another man at the top of the same mountain marvels at the same view and then climbs back into the helicopter that carried him to the top. His hands are not tired. His feet do not ache. His view is the same, yet, his understanding of the mountain and his connection with that mountain are so much less. The ride was not cumbersome for this man of ease. Little was required of him; little was achieved by him.

The man who climbed knows the mountain. The man in the helicopter has only seen the view from the top.

My older brother began to teach me to know God when I was still very young (about 12). Much like climbing a mountain, knowing God is hard work. Memorizing Scripture, laboring over passages, studying hard, thinking deeply. As I have grown, I have found greater joy in the climb. You see, we live in a culture where we can constantly take “helicopter rides” to the tops of mountains of God’s character. We have enough material at our disposal that we can easily listen to a sermon, read a book, or hear a song that would give us a glimpse of the mountain. This is truly a great privilege, but it also has a tremendous danger laced within it. If we become so comfortable with the helicopter rides, we will never make the climb ourselves. We will be dependent on teachers and curricular for our sustenance. We will never know The Mountain.

Before you think I am being overly dramatic, think about it: Do the Christians around you speak of the deep things of God without a prompt from some teacher? Do we quote the Scriptures or famous people more often? When was the last time you sat and examined your Bible until the Lord clearly spoke? I tell you, we are a people of “helicopter theology.” We hear and we repeat some wonderful truths…but how well do we know those truths?

So, I want to invite you to study. Perhaps the single greatest method I have ever used to “climb the mountain” is the inductive study method. But, be warned: this takes work. Studying the Bible in this manner is not for the faint of heart! You will have to train your mind to think about Scripture and carefully observe details before you interpret and apply them. You will have to learn where to place the picks on the rocks and when to clip the carabineers. You will need to learn to deny the helicopter ride to the top…until you have climbed that mountain for yourself.

I’ve been using the inductive method for about 10 years now in my personal study and I do the work (and fun!) of climbing regularly with a small group. We climb together and it is laborious but incredibly rewarding. I pray you too would be willing to do the work to know the Lord intimately! If you want to take the helicopter, that’s fine… You’ll see some spectacular views and you’ll be privileged to stand in awe at those views. But if you will dedicate yourself to the climb, you’ll know The Mountain.

You can find more about the inductive study method here. You can also find numerous other resources to help you learn inductive study methods from lifeway.com and christianbook.com

1 Timothy 4:6-10 – “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following. But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. It is a trustworthy statement deserving full acceptance. For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”

The “I Am” Statements in John

I’ve been gone from this blog for a few months now for various reasons.  The main reason I’ve been absent in writing for you is because I have been writing a book… maybe someone, someday will read it.  No, I’m not done, yes you may read it and give your opinion, no I am not going to post it online, and yes eventually my wife will edit it which will make it a much better book.  So if you want to wait, I don’t blame you…  but it might be 20 years or so. (I have no desire to be a prolific writer, I just want to write one book that matters before I die.)

Having said that, I wanted to share something.

There are 7 “I am ______” statements in the book of John.  The Bread, The Light, The Door, The Good Shepherd, The Resurrection, The Way Truth and Life, and finally The True Vine!

The first three we will deal with today, the last three on another day, and we will deal with the middle statement last. These first three are always repeated, and are delivered in the face of religious leaders who hate Him!  They are repeated as a form of call to repent, which is important to note!  Understanding the character of Jesus IS the call to repentance.  When we learn the character of Jesus we are exposed before Him and must either repent or reject Him.

The Bread is mentioned in John 6:35, 48, and 51.  This claim is placed within a story in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people (at least), miraculously walks over a body of water with His disciples, and ends up with people complaining about Him.  In this way John connects Jesus with Moses freeing the slaves from Egypt and thereby designates Jesus as the savior that Moses promises would come in Dt. 18:15-22.  Jesus stands on the other side of a miracle and makes a clear statement, “I am the bread of life come down from heaven!”  In making this claim Jesus is explaining that the true miracle of sustaining provision and nourishment is Him!  So Jesus is here claiming He is the sustainer of life.  Agreeing with Isaiah 55 Jesus explains that true sustaining power in life is The Lord Himself.

Jesus next calls Himself, “The Light.” (8:12, 9:5) This claim is found in two settings, which is rare in John.  In a simple reading of John you will find clearly delineated points told through stories and subsequent discourses that are interconnected by the setting.  However, in this particular one the setting changes.  First Jesus stands in the temple treasury following a great feast in which there was a large candelabra to commemorate God’s guidance through the wilderness.  It is in this context of a pillar of fire that Jesus makes the claim, “I am the Light of the world!”  Then Jesus argues with the religious leaders until they try to stone Him!  Don’t worry, they don’t get away with it… because Jesus “hid Himself”… in an open courtyard… while surrounded.   The second time Jesus makes the claim is in the midst of healing a blind guy in chapter 9.  After healing the blind guy Jesus makes the point that the religious leaders are blind but claim they are not, and therefore “their guilt remains.” (9:41) By claiming to be the Light, Jesus connects Himself to Isaiah 42:6-7.  In Isaiah God states that He will guide His people and He will give them sight and free them from blindness.  Thus, Jesus is explaining, The LORD will be your light and will give you sight.

Next Jesus makes the claim that He is The Door! (10:7,9) This statement is made in the context of explaining the role of a sheep gate.  In order to understand this, you’re going to have to bear with me.   In ancient Israel, shepherds would need to bring their sheep inside a gated area with a gate keeper and other sheep herds.  Multiple herds would be kept in the same gated area.  When a shepherd came to the gate, the doorkeeper would open the gate, the shepherd would call out his sheep and they would come out to follow him.  Jesus calls Himself The Door effectively claiming that He is the way in which we find protection from death and calls us out of our religious protective systems into safe pasture under His guidance.

All three of these will make amazing since in light of the last three which we’ll talk about next week.

#Endit

enditA few facts to start with: Human trafficking and slavery are real and active.  Houston, TX is one of the largest hubs for it.  We must war against this.  The war starts with us.  Drawing a red X on your hand is not enough.

The past several months there has been a fantastic effort to educate people about slavery in the world (sex trafficking in particular).  People have drawn a red X on their hand to symbolize their solidarity and commitment to stamp out human trafficking and slavery.  As I have read about this horrific trade and educated my own heart, I’ve noticed a common denominator rise to the surface.

Every article on slavery and human trafficking I’ve read (amounting to about 20 different articles in the last 6 months) has drawn a direct correlation between human trafficking and the pornographic industry.  It has quickly become evident that the pornographic industry serves as a catalyst and co-agent of slavery.  Various studies and investigations have provided vast amounts of evidence that pornographic industries are inhuman, not to mention immoral, pro-violence, and are bastions for slavery!  Beyond these, there are obvious horrible realities inherent in this abominable practice: the objectification of women, the deterioration of sensuality, the general decline of masculinity, the abasement of beauty, and numerous other side products of this blight on our society.

We want to # endit.  So I have a challenge to all my brothers and sisters: stop engaging in pornography in private!  Vote against slavery with your practices!  It’s bad for you, so stop!  You cannot practice in private the very thing you detest in public.  If you are looking at pornography on any level, you are encouraging slavery and in many cases financing the industrial complex of human trafficking.

When we profess that we want to end slavery and then proceed to delight ourselves in the fruits of such a wicked and inhuman industry, we give open approval of that which is inhuman.  Think about that; we give approval of things that are “in-human.”  This activity is less than human!  It is not simply immoral but is corrosive to our humanity.  Once a man or woman has engaged in watching pornography, they have forfeited some humanity by violating a basic human contract that we share between all of society.  In allowing ourselves this hidden vice, we say to our fellow humans that they are simply agents to satisfy our wickedness.  We thereby make humanity less valuable and we distort the fabric of what makes us human.  In devaluing human life, we will destroy humanity.

When we profess that we want to end slavery and then proceed to delight ourselves in the fruits of such a corruption of social behavior, we corrode the fabric and strength of our society.  History and missiological studies have shown that the devaluing of women and sex destroys the health and fabric of society.  What I mean is this: you can judge the strength of a society by how highly it values women.  When societies value women and give women opportunity and treat women as equal, the society flourishes.  When a society treats women as property or objectifies women, refuses to allow opportunity, and treats women as inferior, the society dies.  In such an environment, disease-rates soar, education plummets, political structures crumble, and life expectancy is ridiculously low. 

When we profess that we want to end slavery and then we proceed to delight ourselves in the fruits of such a wicked and horrifying practice, we give tacit approval to that which is evil.  Romans 12:9 says “hate what is evil!”  This is a direct command in Scripture.  We are to develop hatred towards what is evil and yet many not only indulge in pornography but, in their actions, approve and excuse such reprehensible slavery.  Further, Jesus seems to say that one who engages in pornography (an act clearly connected with slavery and objectification) would be guilty of enslaving the woman/man.  In His explanation of the Law in Matthew 5-7 He states that, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  So, if you watch the enslavement of a woman with lust in your heart, you are committing slavery!

So if you want to #endit, start with yourself.  You cannot #endit and persist in engaging in it!  You cannot profess to free slaves in the light and enslave them in the dark.

To make this easy I purpose three things: 1. Stop looking at porn and stop encouraging slavery.  There is a direct correlation.  2. Pray that God would give you a hatred of the things He hates. 3. Educate yourself on the truth of slavery in the world today. This is how we start to #endit.

Human trafficking is real, Houston is one of the largest hubs of it, and you can do something about it!  To learn more about the movement to help end slavery you can go to

http://aramintafreedom.org/

http://enditmovement.com/ 

https://www.freetheslaves.net/

http://ijm.org/

For help overcoming pornography you can visit here :

https://newlife.com/emb/

http://www.covenanteyes.com/

Thursday Words

Since November I’ve been attempting an odd sort of fast.  Every Thursday I’ve attempted to be extremely careful with my words.  The rules are simple, don’t speak unless necessary, be sure to answer questions concisely as possible, and be careful to only say things that matter in eternity.  I would begin my fast on Wednesday 8:30 pm night after youth group and conclude it on Thursday before small group 6 pm.  Each morning on Thursday I would spend a little time in prayer and then try to be as intentional as possible with my words.  I was prepared to adapt my vocabulary, I was prepared to focus my mind on eternity, I was prepared for hours of silence, and I was prepared for this to be awesome!  I was not prepared for what God had to teach me.

The first weeks seemed easy.  Most of the days were spent in my office reading and studying.  Occasionally there was a lunch or meetings to sit through awkwardly, but for the most part these days were quiet already and not talking was only a minor challenge.  Then it happened.  The Lord began to move in the way He does.  God began to speak in the small moments.  God always starts with small moments.

I heard the laughter in the office adjacent to mine and was drawn to the fellowship of humor.  I stood in the doorway and watched as my brothers in Christ bantered with one another.  I longed to engage, I wanted to be seen, I wanted to know that I mattered.  And yet, I stood back and faded into the void.  Thus began my journey to understanding this very peculiar rift in my soul.

Slowly, my Lord began to expose my wound.  Over the next few months I would experience opportunities to rest in silence and be inconsequential.  In the silence God revealed a deep fear in my soul.  I am absolutely terrified that I will not be heard.  I fear people will not hear my voice and I will not matter.  I fear that my life and my voice will be inconsequential.  The remarkable truth about fear is it’s propensity to inspire irrational responses.  The fear that I would not matter drove me to say and do things that didn’t matter.  I would make jokes that bore no weight on the soul.  I would engage in trivialities.  My fear drove me to inconsequential existence.  When I intentionally forced myself to only say what matters it was revealed how little my words have mattered.  Giving into the fear of meaninglessness drove me to meaningless speech for the sake of attention.  Whereas striving to make my words significant forced me to be silent and often fade into the background, but what I did say matters.

One Of “Those” Days: Guest Post by Stephanie Elkins

It’s been one of “those” days. Some days, raising, training, caring for, and shepherding three little ones ages four and under doesn’t seem that hard. Routines run smoothly, little ones entertain themselves and each other with fervor, the laundry basket gets emptied, and the new dinner recipe turns out amazingly. Life is a bowl full of cherries. Some days, I think, “My children are responding so well to the training they are receiving!” Of course, the more my children excel, the more my own heart has to deal with the pathetic sin of pride.  And of course, shortly thereafter, I can be sure that one of “THOSE” days is coming. The “other” kind. The kind that humbles me. Exhausts me. Frazzles me…and leaves me wondering how I EVER thought I had this whole thing down!

I know the day is going downhill when my middle child, who is only two, doesn’t take a nap. It’s somewhat normal for there to be a day sprinkled in there every so often when the firstborn doesn’t actually fall asleep, but when both of them manage to make it to dinner without having slept, things spiral out of control pretty quickly. Nap time is when Mommy rejuvenates in this house. Not by napping, but by focusing, restoring order, and often by exercising. Mostly by walking on the treadmill with a book and pen in hand. This afternoon, Sally Clarkson’s “The Ministry of Motherhood” was interrupted about half a dozen times with pleas for attention from the supposed-to-be-napping girls. Ironic, of course. While they know that getting out of their beds once they have been put in is strictly against the rules, it doesn’t stop them from trying it one more time. Every day. In my mind, it’s like having a death wish. Why would you intentionally do something today that you JUST GOT DISCIPLINED FOR yesterday? Or five minutes ago. Tension starts building and my nerves start unravelling the longer this whole routine goes on.

One of our primary objectives in parenting is to shepherd the hearts of our children. Pastoring the members of a local church may define the overall calling and direction of my husband’s and my lives, but pastoring the tiny hearts of those who live within the walls of our own home defines our MOMENTS. They are our congregation. And they NEVER GO AWAY.  It’s overwhelming, exhausting, and so soul-inspiring.

One of our goals, then, is to be sure that every opportunity that calls for correction or discipline is viewed as a teaching moment. Because our purpose is to teach our children to know their own hearts, and to turn those hearts ever toward their Savior. What this looks like is a whole bunch of conversations, usually when we really don’t want to be having a conversation at all! While spanking and sending them to bed in tears, or simply isolating them for a time, often would be easier, we aim to make every moment of correction/discipline an encounter with Jesus.

Sometimes these conversations go beautifully, and we all leave refocused and restored. Then there are days like today. In one such moment of discussion after administering discipline, I pleaded with my daughter to choose the path of obedience and submission. After mentioning to her that learning these lessons now, when she is young, will be much easier than learning submission to authority as an adult, she, of course, wanted to know if the other authorities she would “have some day” would give her “pops.” “No,” I replied, “they won’t give you spankings. But there WILL be discipline for you when you fail to submit and obey.” She wasn’t satisfied. “Mommy, like what? Give me an example.” “Ok,” I said, “lots of people have jobs. And they have authorities over them called bosses. If they decide not to obey, but rather to do things their own way, they can lose their job! And then they have no way of making money and no way of buying food for their families.” She wasn’t impressed. “But Moooommy, I don’t have a job. And the only money I have is in my piggy bank. And it’s not even real.” Yeah, that one went right over her head. I wanted to say, “You ASKED me for an illustration of authority/discipline for a grown up! Fine. See if you can come up with something better!”

So, as our day progressed, as mentioned earlier, the un-napped children got more wound up, their abilities to control themselves worsened, and the tears (did I mention we have GIRLS?) flowed much more readily. We announced an early bedtime, bathed them, and then Daddy left for an evening work meeting. Let the fun begin. I should have known that a quick tuck in, a song, a prayer, and a goodnight would NOT see the end of this day. Three children all in bed by 7 o’clock? Why do I ever get my hopes up? Some things just aren’t meant to be. Thus began the next hour and a half of children BEGGING for more of Mommy. In fact, I’m pretty sure they lay in bed contemplating how they can misbehave enough to get Mommy to come back into the room, because apparently a mad Mommy is more desirable than no Mommy at all. There were tears, confessions, spankings, conversations,…and then repeat.

Sometimes, having a four-year-old who understand deep truths and how to apply them creates more challenges. As evidenced by this second conversation tonight. Julia, 4, has been encouraging Ellie, 2, to get out of her bed and come find me and declare her desperate need for something like a Kleenex (she does NOT have a runny nose) or to go potty (she wears diapers). Ellie gets corrected, and then Julia gets corrected for her part in the ruse. Tonight, in one such moment, Luke 17:2 came to mind, and I shared with Julia that according to the Scripture, God takes this kind of thing pretty seriously. “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” “Now, what would happen,” I asked her, “if someone had a heavy rock around their neck, and they were thrown into the sea?” No hesitation there. “They would die,” she replied (looking very serious). “Right. So, what this verse is saying, is that things will NOT go well for the person who intentionally leads another person, especially a “little one” (like your sister), to sin. Basically, it would be better for that person to die! So, God takes it very seriously when we lead another person to sin.” At this point, I’m feeling pretty good about this conversation. “But Mommy!” she exclaimed, “I don’t HAVE to die, because Jesus died for me, and he paid for my sin.” [Insert sigh] Yes, baby, yes, he did. And somehow, my point, once again, went right past her.

She gets it. But she still fights it. One moment her heart is so tender, and the next I’m wondering how in heaven’s name she can choose sin so defiantly. (Did I just describe all of us?)

One moment I pour my heart out in conversation with my child, pleading with her to choose obedience out of love for her Savior. And the next, I am desperately pleading grace for my own heart as I battle for control and patience. As I fight to direct my heart. To be zealous for God’s glory and pleasure rather than my own peace and solitude. I was tired, frustrated, and had more on my “to do” list than hours to do it.

This particular evening “ended” with the dishes littering the counter, the leftovers getting cold on the table, the bath water still filling the tub, the neatly folded clothes scattered across the floor of the bedroom, and my 4-year-old “waiting on the couch for Daddy to return from his meeting.” Frustrated and exhausted, I jumped back on my treadmill and grabbed my book. (You know, the one about “The Ministry of Motherhood”). Before I read a complete sentence, I put the book down and started to pray. “God, what can You refresh me with tonight?! I need some peace and quiet! I need to not “be needed” for a while! I…I….” And then I remembered this: I needed to turn my heart toward HIM. I needed to refocus my heart on Him. I thought about listing off His character qualities, but the one that immediately came to mind was SOVEREIGN. And with that thought, came peace. If He is SOVEREIGN, then He picked this day for me. He chose these moments for me. He placed these children, these personalities, this tiny congregation, in my care. He directed this day, these moments, for a purpose. I just needed to receive it. As. Coming. From. His. Hand.