Friday, November 14, 2014

What Determines your Value?

It's easy to question how much I matter in life.  Do I matter more or less now that I'm a Father?  As a loving husband?  Because I've succeeded?  Because I've failed?  Maybe you can relate with the feeling, comparing yourself to others, wondering if you're worth as much as someone else.

We do it with our pay, our relational standing, our athletic prowess.  What's your value?

I think most of us have a sense where our own self-worth fluctuates between all of these things.  If I performed well, I value myself highly.  If I didn't perform well, I value myself far less.  If it's in the middle, I feel like I'm not living up to my potential.  If people love me, I feel valued.  If people critique me, make fun of me, or give me the slightest feeling that I've disappointed them, my sense of worth plummets.

The problem with this is we miss the fundamental question:  What determines your value?

I have sold a few things on ebay over the years, mainly old baseball cards and other collector's items.  At one point, I was selling two VERY different items:  an autographed baseball by Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn, in pristine condition, with a certificate of authenticity (guaranteeing it was actually signed by him), and the other object being a toy from the show Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, with the stickers peeling off, scratches all over it, and the electronics in it busted.

I thought I'd make a killing off the baseball, and I really just wanted to get rid of the toy.  So I put them up for auction.  And the ball did fetch around $30.  A nice night out with Heather.  But the toy, that's what surprised me.  Someone paid $80 for a beat up, broken little toy from an obscure kid's show!  I learned a very valuable lesson then: value is determined by how much is paid.  It doesn't matter how much I thought it was worth.  It matters how much some one is willing to pay for it.

So what's your value?

I Corinthians 6:19-20 says this:  "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price..." 

Paul argues that we are not our own.  That we were once like slaves, but no longer!  We were bought out of slavery, and we were bought with a price.  What price?  The blood of Jesus.

What does that mean?  It means that your value is not determined by your self-esteem, your self-worth, what other people think of you, what you've accomplished throughout the day, or whatever other things you use to evaluate yourself with.  Ultimately, your worth is measured by your purchase price, and the blood of Christ is invaluable.  If you're a Christian, your worth is priceless.  You're a son or daughter of the King, so we no longer have to give in to the whims of what other people think of us, the feelings we feel when we do or don't accomplish anything, etc.  Your self-value matters no longer, because you have the value of Christ.

And because of this, Paul finishes v. 20 this way:  "So Glorify God in your body."   Because you are worthy, you can glorify our great God and King.  Not because you were worthy on your own, but because you were bought with the precious blood of Christ.

In His Grace,

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Weak Knees, a Heavy Heart, and a Thankful Spirit

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  
(2 Corinthians 12:9)

There are seasons for everything, and the past year or so has been a season where I just haven't had the time nor the joy in keeping up my blog.  Between the birth of Shane, to the blowback from a post I wrote back last December, and an increase in work responsibilities, I've found that I've often just not wanted to put in the effort to write.  Part of it has been a legitimate struggle to consider what to write, another part has been fear.  "What will people think?" or  "What if they don't like it?"  I'm prefacing this post like this because, I think in a lot of ways, ever since November 6th, 2013, I still haven't quite recovered from the shock of how my life changed all in one fell swoop.  

Now, I don't mean to say "recovered" as the fact that the birth of my son is a bad thing.  Aside from my salvation in Christ and my marriage to Heather, Shane is by far the greatest gift I have been given.  He has given me peace at times that I never thought a child could, insights into my Heavenly Father as I see the genuine delight in his face when I play with him, and insights into my own sinfulness as he is just beginning to demonstrate hints of disobedience.  

I love him.  But he has constantly revealed something in me, and God has reminded me of this once again: I am weak, and cannot move on my own.  

Last year, before Shane was born, I remember reading 2 Corinthians 12 and wondering what it meant to really be helpless.  If I didn't know before, I knew when I was in the delivery room, where I truly was helpless.  I couldn't help my wife, I couldn't help my coming son, all I could do was pray.  And I prayed.  And I prayed.  

And God answered.  

Shane was stronger than the doctors expected, progressed faster than they thought, and by Thanksgiving he came home.  It didn't change the fact that I really couldn't do anything.  God had to do the growing, the molding, the changing.  

Fast forward a year.  Two weekends ago I purchased a small devotional by Spurgeon, often known as the "Prince of Preachers."  I thought, "Maybe this can be a useful tool in my morning devotions."  Yesterday morning I opened it up to find 2 Corinthians 12:9 at the top.  Here's what he writes about the verse:

"A primary qualification for serving God with any amount of success, and for doing God's work well and triumphantly, is a sense of our own weakness. "  

I've had an increase in my responsibilities at home, and at work.  I'm far more aware of my fears and failures than I've ever been.  And I'm even more aware of my limitations now than I did when I was a young, arrogant, insecure 22-year-old missionary.  (I guess I'm now an older, slightly less arrogant, slightly less insecure 28-year-old missionary.)  And maybe... that's just where God wants me to be.  In fact, if we're honestly looking at what the bible says, God commands that we come before Him weak and helpless.  "He opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble." (James 4:6, I Peter 5:5)

We need weak knees, ones that fall on the floor in submission and desperation to the God who can move mountains.  

We need a heavy heart, both to see the pain and suffering in the world, as well as the inner turmoil in the souls of our fellow man.

We need a thankful spirit, thankful for what we have, what God has done, and for the hope that is to come.

The more days I live, I realize how much more desperate I am for Jesus.  For the past year, desperation has often been the thing that has driven me to pray.  And for that I'm thankful.  And I'm thankful that every November 6th, I can easily remember my need for Jesus as I look into the eyes of my son.  

In His Grace,

Monday, August 18, 2014


"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" -- Jeremiah 17:9

"The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out." -- Proverbs 20:5

"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger"

-- James 1:19

(Photo credit
There has been a trend in media that has been a bit disconcerting to me, and I think if we are all honest, it's an issue that we all tend to have a part in.  It's this phenomenon of everyone sharing an opinion and then folks having an immediate reaction to it.  Facebook hasn't been helpful in this regard, as everyone (including yours truly) now has access both to create content or to respond to created content.  There is a voice for nearly every point of view, and every voice seems to want to stand alone and say "I'm right, everyone else is wrong, and you're all ignorant if you don't see it my way."  

Before I get into the damage I see happening in Christian circles, I want to use an example from mainstream media in just how ridiculous this has become.  Just a few weeks ago, Stephen A. Smith, a personality on ESPN, most notably for the show ESPN First Take, was suspended for comments he made during this show.   "First Take" is best known for it's tagline, "Let's Embrace Debate," with Smith and Skip Bayless trading opinions about different issues surrounding sports.  It was during one of these episodes that Smith shared some of his views on domestic abuse (Due to the recent NFL ruling on Ravens RB Ray Rice for his domestic violence charge).  While he shared often that men who are involved should be, unequivocally, held 100% accountable for their actions in domestic abuse situations, he also shared an opinion about women and how they could help in trying to avoid these circumstances.  However, he certainly did not use the greatest language, as he used the word "provoke" in regards to women and how they could help in certain situations of avoiding domestic abuse situations.  Because of this, he was ordered by ESPN to give a three minute apology, and was suspended from being on the air for a week.  This was all from him giving an honest opinion on a show that's about sharing your honest opinion.   If you boil it down, Stephen A Smith was suspended for doing his job... that's absurd.

Now, hear me out here: I'm not saying that what he said wasn't right or wrong, and I'm not saying he should or shouldn't have been more sensitive in how he handled his words.  But I find it ironic that there was no asking for clarity on what he meant, no seeking to understand, just apology and suspension.  Swift justice for something that, quite honestly, wasn't very clear.  (For the record, I want to be clear that by no means do I blame any woman for being abused in ANY situation.)  I think what Smith was trying to say, and I think it's a fair point, is that we can try and help young women steer clear of future situations that could lead to physical abuse, which I think we'd all agree is a good idea, and it would be wise for women to heed that counsel.  Again, that's NOT saying women bring abuse on themselves, rather it's recognizing that men, like all people on this planet, are sinners, and some have bad intentions when it comes to women.  That message was lost in the shuffle due to, what I think, is an over-reaction in the media.  

So how does this extend into Christian culture?  There are a number of blogs popping up lately, and there is a theme that I see happening: "I don't like something in the culture, I've been hurt by it, I've seen other people hurt by it, so I'm going to rail against it, tell them it's stupid, and swing the pendulum the other way because that's the better option."  I've seen them on courtship and dating, sexual purity, and other topics, and the responses to them tend to be: "This is really helpful, yes, we should do this thing!"  I'm not saying that none of them have any fair points, but are we really considering why the person is writing it, what past hurt and experience they are writing from, and how they are interpreting scripture in the midst of it?  

The latest I've seen is an article on courtship and how it's fundamentally flawed.  I won't describe it all, but here's a summary:  he's seen people be hurt by courtship, that it led to divorce rather than happy marriages, and that we should really date instead, because that would lead to more happy marriages.  Now, I'm not against happy marriages.  I'm not for divorce.  But one thing that really struck me was how many people who didn't grow up in the culture that he talked about were commenting on how he was right on!  They didn't necessarily pick up on the unhelpful parts of the article, nor did some consider if the attitude of the author was actually writing from a spirit of humble submission to the Spirit, or out of bitterness towards the culture he once grew up in (or a bit of both).  This is dangerous, because it means we are struggling to discern and respond patiently to the "preachers" that speak constantly at us day in and day out.  

Peter and Paul both warn in their letters that many false teachers will come, and many in the church, who have itching ears, will accumulate teachers to suit their own passions, and in doing so, will walk away from the church (2 Timothy 4, 2 Peter 2).  Furthermore, the quotes at the top show how fickle our hearts are.  They are wicked and deceitful, and that a man of understanding knows how to draw out the heart.  In a culture that over-reacts, we must be steady and consider all things in light of the scriptures, and act wisely as we apply them.  

So, a few thoughts:

1. Be discerning in your blog/media consumption - Not all blogs are created equal.  Not all news is helpful.  I'm not saying to be an ostrich and keep your head in the sand.  What I am saying is, what are the reputable blogs that you can follow consistently, that utilize scripture well and speak into culture from scripture rather than from experience?  Those should be your meat and potatoes, the ones that help you think more about who God is and how the scriptures define our lives.  

2. Bloggers, be wise about what you publish - Look, my guess is not too many bloggers read my blog.  But if you are a blogger, or are attempting to start a blog, realize this: your experience is not everyone's experience.  If you're writing about a cultural issue that doesn't extend outside of your community, it's probably best you don't publish it OR (and probably an even better option), is to make sure you get to the heart of the matter.  For instance, if you're writing a blog post about courtship vs. dating, instead of writing "7 flaws of courtship and why it's unbiblical," get to the heart of the issue.  The problem wasn't the system of courtship, it was the legalism behind it, and the need for control, and those same issues come up in dating, etc.  Target the heart, and analyze your own heart before you publish.  

3.  Our mission is to preach Christ Crucified to Reconcile Sinners - Whether you read blogs or write them, we need to remember that our ultimate goal is the Gospel Preached, and lost men and women saved.  Whether it's dating, purity, doctrinal issues, community issues, etc, we need to remember that none of those compare to the magnitude of the Gospel.  If we are not unified in this, then we will crush each other out of convictions that are minor compared to the supreme importance of Christ.  If the issues have to do with the Gospel, then let's respond well.  If they don't, let's dialogue, seek clarity, and patiently understand our hearts through the lens of scripture.  

In His Grace,

Friday, August 1, 2014

Not of this World

"His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire." 
 2 Peter 1:3-4

There is real hope for those who believe in Jesus Christ.  As the passage indicates above, he "has granted to us his precious and very great promises."  Not only does God give us promises, but the purpose of those promises is that we would be partakers of the divine nature.  In other words, we will become more and more like Jesus, and we will reign with Jesus for eternity.  There is no greater treasure, no greater reality, no greater hope.  

Peter expounds upon this in his earlier letter, saying, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you." (I Peter 1:3-4)  




And it is kept in heaven.  Our treasure, our great reward is unlike anything or anyone we've ever seen, and it's found in the person of Jesus Christ.  He is enough.  

That's why it's so aggravating to me when I forget this truth.  It's aggravating when I slowly forget that the life I'm living for is LATER.  Because as I easily forget, I start longing for things that are perishable, able to be defiled, and fade.  They constantly fail me.  

It's so easy to get caught up in a culture, wondering why is this thing so messed up?!  Why can't I just have an easy life and have the things that I want, be surrounded by the people that I love without challenges or struggles?!  Why is there injustice, pain, and suffering?  Why does it seem like things are getting worse, and not getting better?!  

I think it's a reminder that if we got all that we wanted, but we were without God, we would be eternally miserable.  Just imagine if you actually got everything you wanted.  Would you actually be satisfied?  I know that I wouldn't.  I know because there have been times where I have said, "if only I could have had..." and I got it!  

"If only could get a part in the play!"

"If only I could get a solo!" 

"If only I could make more friends!"

"If only I could have a girlfriend!"

"If only I could get married!"

"If only I had a little bit more money!"  

"If only I got the promotion!"

I'm sure there are things I'm unaware of that I still want.  But, even if I had them, I could still find a way to be discontent.  It's a reminder that I'm in need of the living God of all!  That He is the only one who can satisfy!  

"As a deer pants for flowing streams,
    so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
    for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?" -- Psalm 42:1-2

When the psalmist is desperate, he begs for God.  He's what our souls, our hearts were truly meant to be satisfied by.  And we will fully see Him and His glory in the life to come, not in this world.  It's a reminder that we aren't here to live it up.  As Peter says, we are exiles and aliens in a foreign land.  This is NOT our home.  Heaven is our home.  It's our citizenship.  It's the true land of freedom and opportunity, one where sin and death is vanquished, and the only just King is firmly established as our Leader and God.  

This is an exciting reality.  If we really are citizens of an eternal home, and this is merely for a time, it changes everything.  It re-orients our life's mission, because it changes our perspective that the good life isn't found here, but that the best is yet to come.  So I don't need a "bucket list," I don't need to freak out about all the things I haven't done before I'm 30, and I don't need to worry about the future.  Instead, I can invest myself in learning more about Jesus, I can give generously to building His Kingdom, I can give generously to those in need, and I can pour my life into others without wondering what's in it for me.  

If you're in Christ, take heart.  Life isn't found here, but in Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  Run to Him, knowing that He has secured true life for eternity.  

In His Grace,

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Audition that Saved my Life

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,  for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."
 (Romans 8:28-29)

This is the first post I'm making in "a series of remembrance."  Although I hope that this is an encouragement to you all, this is probably more for me than anyone else.  Walking with Christ is hard, particularly when our hearts are hard-wired to run away from Him.  It's so easy to forget His faithfulness and goodness, so my hope is to make much of Jesus as I look back at key events in my life.  Some of these will be mountain-top experiences, some of these will look at God's sovereign hand working in my life during hard times, some of them will just be mundane life.  This story was key in my conversion to Christ: it was the audition that saved my life.  

It was my Sophomore Year at Muhlenberg College, and I was excited to go back and prove myself even further as an actor in their now top-ranked theater program.  I had all ready gotten some big breaks, I was in an a capella group called the Acafellas, I had gotten into a show my freshman year, and was being trained by our choir director in voice, one of the best vocal teachers I had ever had.  

The first couple weeks of the Fall Semester was always the big audition week, there were four or five shows I would audition for the entire semester.  So I prepared, got ready, and auditioned.  The callbacks were posted, and I was called back for three shows.  I was amazed!  I could only get one (I think that was a department rule.), but I knew I had a huge shot to land a big time role.  The one I really wanted, however, was to be an understudy in the Fall Musical, Caberet.  The reason: the role was going to be played by a professional actor.  I had an opportunity to learn from an equity actor!  

I went to the first auditions (for the other two shows), and as luck would have it, I started suffering from a migraine as we started.  There was no way I was able to give it my all in those auditions. 

It was ok, though, I still had one more audition.  It was for caberet, and it was a singing audition.  Dancing was suspect, I was a decent actor, so if I had a strong quality, vocals would have been it.  I went in feeling fully healthy, and the music started.  If I called it a train wreck, that would be unfair to the phrase.  Out of 16 (or 32) measures, I hit maybe 3 notes right.  It was the worst audition I had ever given.  What was worse, was that it was in front of the head of the department.  I couldn't believe it, I had just blown my opportunity. 

I remember sitting in my friends room (Amy and Danielle, both of whom I owe a deep thank you for their patience in caring for me as I sat broken and frustrated), feeling like I had this opportunity to prove myself and how great I could be, and instead I had failed again.  I was a nothing, a nobody, and all the value I thought I could win by making a show was now gone.  

Yet, it was the audition that was the proverbial "straw" that broke the camel's back.  I had friends, I was still in a music group, and yet not getting the thing I wanted proved something to me:  I was deeply discontent.  I was in college, pursuing a degree that I wanted, with friends that I cared about, why was I so discontent?  

God answered that question later, but the thing that He did was He removed any excuse for me to not go to the Muhlenberg Chapter of DiscipleMakers Christian Fellowship (DCF).  Many of my friends had been inviting me to DCF for a couple of weeks, and I realized I wouldn't be able to go with show rehearsals going on.  Suddenly, that excuse was no longer viable.  So, I went.  And God used it to change the course of my life forever.  

I had always heard the adage that if I didn't get a part, just to try harder, to show that I was good enough.  But what God did was He removed my need to be valuable by showing me that I was all ready valuable, all I needed was to trust in Christ.  Because God gave up His only Son not only to forgive my sins, but to be adopted as a Son (Romans 8:15).  Years later, I lost my passion to be a great actor because it was fueled only by my idolatry of pride and self-centeredness, wanting to be seen as valuable.  

Now, I sing because I love to sing (not that I don't struggle with these things still).  I'm freed to be far more joyful in singing to sing and worship Christ with it.  I look back on this moment and wonder, "what if I hadn't bombed the audition?"  Maybe I wouldn't have gotten the part anyway.  Or maybe I would have and never gotten to attend DCF, where I would have understood the Gospel for the first time.  

Either way, God used this awful audition for my good, and I praise Him that while I hated it (and Him) for a little while, He truly did use it for my good.  In fact, it redirected the course of my life.  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

A series of remembrance

"My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,  
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 
 for you have been my help, 
 and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy." -- Psalm 63:5-7

As I've been thinking about my relationship with God, one thing I'm realizing is how I just don't take time to remember Him, who He is, His marvelous deeds, and His unparalleled wisdom, and how that has particularly intersected into my life.  Because of that, it's been easy for me to forget both His goodness to me, as well as easy to forget what He has brought me through and what He has saved me from.  

As I did a simple search on the verb "remember," bible gateway turned up 234 individual verses in which the verb was used.  Multiple verses had the word in it more than once.  Sometimes it had to do with God "remembering" His people, but even more so it had to do with His people remembering Him, God commanding His people to remember Him and His deeds, and the consequences of not remembering Him.    

As it turns out, it seems like the theme of remembrance is a key one in the scriptures.  So, my hope as I think through this blog, is to remember some key moments in my life to reflect on who God is, what He has done personally in my life, and how it could apply to the here and now. 

My guess is some of these things will be major life events.  Others, probably not as much.  In fact, there have probably been more moments of being stuck in the muck where I've seen Jesus painstakingly walk alongside me, rather than high highs and low lows.  I don't share these to highlight my greatness or the triumphs I've had (and mostly haven't had).  Rather, I hope as I take time to remember the works of our great God, it is an encouragement to me and to all of you who see the God of the universe who takes time to intercede both in the big moments, as well as the little moments of life.  

I hope you enjoy this as I pursue Jesus to escape the false comforts that I so easily become entangled too.  

In His Grace,

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Embracing the Mess

God was gracious to bring my son Shane into the world when He did.  Many of you know that he came nearly 8 weeks early, and that he was in the NICU for 3 of them.  "So how was God gracious?" You might ask.  He was gracious because he caused me to go into parenting by jumping into the deep end, not allowing me to think about it. 

I thought I had two more months.  Two more months of not having to worry about dirty diapers, spit-up, sleepless nights, or other sacrifices that I would have to make to take care of him.   But God didn't let me have the time to think about it.  And He knew exactly what would help me to embrace the mess... to bring him early. 

There's something about messiness that causes you to pause, right?  No one really wants to get in the mud unless they are fully committed to getting dirty.  I knew having a child would result in me being committed to getting dirty in some way, shape or form.  Not that I have decided that dirty diapers are my favorite thing now, but I'm a lot more comfortable with them now than when I was calculating my "supposed" two months left of freedom.

I think the same way when it comes to other relationships.  And, if we're honest with ourselves, I think we all think this way.

I'm not talking about their physical messiness... but emotional messiness, spiritual messiness.  I don't know about you, but I'm often caught off guard by the sin of other believers.  I get angry, and often catch myself asking, "Don't they know that's sin!  They should stop doing that, especially in front of me!"

People are constantly blinded by their heavy emotions (I happen to be one of those people, by the way), and I often ask myself, "why can't they think properly!  Can't they just see how God is working this for good!"  I'm good at pointing out other people's mess... and then trying to avoid having to step into it with them.  I avoid it either by drilling people on their issues until they fix it, or I just don't say anything.

But Jesus runs head first into the mess.

He came from His pristine seat in Heaven to enter the muck and mire that we created.  Think of Philippians 2, where it says "Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."  Jesus not only entered the mess, but He was destroyed by it so that we could be made clean.  And now we're called to enter the mess by His power.

What does this even mean?  It means that, when I'm with people who are struggling and hurting, instead of ignoring them by playing games on my iphone, I can engage and share the hurt with them.  It means that I can love someone and remind them of the grace of the Gospel, even if all of their sin is coming out.  It means that I can lovingly rebuke someone, knowing it's for their best interest, rather than hiding by not saying anything, fearing how someone might respond.  It means I can be patient when someone isn't growing or understanding the gospel as quickly as I'd like.  It means I can slow down and take time to understand and listen to someone who is melting down, rather than rushing in to fix a problem.  It takes the focus off of me and what I want, and instead puts the focus on their needs and how I can serve.

The mess is no longer the biggest thing in my mind, as it's now the deep, awesome, powerful love of my savior who reigns above it.

How can you embrace the mess around you, rather than avoid it?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Three Things I'm Giving Up for Lent (and why)

What are you supposed to do for lent?  If you polled ten bible-believing, evangelical Christians, you might still get ten different answers.  So I write this post knowing there might be some folks who are uncomfortable with engaging in lent at all, and others who are uncomfortable with taking it too lightly. 

However, I want to look at lent from a gospel-centered, biblical view, and how it should apply to me.  To do this, I'm looking at Matthew 4, where Jesus wandered in the desert for 40 days (where we get our lenten tradition).  The context is important, because otherwise we miss the point of lent entirely.  So here's the first three verses:

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.  And the tempter came to him, 'If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.'" 

Notice there are two characters in this dramatic story.  One is Jesus, who is hungry after fasting for forty days.  The temptation is to marvel at how He has withheld from eating for 40 days.  But that's not the point of this story.  In verse 1 we see the point was for Jesus not to go hungry, but to be tempted.  And He is tempted by the second character, known as the tempter (revealed to be the devil).  The question in this is: How is he being tempted?  Is it just because of food?  No... he is tempting Him to doubt His diety and identity!  Notice how the devil says "If you are the Son of God."  The Devil is saying prove yourself.  That is the point of the forty day trial, the devil is tempting Jesus to doubt His true diety and identity. 

Jesus' response to this tempting is what we wouldn't expect.  It would be easy for Jesus to prove Himself by doing what the devil said, showing off His immense power.  It would be the natural response.  However, what He does is actually remarkable.  He merely believes in the written Word of God.  We see this in v. 4, "But He answered, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"  Jesus says that He will depend on God to not only sustain Him, but also to maintain His belief in His diety and identity. 

So how does that impact how we should treat lent?  I think there are a few things that this doesn't mean:

1.  It doesn't mean our worth is in giving something up -- because our value is in Christ dying for us on the cross.

2.  It doesn't mean God will love us more the more we keep lent -- How could we be more loved by a God who is already perfectly pleased with us in Christ.

3.  It doesn't mean God will be mad with you if don't do lent

4.  Lent is not a 40 day retreat from doing sin -- As believers in Christ, we are called to put sin to death, not keep it at bay for 40 days to feel better about ourselves.

5.  Lent is not meant to be used for ulterior motives -- it's ok to give up food, but if the point is just to lose weight or be healthier in life style, that's not the right motivation.

Then what is the right motivation?  I think the key is in Matthew 4.  First off, there is no command in the scriptures to do lent.  So you and I are free to not partake.  However, what we see with Jesus is that He uses the time to draw nearer to His Father.  He trusts His Father's Words over both physical hunger pangs, as well as spiritual questions.  Imagine if your Father sent you out into the desert for 40 days with nothing to eat.  It would be pretty easy to assume your Father isn't trustworthy.  However, Jesus trusts His Father perfectly by trusting His Word over the tempter's pleas.  Therefore, if we do partake of lent, it should be with the intent of increasing our intimacy and trust with Jesus, NOT to earn magical brownie points or to feel good about ourselves.  With that being said, here is what I hope to give up for lent, and why:

1.  Buffalo Wings (any variation) -- A common struggle for me is gluttony, and particularly I can see food as a cheap comfort when I feel discouraged or sad.  Wings are my number 1 go-to (and I will bank my day on an all-you-can-eat wing buffet).  So, while wings aren't sinful, my hope is that as I'm tempted to long for my favorite food, that instead I would turn to Jesus as my source of food, and that I would believe Psalm 81:10, that Jesus would fill my mouth.

2.  Looking at a scale  -- When I go to the gym, it's easy to bank my day on the number I see on the scale.  In fact, I'll step on the scale before and after my workout.  If it's higher than I want, my mood shifts.  If it's lower, I'm excited.  While it's ok to look at the scale (and actually recommended to do), I often see my identity in that number rather than in what Jesus already thinks of me.  So I'm going to practice putting my identity in Christ and not do it by looking at my weight.

3.  YouTube -- When I'm at home, my go-to thing to do is to do nothing.  And I typically do that by watching YouTube.  There's nothing sinful about YouTube itself.  But I'm seeing in my life a routine seeking of comfort in watching the new "Guardians of the Galaxy" trailer for 481st time (that number may or may not be exaggerated), rather than the greatest comforter in the person of Jesus Christ. 

My hope is that I wouldn't put my hope in not doing these things for 40 days, but rather that I would cultivate a heart that seeks to find comfort, and place my identity, in Jesus more fully.  I also hope that as lent ends, I can use all three of these things in a more God-honoring way; escaping my shallow escapes so that I may escape to true refuge.  

In His Grace,

Friday, February 14, 2014

An Obligatory Valentine's Day Post -- The Love we don't Deserve

"Choose love this Valentine's Day."  That was one of the taglines for a recent preview, the movie called "Endless Love."  It's cheesy, reeks of teenage lust, and yet... we're easily drawn to it, right?    This feeling deep down inside that we want to be:  Noticed, Accepted, Desired, Valued... Loved.  

It's one of the reasons why we tirelessly sit through awful movies like Twilight, and sit through the horror of children killing each other and root for Team Peeta or Team Gale.  There is something that is immensely powerful about the idea of being loved by another. 

That's why Valentine's Day can be so depressing for so many people.  It's why it was so depressing for so long for me as a single man, because if I didn't have a "valentine," it was like something was wrong with me.  The day has often become a day where we either show off what we have, or we pout about what we don't.  Why?  Because the love we have or don't have defines us. 

It's an Identity Crisis!   

Why else would singles all around the world (me included when I was single) begrudgingly call today "Singleness Awareness Day?"  Why, of all days, today, does everyone post pictures of the gifts they received from their significant other?  Valentine's Day exposes where our hope actually lies.

But... it's good to be loved, valued, desired, accepted, and noticed... right?

YES!  And we are!  But there is a greater love than the love of a man or woman.   Before we move on... I know what you are thinking:

"I grew up hearing about how Jesus is my Valentine... it's not helpful!"  

I agree... it's not helpful to hear how Jesus is your valentine.  Because He is far more than that.  You see, here's the thing about us; we want to be desired, accepted, noticed, valued, and loved.  Except, there's nothing about us that should illicit that response from anyone.  My sin is far worse than I could ever imagine.  As Paul shares in Romans 3, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," and "none is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one."

If you turn to the old testament, in Ezekiel 16, God chose us as His Beloved, and we turned and "played the whore."  He entered a deep covenant of love with us, and we have spurned Him for nothing more than cheap imitations of love.  In Genesis 3, we see Adam and Eve, so ashamed of their sin that they hide their nakedness from each other, and then hide from God. You see, the pattern of scripture is in line with how we are in our lives: We desperately want to hear that we are loved in spite of the shame we carry, but we settle for far less because we couldn't possibly think that someone would accept us if they saw "the real me."

That's why Romans 5:8 is so beautiful: "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  God saw how disgusting we were, how rebellious we were, how wretched we were, and He said, "I CHOOSE YOU.  I choose you to be my beloved, even at your worst, so much so that I send my Son to die for you."  

So today, celebrate the greatest love imaginable.  Celebrate all that God has rescued you from.  If you are in a relationship or married, celebrate God's love together.  If you're single, celebrate the love that Christ has for you.  

You are loved by someone that far surpasses any one person's love, let your hope rest in Him. 

In His Grace,


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Lacking Joy

I just finished preaching on Jonah 2, and, per usual, was given some from very helpful feedback from some of my friends and co-laborers.  One of the things that they mentioned was, "it didn't feel very hopeful at the end..." which I found was odd, considering the passage is a prayer of thanksgiving.

Upon reflecting on the feedback, I'm realizing that there is something often missing in my Christian walk as I pursue Christ and seek to kill my sin.

I think I often want to give a grave challenge (both to myself and to others) of how we shouldn't live, and how we should live, and to stop messing around.  There's a heart of judgment and pride in there, and as I think of how that comes across, it makes believing in Jesus seem like this crushing, religious, only the strong survive-type faith.

That's not what I intended to communicate in the talk I gave, but in my tone and delivery, I think I was far more grave and serious, when Jonah 2 is clearly about God's salvation and the thankfulness Jonah has from being rescued from death and his own sin.  He's willing to turn away from idolatry and sacrifice to His God with Thanksgiving (vs. 8-9)

This isn't the main point of the passage, but I'm convicted by this point none the less:  where's the joy in fighting sin so that I can be closer to Jesus?

I often deceive myself, thinking I have to give stuff up to be a better Christian.  In doing so, I completely miss the joy of the Gospel.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 6:23)

Sin isn't just an annoyance, but the apostle Paul says that it brings about death!  It's running away from God.  But following Christ gives life!

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10b)

I'm not saying that the Christian life should be easy.  It's hard to give up sin.  But, whenever we feel like fighting sin is eating our vegetables, we need to repent.  Following Christ is not "eating your vegetables," it's the filet mignon at the finest steakhouse.  It should produce more joy than anything else.   When we talk about how God rescues from our sin patterns, and how he should spur us on, we should be challenged.  But, we should also be encouraged, excited, and joyful.  Because as we see the brokenness of our sin, we should be reminded that we are forgiven.   As we see God convict us, we should be reminded that God is at work in our hearts.  And as we repent and change, we should see that we are increasingly leaving the things that cause us death, and traveling towards the things that bring us life.  Ultimately, we should rejoice that the creator of the universe wants to be in relationship with us!

Isn't that something to rejoice over?

In Him,