Teenagers, Wayne Grudem, & The 1958 Billboard Hot 100

So let’s just get to it…I mean, let’s cut through the proverbial poo and say it straight:

Teenagers need theology.

Theos meaning God, –logy meaning study of; hence, theology is the study of God. Teenagers need to study God, they need to have conversations about God, read books about God, learn about God…regularly.

For too long we have given our teens Wednesday night pizza and ping pong, Saturday morning service projects, and Sunday morning bible studies that have the doctrinal depth of a flannel graph teaching of the Good Samaritan and gets them no further than, “God loves everyone.” (wink…nod…twinkle smile) Then they wake up one day and someone offers them a hit of this or a drink of that or acceptance from them and all of a sudden all they know is, “Who needs God, when I have all this?” Or they get a phone call their sophomore year of college, “Your mom was in a horrible accident son, we lost her” or “Your dad has cancer honey, the doctors are giving him three months” and all of a sudden all they know is, “God hates me.”

They come to these conclusions, I believe, because the God we introduce them to, many times,  is the equivalent of a fairy godmother who loves us for who we are, only does nice things for us, and whose sole purpose is to make sure we are comfortable and happy…for eternity. They come to these conclusions because the Bible is treated, many times, like a follow up to our own thoughts, instead of the foundation of all thought. They come to these conclusions because we make Jesus our “homeboy,” the Holy Spirit our sherpa, and the Church is an option to be embraced or shunned at will. That God, that Jesus, that Holy Spirit, that Church are EASY to give up on, because we only need fairy godmothers when we’re in trouble, homeboys come and go, sherpas don’t always lead us the way we want to go, and options are just that…options…we can always find cooler (less hypocritical) people to hang out with.

So what’s the answer? Well…Wayne Grudem of course…just kidding, kind of. I once wrote a curriculum called Concentrate: Theology for Youth. It was a 28 week concise study of Wayne Grudem’s 1296 page  Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine  broken down to key points and fed to a group of teenagers in a Sunday School class. Week by week we worked our way through big truths and difficult doctrines to better understand the Trinitarian God we claim to know and love and week by week I witnessed something amazing…students actually falling more in love with that God. 

Listen, systematic theology is not the answer, Wayne Grudem is not the answer, Jesus is, but how do we best introduce teenagers to Jesus? How do we best explain to them who the God of the Bible really is and what He has done through His Son and what He continues to do through His Spirit and the Church, so that they don’t give up at the first sign of trouble? A.W. Tozer once said:

“What I believe about God is the most important thing about me.”

The Apostle Peter tells us:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 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 (2 Peter 1:2-3)

“All things that pertain to life and godliness” come to us “through the knowledge of him who called us.” If it has to do with life and godliness, that’s faith, holiness, love of others, love of the church, growth in Christlikeness…everything we need…comes through knowledge of God. What God are you giving your teenagers? Is it the God of the Bible? Is it the God of your imagination? Give them sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), give them unadulterated theology that puts God before their eyes in His full and deserved glory. Then watch them fall in love.

In August of 1958 a little trio named The Teddy Bears put out their first record with a B-side track called To Know Him is To Love Him. By December 1 it had climbed the charts and was #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. An unknown 17 year old senior in high school, named Phil Spector, wrote the song after being inspired by the epitaph on his father’s headstone that read, “To know him was to love him.” The words of this simple song from the 1950s still ring true today when it comes to the knowledge of our great and glorious King, Jesus.

To know, know, know him, is to love, love, love him
And I do, and I do, yes I do.

May we give our teens all that we can to help them know their God.
May we teach them with sound doctrine that leads to life and godliness.
May we give them theology that helps them fall in love with their Savior.
May we help them…learn to follow.

 

Reading, Praying, & Why I Am Encouraged By Other’s Failures

Martin Luther was a monk in the early 1500s. He wrote a theses, nailed it to a church door and the Protestant Reformation began. Luther has often been pointed to as a champion of spiritual disciplines. He read and read and read and read and read…and prayed and prayed and prayed and prayed. I once heard a story that Luther was going to have such a busy day that instead of his normal 3 hours of prayer he got up an hour earlier to have 4 hours of prayer to be ready. With stories like this who needs the Devil, just whisper stories like this in my ear a few times a day and I will thoroughly believe that I am the worst Christian on the planet. I will berate myself for being lazy about reading and praying. I will loath the fact that I am not more committed and I might even doubt that I am a Christian at all.

But then, hopefully…the very verses with which the Reformation began will ring through the hollow, cold, frightened corridors of my mind and yell, “The righteous shall live by faith!” (Romans 1:17)  Then by the grace of God I will remember that it is not how many times a day I fall to my knees in prayer or how often I open the pages of my Bible that saves me, but it is the sacrifice of Jesus Himself that saves me. He was perfectly disciplined, perfectly obedient, perfectly righteous in all He did and that righteousness has been credited to me by grace, through faith…apart from what I do. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

I don’t do The Weekly R.E.A.P.ing or the Thirteen:Seven Faith, or any number of other studies, reading plans, or other disciplines to gain God’s favor or grace. I do them BECAUSE He has shown me undeserved favor and grace. I do them BECAUSE He knows me and I want to know Him more. And when I fail at those disciplines I don’t have to doubt His love for me or doubt that I am His…I simply must confess that I have failed, ask Him to help me do better, and pick up right where I left off.

So the next time you hear a wonderful story about the faithfulness of some great saint remember, they were people just like us, they failed all the time, but by God’s grace they persevered to the end. And while we’re on the subject here’s a story about Martin Luther from his own words, in a letter to his friend Philipp Melanchthon:

“You extol me so much … Your high opinion of me shames and tortures me, since – unfortunately – I sit here like a fool and hardened in leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God … In short I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, laziness, leisure, and sleepiness … Already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied; this is partly because of temptations of the flesh, partly because I am tortured by other burdens.” (Luther’s Works, vol. 48, p. 256.)

Luther was a “hero” of the faith and the stories of his faithfulness in the spiritual disciplines are to be looked up to and even imitated, but he was not perfect. His and other great saint’s successes and failures ought to encourage us to keep “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

May we trust only in the finished work of Christ. May we live by faith.
May we learn to follow.

 

My Family, My Friends, & The Dead Guy That Keeps Screwing Things Up

God saved me in the winter of 1996. In January of 1997 I married Leslie and we have been together for 21 years now. Our daughter Grace was born in June of 2002 and she has been a reminder of God’s grace every year that she has been with us. Through the years we have made many friends; some of them very close to us. There is nothing I wouldn’t do for God, wife, daughter or friends. If they need me for any reason, I am gratefully available to them all, but…

There are times (if I’m being transparent) that I don’t want to be available. Do you ever feel that way? I mean, I love them, but sometimes that’s just not what comes out. I care about them all, but sometimes you just wouldn’t know it. There are times when I am a narcissistic jerk that wants my life to revolve around me and me alone.

It comes out in many ways: sometimes I get quiet, sometimes I say more than I should, sometimes I quit doing anything, sometimes I do things and my actions are hurtful, sometimes my words cut…deep. Sometimes my wit and sarcasm become weapons of mass destruction and before I even realize I hit the launch button all I can do is deal with the fallout and collateral damage. Sometimes I “do” or “say” and immediately think, “Nooo…why did you…?”

Sometimes I live like the old dead guy (2 Cor. 5:17) that doesn’t care about other’s feelings and only wants to be heard, wants to be smarter, bigger, and better than you. Yeah, I know, major jerk. Just writing this I want to punch myself in the face. But listen, “I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Rom. 7:18-19) But that’s kind of a cop out isn’t it? I mean just saying that I want to do right, but, oh woe is me, I don’t because I just keep doing it even though I don’t want to is kind of a joke.

And if I left it there, it would be a joke, but that’s not the biblical way of dealing with being a jerk. We can’t just say I am who I am and keep doing what we do. Why? Because if we are truly in Christ who we are is a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). I’m not a jerk, I’m not a bad husband, father, or friend. It’s not my true nature as a child of God. Do I still mess up? Yes. Do I still live like the dead guy sometimes? Yes. But that is not my identity. In Christ, I have been set free from the old me (Rom. 6:18) and I don’t have to choose to live that way. So how can I keep the old guy in the grave and live like the new creation that I am? How can you?

  1. CONFESS MY SINS REGULARLY: “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) Keep short accounts of your sin. Don’t let known sins linger, confess them to those you have sinned against and ask others to hold you accountable to your sins. Jesus said, “whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”(John 3:21)
  2. REPENT OF MY SINS: it’s one thing to confess our sins, but if we don’t actually turn from those sins, turn to God, and “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Phil. 1:27) then it means nothing. The only thing confession without repentance accomplishes is that people know that we know we’re jerks. So we must “repent…and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:19-20)
  3. STAY IN COMMUNITY (NO MATTER WHAT): “The New Testament contains at least 40 passages that contain the words “one another” and each one points to a way that Christians are to treat, or are not to treat, each other.” (One Another, Challies) Our relationships are more about our holiness than they are our happiness. It is only in community that we grow to be more like Christ. Hebrews tells us, “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” (Heb. 10:24-25)

Paul tells us, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” (Rom. 15:1) I’m not saying I am strong, quite the contrary, I’m saying I am weak. I need those who are strong in the community of faith to hold me accountable, call me out when I need it, allow me to confess my sins and still love me, help me to live a life of repentance and keep walking with them towards Christ-likeness.

Romans 8:13 says to “put to death the deeds of the body [and] you will live.” In other words we need to regularly tell the dead guy to stop screwing things up, put him back in the grave, and love like Christ has loved us…not just in word, but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:18)

 

Prostitutes, Pharisees, & Beethoven’s Pathetic Song

Have you ever listened to Beethoven?

That might be a strange question to ask most people under the age of 30 these days, but it’s a relevant question to the topic we are about to discuss. I grew up in the 80s listening to country and Southern rock because of my dad, pop and top-40 music because of my mom, rap because of my friends, and everything else because I love music and I’m naturally curious…so I dug around all the sections in the record store.*

I found Beethoven my junior year of high school and one song immediately grabbed my attention and still holds it every time I hear it played. Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 Adagio Cantabile, also known as, Pathétique (or translated: Pathetic). It grabbed me and pulled me in and brought tears to my eyes at 16 years old and something inside of me was saying, “That’s you…you’re pathetic…and hopeless…with no purpose or future.” A song with no words, played on a piano, spoke to my heart and became to me a place to find solace from life.

Now fast forward about eight years. I’m 24, married to my beautiful wife Leslie, I have been a follower of Jesus for about a year and I come across a story in the Bible. In Luke 7 there’s a story about a Pharisee (these would be the church leaders of Jesus’ day) who invites Jesus to eat with him. So Jesus goes to eat with him and a local prostitute finds out that Jesus is going to be there, so she goes to the Pharisee’s house to see Jesus (gutsy chic). I see her in my mind sneaking up to the window and peeking in, alone, feeling unwanted and terrified to be seen knowing that she might be judged or pointed out and ridiculed. Yet she’s heard of Jesus and His mercy to others and that pushes her on. She slips up behind Him and then she can’t hold it anymore…she loses it and begins to weep at Jesus’ feet. Her tears wet His feet and she begins to wipe them off with her hair and anoint them with oil…and she is simply…pathetic.

This is where the Pharisee starts to think, “What kind of man is this letting this nasty woman touch his feet?” Then Jesus pulls a Jedi mind trick, knows his thoughts and tells a story about two people that owe debts, one about $100,000 and one about $1,000, and the moneylender cancels both their debts and then Jesus’ asks, “Now which of them will love him more?”

Then it hit me…both debts are canceled…Jesus was telling the Pharisee, “You both owe debts”…both…were…pathétique. And so Beethoven slapped me in the head again and me being 16 and crying while listening to the song flashed through my mind and I realized that everyone is hopeless, no one has purpose or a future, we’re all pathetic…without Christ. Unless we fall at the feet of Jesus and trust in His mercy and grace we will never truly have hope or purpose or a future. We have been forgiven much, whether we have never cared for God or stepped foot in a church (like the prostitute) or whether we have grown up our whole lives in pews and youth groups (like the Pharisee).

We are all pathetic…we all need Jesus…and when we realize this the real question becomes, “How will we respond, like the prostitute…or like the Pharisee?” Because only one heard the words, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”

May we realize how great a debt that has been forgiven us.
May we fall at the feet of Jesus with gratitude.
May we learn to follow.

To listen to Beethoven’s Pathétique: Spotify/YouTube


*For my really young readers, record stores were where you would buy music on large, round, fragile discs that played on “record players” and could be scratched and ruined very easily. You actually had to get in your car and drive there, you couldn’t just download them from your couch. Today some artist put out their music on special “LP” releases (these are records or ‘albums’)…I’m not sure why.

Jesus Christ, Johnny Cash, & Why My Daughter’s Eternity Is Secure

Johnny Cash was in my life long before I ever thought about Jesus Christ being in my life. I probably listened to I Walk The Line and Folsom Prison Blues a thousand times before it ever crossed my mind to listen to a sermon from anyone. I was plucking out Cash tunes for years before my Martin guitar ever echoed the sound of a praise chorus. The Lord saved me at 23; He gave me a daughter at 28.

When Grace was born I used to say to people, “If Grace grows up to know Jesus Christ and Johnny Cash I will have succeeded as a father.” Well, by the time she was four she would sit in her car seat behind me and sing Ballad of a Teenage Queen, Guess Things Happen That Way, and even Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down. When she was nine she told me she wanted to follow Jesus and I baptized her in a bathtub in a hotel room in Denver, Colorado. Thank you Jesus, I’m the dad of the century…NOT.

There’s a reason why I like Johnny Cash, it’s not just because I grew up on his music. I actually like him more now, that I’m a Christian, than before. There’s a reason why I still want Grace to know who Johnny Cash is, not just his music, but his life as well. You don’t have to look to deep into Johnny’s life to see that sin was “crouching at [his] door” (Gen. 4:7) regularly and he opened that door and invited sin in continually. Adultery, drugs, alcohol, and that was all before the 60’s. So why would I want my daughter to know Johnny Cash? Why would I seem to put him second to only Jesus Christ? Because Johnny Cash lived a life of recklessness, rebellion…and also redemption. Johnny is a walking contradiction, flesh and spirit, sinner and saint; which he continually admitted through his life. He once told Rolling Stone magazine, “There is a spiritual side to me that goes real deep, but I confess right up front that I’m the biggest sinner of them all.”

The reasons why I would want my daughter to know Jesus Christ, I hope, would be obvious, but the reasons I want her to know Johnny Cash are that I want her to see a real life example of a man that messed up constantly, but loved Jesus and was loved by Jesus. Granted, she has grown up with me, so I’m probably all the example she needs, but I look at Johnny Cash regularly and think, “My God he was a screw up, but he loved Jesus and knew that he needed Jesus desperately.” I continually fall short. I continually do things that even make me think…you’re never gonna make it…you can’t be a Christian. But then I remember, Jesus saves prideful, hard hearted, jerks all the time…He even saved Johnny Cash.

Then I can look over at my daughter and say, “Well, we keep screwing up. Heck, sometimes we don’t even look like Christians, but let’s get up, brush ourselves off, put our eyes on Jesus, and keep on moving, because Jesus saves screw ups…just like Johnny Cash.”

And then I’ll open my Spotify app, scroll down to With His Hot and Blue Guitar and Grace and I will sing along:

Yes, I know when Jesus saved me (saved my soul)
The very moment He forgave me (made me whole)
He took away my heavy burdens
Lord, He gave me peace within (peace within)

Satan can’t make me doubt it (I won’t doubt it)
It’s real and I’m gonna shout it (I’m gonna shout it)
I was there when it happened
And so I guess I ought to know

TV, The BBC, & A Sorcerer That Brought Me Closer To Jesus

I watch more TV than I should, I know this, but mindless entertainment is one thing that Grace and I share. We love falling into series together on Netflix or Amazon Instant Watch. We haven’t watched many in her 15 years of life, but a few we have enjoyed are H2O: Just Add Water, The Elephant Princess, and most recently Merlin a BBC series about the time of King Arthur and the sorcerer Merlin.

In the show magic has been banned in Camelot, but Merlin, the sorcerer, is a personal servant to Arthur. Merlin feels such a deep obligation to the prince and future king that he continues to serve him while keeping his magic secret. Although it is difficult denying his true nature his devotion to Arthur and the kingdom that he is building drives him to selflessly help further that kingdom.

When Arthur finally discovers that Merlin has magic he is torn between the law of the kingdom and his love for his faithful servant. Yet, as he sees Merlin in action he realizes just how devoted he is to the kingdom and at one point says, “All these years, Merlin. You never once sought any credit.” To which Merlin replies, “It’s not why I do it.” We finished the series a couple weeks ago and the night it ended I went to bed thinking about the final episode. I just couldn’t shake it from my mind for some reason. Something about the conversations and interactions between Arthur and Merlin just kept rattling around in my head and I couldn’t put my finger on it. I went to sleep…unsettled…and woke up at 4 o’clock in the morning with a realization…I am a horrible Merlin.

Through 5 seasons and 65 episodes Merlin remained a faithful servant to the prince and future king, Arthur Pendragon and not just to Arthur, but to Camelot, his kingdom. His only concern was king and kingdom…he loved Arthur…with all of his heart, mind, soul, and strength. So it made me ask the questions, Do I love Jesus this way? Do I care for His Kingdom this way? I had to admit that too many times the answer is no. So it brought me to do what I could, I repented of my desire for “credit” and recognition. I repented of my self-serving mindset that so many times has my own interest in mind over and above the interest of His Kingdom. I repented and asked His forgiveness and His help to love Him more and serve Him better. But the lessons from Merlin didn’t stop there.

Towards the end of the last episode Merlin shares with Arthur, “Some men are born to plow fields, some live to be great physicians, others to be great kings. Me? I was born to serve you, Arthur, and I’m proud of that, and I wouldn’t change a thing.” And in Arthur’s final words to Merlin he says, “Everything you’ve done…for me, for Camelot, for the kingdom you helped me build…thank you.”

When I awoke that night, those lines also flooded into my mind and made me ponder the hope that I have in Christ, despite my failures. The hope that one-day I would stand before our King, in His Kingdom and I would hear Him say a similar, yet more glorious phrase, “Well done good and faithful servant.” And that thought allowed me to praise Him for being faithful…even when I am not…and then I fell back to sleep and rested well.

May we realize that we were born to serve Jesus, the Prince and King.
May we serve Him selflessly to further His Kingdom.
May we long for the day that we hear Him say, “Well done.”
May we learn to follow.

 

The Flesh, The Spirit, & A Nasty Little Creature Named Rags

My wife and I once owned a schnauzer named Rags. He was your typical cute little dog that followed us around the house, ate our food if we left it on the coffee table, and had that little yippy bark that made your ears bleed if someone knocked on the front door. We adopted him from some friends of ours that were moving to Hawaii and couldn’t take him. It was either us or the Humane Society…so we took him. My wife loved that dog. She would get him groomed and put bandanas around his neck. He owned a couple sweaters. He never was wanting or without everything a dog could possibly need to be happy and healthy.

Rags was a house dog. He slept on our furniture and sat on our bed and rolled around on our carpet. In the eyes of my wife and our friends he was the poster dog for cute and adorable dogs. Then one day he went outside to do his “business” and when I went out to yell for him…no Rags. So I trudge out in to the cold, “Rags! Come here!….Rags! Come on!” Then I saw him. “RAGS NO!! GET INSIDE NOW!”

Rags, our cute, adorable, house dog was at the edge of our yard, at the edge of the woods, rolling around in a nasty, smelly, rotting….deer carcass. Yep, our cute little dog that got bandanas and perfumes put on him and wore precious little sweaters every now and then was free and out of his mind diving around getting as much wet, putrid, stinky deer funk on him as quickly as he possibly could…then wanted to come in my house and lay on the couch.

You know what? We’re all Rags. God adopts us, brings us into His family, lets us live in His house, gives us everything we could possibly ever need and then whenever we get the chance…we find the first nasty deer carcass we can find and roll around in it…then we want to come back in the house and have Daddy love on us. Romans 7:21-23 says:

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”

Christ died to set us free, that we might live as children of God, yet we continually run back to the world. The Spirit is leading us in the way of Christ and our flesh is pulling back, tempting us to go the way of the world. So where is the hope, for the Rags of the world?

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

The lure of the world is strong, but through faith in Jesus Christ we are free from the law of sin and death. He gives us the ability to serve Him, love Him, and desire Him more than the cheap pleasures of the world. There’s a war going on inside of us, between the flesh and the Spirit, but if we place our hope firmly in the cross and continue to fight, we have already won, in Christ. We still fall, we still fail, we still roll around in a carcass occasionally, but our loving Father “keeps” us (Jude 24) and nothing will separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39)…including the occasional deer funk.

May we strive to walk by the Spirit, not gratifying the flesh.
May we continually look to Jesus, our superior Pleasure.
May we learn to follow.

Jonah, Jesus, & I Think I Hate My Neighbor

“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 3:10 -4:3)

We could read this and think, “How could someone who knew God not want Him to show mercy to everyone?” And the response could be, “Good question. Why don’t you want Him to show mercy to everyone?”

Jonah is a very visible, tangible, historical reminder of our own hearts. He was a servant of God; a prophet, speaking the very message of God (2 Kings 14:25) and he knew God’s character well. He knew God was merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love…he knew God was forgiving and relenting from disaster. He knew the heart of God that Ezekiel would later say takes “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from [their] way and live.” (Ez. 33:11) He knew God’s heart and he knew the people of Nineveh…the people that cut off heads and hung them in trees around the city; the people who skinned people alive; the people who burned children alive; the people who mocked God openly (2 Kings 19:16) and wished to destroy His people. Jonah didn’t want forgiveness for them, he wanted destruction.

Right now we might all say…”Uh, I’m not like that, I’m not like Jonah. How can you say I don’t want God to show mercy to everyone?” Then this question comes to mind: do I believe that destruction is coming for those that do not know Christ?

Jonah’s message was clear: destruction is coming (Jonah 3:4). The message to the world is clear: destruction is coming (John 3:36, Rom. 2:5, Col. 3:6). Yet just like in the days of Jonah, God is willing to relent and now we know this for sure. How? The cross! We don’t have to say with the Ninevites, “Who knows? God may turn and relent.” No! We can say with Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) God’s mercy is sure!

Yet, knowing this I still, so often, sit in my home, with my friends, in my safe suburb, watching as the world moves on into eternity without telling them of the hope that is available, the mercy that can be found, the grace that is offered. So often, with my lips I testify that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) And by my actions I make a booth, with Jonah, and I sit under it in the shade, till I see what will become of the world (Jonah 4:5). Too many times, with words I love my neighbor, but in deed I hate them.

In Jonah, I see myself. My hardness of heart, my lack of compassion for those outside of “my people,” and my desire to be comfortable rather than give up everything to share God’s love. But Jonah is not my example, Jesus is. In Jesus I see what I desire to be…compassionate, merciful, gracious, loving, patient…always hoping, always caring, always giving. Then I think, “Ok, go be that. That’s what He’s called you to be, that’s what He’s freed you to be…so go, do it.” And I can’t help but get excited about tearing down the booth I built with Jonah and walking back into the city thinking, “If the mercy of God extends to those who cut off heads & hang them in trees & burn children alive…who can it not reach?”

May we all love our neighbors…in word and deed.
May we risk it all to give the world hope.
May we learn to follow.

My Abundance of Stress, My Lack of Control, & the Old Man Who Prayed

Growing up I remember this picture of an old man praying over a loaf of bread* hanging on our wall. Maybe you’ve seen it, or maybe you have one too. A lot of people had this picture in their house, but I just remember it sitting there on the wall telling me that food (and prayer) was more important than I might think. I wasn’t a Christian, we didn’t attend church, or talk about Jesus, but that old man helped me realize that Somebody was listening…even if I didn’t know who it was at the time.

In Matthew 6 Jesus’ disciples say to Him, “Hey Jesus, teach us how to pray” and Jesus says, “Ok, talk to God as your Father, ask for Him to make Himself really big in and around your life. Ask for His will to be done in your neighborhoods and schools and home.” Then Jesus went super practical…”Ask your Father to give you enough bread for today.” (Matthew 6:11)

If you’re like me, sometimes I have so many stresses on my plate that I’m not thinking about today’s bread, I’m thinking about every single thing going on in my life over the next week, month, or even year. Sometimes I come before God and think, “Where do I even begin?” If I was to actually stop and pray about everything I think I need I would be locked in my room for the next week. Sometimes the thought of that even makes me not pray. Sounds crazy right…but sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with not knowing where to start I don’t ask God about any of it. I think this is because down deep I just can’t handle not being in control of everything in my little world, so the million things on my mind remind me of how out of control I really am and I shut down.

But Jesus is the sovereign Lord of all…”in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Just a few verses after He tells us to ask for bread He reminds us that our heavenly Father is the one who is really in control (Matthew 6:25-34). He is in control of your food and your drink, but not just your food, He’s in control of everything. He’s in control of your parents, your friends, your siblings, your teachers and bosses and coaches. He’s in control of your present and your future and every perceived stress on your plate. He is in complete control of “our” little worlds, because our little worlds are not ours at all…”the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1) So when Jesus says, “Hey ask for today’s bread” it’s because He knows who is in control, so He centers us on this fact: all we need to focus on is what we need today. As J.I. Packer reminds us, “bread…stands here for all of life’s necessities”** so Jesus is not just talking about bread, He’s talking about everything you need to keep you going, to sustain you…today.

So why should that comfort us? Why is the fact that God is in complete control good news?

Because the one true God, who created all things and controls all things…loves you. When Jesus tells His disciples not to worry He says that it’s because they are valuable to their God (Matthew 6:26). He says that if God feeds the birds that He simply spoke into existence, how much more will He feed those who He “knit together” (Psalm 139:13) with great care and love? How much more will He feed and care for you, whom He sent His own Son to die for? (Romans 8:32)

If God were a tyrant king waiting to strike us down at the first sign of distrust or lack of faith we would need to worry, but He’s not. God is a loving Father who “knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). So pray often, pray boldly, pray fearlessly; your Father will give you bread…and every other need for the day.

Then we can all join that old man in the picture and give Him thanks.

May we trust in the sovereign God who is in control of all things.
May we come to the Lord as a child to a loving Father.
May we learn to follow.


*The picture was Grace by Eric Enstrom
**Praying the Lord’s Prayer by J.I. Packer, pg 73-74

 

My Mom, Leftovers, & Why Spotify Reminds Me That I Need Jesus

My mom has not owned a microwave oven in twenty years. She once got an apartment that came with a microwave; she unplugged it and put it in the laundry room. When she cooks, she cooks on the stove or in the oven. If she has leftovers and wants to reheat them she puts them in the oven or in a pot on the stove.

I, on the other hand, have always had a microwave. I love them and don’t really want to know a life without them. Microwave popcorn, microwave desserts, microwave dinners. Have you ever cooked popcorn on the stove? Uh, pain. I don’t want to wait 45 minutes for a baked potato, I want to wait 7 minutes. I don’t want to make and bake a whole cake, I want to put a few ingredients in a mug and microwave it for one minute. Here’s a site if you want to pause for a treat: 13 Easy Microwave Mug Cakes

Then there’s Spotify. In my life Spotify is to music what a microwave is to food. But it’s also a reminder of a desperate desire to feed my appetite for immediate self-gratification. In Galatians 5:19-21 we read a laundry list of sins:

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. 

When I look at these sins I see a common thread running through them all: they all feed off of a desire for immediate self-gratification. They all suffer from a lack of patience and an abundance of pride. The same sinful desire that makes a person jealous, or divisive, or impure, or sexually immoral is the same sinful desire that makes me want the entire world of music available to me at the push of a button. I don’t want to buy every CD or song that I might ever care to have I just want every CD or song I can think of available to me now, now, now, now….give me, give me, give me, give me….more, more, more, more.

This is how the Bible says it:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

She saw it, she wanted it, now. God said not to, but it looked so good and they wanted to eat it, they wanted the knowledge, they wanted to be like God, NOW. And every time I search some obscure album that I would never spend my money on, but I’ll listen to it, because I can, I’m reminded that in my heart, I am just like them…I don’t want to save up and buy the album, I want to listen to it now. I don’t want to heat up leftovers for 30 minutes, I want them hot and ready now. I want everything I want and I want it all now.

So what is the answer to my (our) insatiable desire for immediate self-gratification? Paul tells us to, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16) Why is that? Because the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23) So how do we receive the Spirit?  When we heard the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation, and believed in him, we were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. (Eph. 1:13) Have you heard? Have you believed? Yes? If so, then you are sealed and you have received the Holy Spirit and belong to Jesus.

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Gal. 5:24-25) for immediate self-gratification, for having everything they want and more, right now. So, make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Rom. 13:14) Bake a potato in the oven, heat some leftovers the old fashion way (on the stove), and listen to a CD, that you bought, at a store, where you spent money, that you earned.

May we put on Christ and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.
May we live by the Spirit and walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
May we learn to follow.