It can be exhausting to strive to live for Jesus in a world that doesn’t always make much of Him. In this video I share ways that I’ve found rest: solitude from my phone and friends that encourage my spiritual growth. Give it a watch!
Then children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to me, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” After placing his hands on them, he went on from there. – Matthew 19:13-15
Our world is built on power. Powerful men and women run nations, lead businesses, win awards, and make money. A brief glance at the news, politics, sports, church, and really any aspect of our culture at all will show you that the loud and proud lead the world. You get ahead by being good at something and not doing it for free. You get ahead by drawing attention to yourself and making a name for yourself.
These last couple days however God has put a lot on my heart.
It revolves around the passage above.
We are to become like little children. Jesus brings children to Himself, blesses them, and says the Kingdom is for them.
You see, the Kingdom of God is drastically different from the kingdoms of man, the cultures we live in. It’s upside-down. It’s backwards. It’s better.
In a world that says arrogance and self-service are the standard, we are to live with gentleness and kindness. We are to live with humility and self-giving love.
In a world that teaches us all to believe that everyone else orbits around our desires, the Kingdom teaches us to give up all of our life for everyone else.
In a world that teaches to take the spotlight, we are told to find the shadows, to find the opportunities to serve those around us.
This is counter-cultural in every regard. Romans 12:1-2 teaches that we are not to conform to the patterns of this world in its arrogance-promoting and self-serving way. Instead we are to be transformed by renewing our minds in Scripture, following the leadership of the Servant King (see the book of Philippians).
Through reading 2 Peter and praying through the passage above, I have had the following questions on my heart. Maybe they would be good for you to think about as well.
Do I chase, cling to, and cherish status?
Do I chase, cling to, and cherish the Savior?
What is precious to me?
God’s promises, presence, and people?
Earthly power, prestige, and pleasure?
You see, a quick look at our lives will show us the answers to those questions. If I wake up thinking about how to self-promote, self-serve, and get my way, then I’m clearly living askew. But if I wake up and take myself before the Lord in prayer and Word, then I’m living rightly.
In the same way, if I dedicate myself to obtaining likes on social media, supporters at church, friends in the community, and all the other earthly glories, then I’m living askew. But if I am motivated by and treasure above all else the promises of God for me, pursue time with Him at the expense of earthly things, and lavishly love all of His people, then I’m living rightly.
Too many people think that living for Jesus is easy, simple, natural. But that is simply not the case. It takes transformation in the Word. It takes prayer. It takes reorientation. It takes living in such a way that seems utterly foolish to an ego-driven culture.
The Kingdom is for children.
The Kingdom is for those of us who actively and intentionally forsake status and prestige for the sake of Jesus.
The Kingdom is for those who can play the background so that the Risen Savior gets all the spotlight.
I’m still on this journey.
You know when I most encounter this struggle?
(Don’t stop reading. I know this is my 1000th golf illustration)
I am atrocious at golf. Like high-nineties on a good day atrocious.
Today I played in a scramble at the local country club.
Now, generally speaking, golf tournaments for those who are good at golf. The best golfers in town were certainly out there today. In those environments I get real stressed because I hate people watching me play, especially those who are quite good.
If there was ever a sport about status and prestige, it’s certainly golf (in my opinion). So today was a chance to practice just existing. Not trying to impress. Not trying to make a name for myself. Just enjoying my time.
In my time with the Lord today I felt like He was wanting me to just enjoy the gift.
The phrase “I’m just golfing with my Father” ran through my mind again and again. I thought about Psalm 27:4 and how I wanted to just be in God’s presence today.
You see, growing up, my dad and I would golf together. It was our thing. None of my other siblings really enjoyed it, but I cherished that time with him. And it was so much fun. I would hit a horrible shot, and we would just laugh about it. We would give each other a lot of grace, move the ball onto good grass, take mulligans, and just have a great time. I never felt nervous with my dad.
That’s what life in general is supposed to be like as a Christian. It’s not about impressing others. It’s about enjoying life with the Father.
Having that mindset doesn’t guarantee success. Nor does it snap me out of my fear of what others think of me. Not in a moment at least.
Today I shanked a tee shot about 2.5 miles away from the fairway near other people, and I didn’t have the humility to go get it. I’m still growing. Still learning to enjoy life with the Father.
My prayer is that you enjoy life too.
The world is pushing you towards elevating yourself. The way of Christ is the way of going deep into humility.
Let us be different. Let us be transformed. Let us live for others.
Let us enjoy life with the Father.
In His Name,
When we were dead in our trespasses.
That’s how the book of Ephesians (2:5) describes the state of our being before encountering Jesus.
We were dead.
We weren’t ‘struggling’ with sin or ‘falling into’ sin.
We weren’t morally good for the most part with just some natural, human struggles.
We were dead.
That’s where we were.
Look at Ephesians 2:1.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. . . – Ephesians 2:1
The book of Romans, chapter five, expands on this language.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. – Romans 5:6
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. – Romans 5:10
Enemies of God.
That’s a pretty bleak reality.
This should impact us in a litany of ways. But here’s a few things it gets me thinking about.
Who Is God Calling You To Help Rescue?
A lost person is unlikely to enter our church building on a whim. That may have been a societal, cultural reality in the past, but it is certainly not the case today.
We are called to bring people into Christian community, not primarily a sanctuary. I believe that lives will first be changed around our dinner tables in our homes. From there, some may have the boldness to come sit in our pews. I believe that hospitality is the key to winning the battle against religious apathy and agnosticism.
I have heard, seen, and read Christians talk about the lost in surprisingly unkind ways (myself included). We judge them on how they act, dress, drink, talk, think, etc.
Have we really forgotten the Bible?
The Bible teaches us that God looks at the interior soul of a man, not their choice of dress. The Bible never calls us to judge the non-believer, but rather to hold the believer accountable (both of which we don’t typically follow well). The Bible tells me that I was a dead, ungodly, wicked enemy of God.
Whenever I drive past a jail on my way to Wichita Falls, I think about how I’m no better than any man or woman in there. The only difference is that God’s grace has kept many of my fleshly desires in fleeting thoughts in my mind and not my actions (they are no less wicked).
The same is true for believers and non-believers.
Some of us have received God’s grace, and the rest of us need to hear of it.
Lastly, this pushes us to evangelize differently. We are to build relationships. What we are telling people with the gospel is that they are evil, wicked sinners that are dead spiritually and destined for hell. That’s a weighty message. It’s a message that must be proclaimed, but it is weighty.
You may disagree with my methods of evangelism, but I think our churches would be far better at it if the emphasis was on relationships as opposed to numbers. For me that helps me make it about love and not just the pressure of making sure I tell a certain number of people.
Are You Living Joyfully In Light Of This?
The second impact this has on me is that it should drive me to profound joy.
Life is mega-hard.
Today was honestly a rough one. Lots of thinking about what the future holds. Honestly lots of thoughts of hopelessness in the face of tragedy that I’ve had to take captive and give to the Lord. Some days are like that. In this current season of my life, many days are. I have had to cling to God today, or rather rest in His clinging on to me.
Despite life’s mega-hardness (as a budding academic theologian, that sounds so professional), I have experienced joy.
Because I was dead.
And now I’m not.
Now I’m alive.
Jesus rescued me, redeemed me, changed me, bought me, saved me. And now, He’s sanctifying me. Day by day. Through His Word. Through prayer. Through community. Through mentors. Through friends.
I’m not the man I was this time last year (praise God). I’m not the man I was ten years ago. God is changing me, molding me, growing me. Making me more and more like Himself.
Joy in my life isn’t always a bubbly personality and an ear to ear smile.
Often it is a deep seated remembrance that God is with me and that He has not abandoned me.
Are You Teaching Morality or Jesus?
Lastly, this should impact the way we parent, teach, disciple, preach, lead.
For those that are dead, they need to be brought to life. They don’t need to be simply told that they’re dead. While God is the one that does this, we have a role to play.
We sometimes (if not all the time) expect non-Christians to act like Jesus (all while we’re not there yet). We teach them how they should live. We quote Scripture to them about alcoholism and crude language (both of which are sinful, but the Bible addresses my ability to be religious without a heart for God and others far more often). But that’s like throwing a book about how to swim to a person who is drowning. We should rescue, and then teach.
God forgive us for our judgmental hearts and teachings.
For those that have been made alive in Christ, they don’t need to be taught primarily how to be a better person. Because the message of Scripture, as we’ve clearly seen here, is not about bad people becoming good. It’s about dead people coming to life. Every sermon I preach, every discussion question I write, every blog, every podcast, every video should be about this full life.
Yes, God calls us to live a certain way.
But the core of the matter is that we’ve been made alive.
Not because we were morally good.
God doesn’t care about that.
But because He was rich in mercy and love.
We were dead men walking.
Now we are alive.
In His Name,
All of mankind destroyed in a moment.
All save one family sheltered from the raging flood of God’s wrath.
One family deemed righteous in the sight of God.
One family saved.
The story of Noah’s Ark is one that we’ve missed the focus of for quite some time. At least in my opinion. The story of Noah’s Ark is normally taught to little kids. And I’m not so sure it should be. Yes, it’s cute to imagine the scene of the animals coming to Noah on the ark.
But the whole story of Noah’s Ark is about the wrath of God. His righteous, just, fair anger towards the wickedness of man (Genesis 6:5). After a century of grace, of time for man to repent (Genesis 6:3), God brought His wrath to bear on the world. Massive destruction. Whether or not you believe in a global flood is not the primary point of application. This story should cause us to reflect on the righteous wrath of our God. It’s easy for our modern sensibilities to cause us to ignore the wrath of God. Yet it is an undeniable theme of Scripture. Even the other day I noticed in Ezra 5:12 that we are given a reminder that God’s anger led to their enslavement (which was ultimately for their good and His glory, mind you. Read the whole story, not just the one verse).
God’s anger poured out upon the earth.
Have you ever stopped and let your mind linger on this story? The waiting and watching as the oceans flooded the earth, as all of life was destroyed.
Then, slowly but surely, the waters began to recede, to dissipate.
And in its place, life.
Noah and family start to think that maybe they’ll soon be getting off the ark. Noah opens up a window and lets a dove out. The dove comes back after circling the earth and finding nowhere to land.
Then, well, then the beautiful happens.
He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. – Genesis 8:10-11
Again. Have you lingered on this? It’s easy for us to read these stories and assume all these Biblical ‘heroes’ had insane faith in the midst of what they were experiencing. I don’t think that’s the case. Noah was not a perfect man. He was a drunk who passed out nude in front of his family. Isn’t it possible that after over FIVE MONTHS on an ark he started to doubt if God was going to come through?
I think so.
I think he likely started to wonder if new life would come. He sends out the dove, and the dove comes back with an olive leaf (fascinatingly enough, that became a historical signal for peace. God hangs his ‘bow’ back in the sky. We miss the significance of that when we only think about that as colorful, and not a symbol of war).
The dove comes back, communicating that new life has come. What a beautiful scene. But it points forward to a scene that brings tears to my eyes. It points forward to the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.
Cause you see, despite God’s grace, the people screw things up again.
For centuries, the people of God fail to live holy lives, fail to be distinct from the culture around them. The human heart remains wicked, broken, evil, full of sin. Injustice and pain is brought about by the people of God. The prophets rise again and again to try and correct the sins of the people of God, and yet their messages are not heeded.
Centuries of silence.
The promise of a Messiah faded into legend.
Again, it is extremely likely that doubt began to rise in the hearts of man.
Then, one day, a prophet arises from the wilderness. He is wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts. He begins to proclaim that the Kingdom of God has come, that the Messiah is here.
Honestly just typing this is giving me goosebumps.
Imagine the scene. People begin to flock to Him.
Then a man comes to Him.
And this is what happens next.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! . . . Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. – John 1:29, 32
BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD, WHO TAKES AWAY THE SINS OF THE WORLD. Those words had to of hit the people listening hard. They knew all about sacrificial lambs. They knew about lambs used to atone for personal sin, familial sin, nationwide sin. But now a man steps into the Jordan while a prophet claims that He is going to absolve the entire world (all who choose to believe and submit) of their sin.
Then (with tears in my eyes again) the Spirit is shown to descend on the Son.
In the form of. . .
New life had come.
And this time, it would last.
The Messiah had arrived. To bring life out of death. To bring new life that lasts. To inaugurate the Kingdom of God on earth. To set us free from all of our sin. Through His death.
He lived a perfect life. He ministered for three years, showing His power over nature and the spiritual realm. He taught a way of life that would begin to turn the world upside down.
Then, one night, he found Himself in a garden, an olive grove to be exact (THE BIBLE IS ONE STORY!!!!!!). After toil and tears, He obeyed His Father to the point of death.
And through His death, we have life.
Life to the fullest.
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In His Name,
The enemy loves to lie to you.
If you are a follower of Jesus, there are few things that Satan would rather do than to get you believing lies in your mind and in your heart. He strives to convince you of many falsehoods, normally in the veins of your view of God or your view of self.
The best way to combat the lies of the enemy is by filling your mind and heart with the truth.
We live in a society borderline obsessed with the notion of ‘personal truth’, but as believers we know that there is one worldview alone that is true, and that is the worldview that we find in the Scriptures.
We see truth as one of the items in the armor of God. Look with me at this verse in Ephesians 6.
Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, – Ephesians 6:14
In his book, The Whole Armor of God, Iain Duguid talks about each item of the spiritual armor of God. When discussing the belt of truth, he talks about once has to apply the belt. For the belt to function in our attire today, we must remove it from the closet and apply it to our clothing. The same is to be said for the Word of God. It is of no use to us in spiritual warfare (the Christian life) if it is merely collecting dust on our bookshelf, consistently ignored due to our busy schedules and lives.
I believe with all of my heart, and I’ve seen via my own experience, that many of us fall into sinful behavior and sinful patterns and sinful habits because we are simply not in a habit of entering into God’s Word on a regular basis.
It’s a subtle descent from meditating on God’s Word to meditating on the circumstances of this world, are worse yet, replaying lies from the enemy in our minds and hearts to the point where we begin to believe it.
What I mean is that I don’t believe many of us wake up and think “today I am going to live outside of the commands of Scripture and guidance of the Spirit”. Rather, our sinful and wicked hearts are left to their own devices when we don’t saturate them with the doctrine of the Bible.
So, how do we best go about studying the Bible? What are some good tips and thought processes we should have when we approach it?
In his book, Supernatural Power for Everyday People, Jared Wilson shares five such helps. I am going to jack them for this blog, sharing my own thoughts about each of them.
1. Interpet, then Apply
What is the first question you ask when you get into God’s Word? Is it, “what is this saying to me” or “what is this saying?”. In our microwave culture, we use the former question to jump immediately to application every time that we open God’s Word. Yet, the latter question is extremely important. Interpreting what the Bible says should come before applying the Bible to our lives, every single time.
2. Keep It In Context
Honestly, I cringe sometimes when I see the way that certain verses are mishandled in Christian culture. The Bible is not a book for you to strip verses out of their context to match what you believe, or to say something that they are not. Philippians 4:13 and Jeremiah 29:11 are at the top of the list when it comes to this debacle. We must understand what verses are saying via their context. Every time.
3. Make Connections
The Bible is not a self-help book. It is not a list of rules and regulations. It is one grand narrative that tells the story of God and His people. There is so much beauty in the Word if you dig in.
For example: In David’s fight with Goliath, Goliath’s armor is described like a snake. This echoes backwards to Genesis 3:15, when God promises that a descendant of Adam would defeat the Devil, and it harkens forward to Jesus. This one connection reminds us that this story is a picture of Jesus and the Devil, not our ability to overcome ‘giants’ in our lives.
There are great resources for making these connections, none better in my opinion than the Knowing the Bible series from Crossway.
4. Look For Jesus
The story of the Bible is the story of Jesus. The Old Testament is replete with moments when He shows up physically, and moments that allude to His eventual arrival. The New Testament is full of stories about what He said and did, as well as moments that allude to His eventual return. The Bible is about Jesus. Look for Him on every page.
5. Apply Prayerfully
Here’s the reality. We may not see anything to apply to our lives every single time we come to His Word. That is okay. That is expected. However, when we hear the Word telling us to change, we must take that point of application to the Lord in prayer. It is only through the power of the Spirit that we are able to bring about any change in our live to begin with. So, when the time comes to apply, apply in prayer.
Bonus: (Nate’s Own Advice) Choose It
My greatest encouragement to you is to slow down. Life may be busy, but we know from Scripture that our lives depend on the truth of Scripture. So when it comes to deciding what our families are going to be involved in, think of this verse.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive. – 1 Corinthians 10:23
There are about a thousand opportunities for your kids. For you. Sports, committees, events, clubs, vacations, etc. While these are good things when they supplement your family’s commitment to a church and to His Word, they are horrid things when they become the priority in your conversations, finances, and schedules.
My parents did not allow me to play on a traveling soccer team (one that played on Sundays out of town) when I was a kid, despite many saying I had the talent to do so. They chose instead to model for me commitment to a church community.
I LOVE THEM for it.
They taught me what is most important, and I’m a better man of God because of it. Traveling soccer would have been fun. But Jesus is better.
Just because it’s an option, doesn’t mean you have to do it as a family.
There’s fun things for kids in your community.
But, seriously, Jesus is better.
Get yourself and your family in the Word. Your life depends on it.
In His Name,
One day, I’m gonna die.
When I die, because I have placed my faith in Jesus, I will spend the rest of eternity in communion with Him and all the saints in a place called heaven. It will be a place where there are no more tears, pain, sin, or death. It will be a place where all will have been made right. It will be a place where we have perfect communion with God. I believe it will be here on earth, that ‘heaven’ will be God restoring creation to the perfection of the pre-fall period, not blowing it all up and starting again (ultimately though, who knows).
All that to say, heaven sounds pretty great.
Unfortunately, many of us (yours truly too) live as if the blood of Jesus ONLY seals our eternal locale.
The Bible however teaches us that the blood of Jesus makes us holy.
If we evaluate our memories, our experiences, our childhoods, many of us would conclude that we were talked to way more often about where we are going (heaven or hell) than what we have become.
Now, heaven is obviously a great thing for us to look forward to. I definitely look forward to the perfection that is promised in Scripture. I look forward to seeing Christ face to face, seeing those I love who are also in perfect communion with God (they aren’t waiting for me, mind you, they’re in a perfect utopia, remember?).
But, the Christian life is not just about the endgame (oh, wow, just typing that makes me excited for the Avengers movie that is about to come out. Just thirteen more days)!
The Christian life is about who we are, not just where we’re going.
The Christian life is about holiness, not just heaven.
If following Jesus was only about going to heaven when we die, then we wouldn’t need to care about living lives of holiness today.
Oops, I just described how I too often live.
I just described how many of us who claim Jesus live.
If following Jesus is just about dying and going to heaven, then honoring Him with our actions, thoughts, words, and habits in the here and now isn’t that important.
In some churches, we have been taught more than this. We have in fact been taught about holiness, and how being set apart should show itself in every area I described above. But even in those settings and circumstances, we can hear it the wrong way.
Since I was sixteen years old, my dad has encouraged me with the following mantra: “Be God’s Man.” He has texted it to me, told me face to face, e-mailed it, and modeled it.
Here’s how I have misheard it at times.
In moments where the gospel is far from my view, I start to make it a standard to live up to, instead of my identity to walk in.
In those moments I strive with all my vigor and power to become the man of God that Jesus is calling me to be through the encouragement of men like my father. When I fail to live up to my self-imposed standard, I feel woefully inadequate.
But, man alive, listen up!
Because of my faith in Jesus, I AM God’s man! I am a child of God! It’s not something I have to earn or live up to, it’s something I already AM! That’s where the power for holy living is found! The grace of God! My dad’s encouragement is for me to walk out who I AM, not earn the title!
My point is, many of us hear about calls to holiness in church. If you attend the church I work at, you’ve likely heard it from me. We can hear these calls to holy living and misunderstand. We can hear these calls to holy living and spend our energy and effort trying to earn the title of holiness. Yet, Scripture makes it clear that we already are holy in the sight of God! We are already saints! Already set apart! Already righteous!
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21
The title of holy is not something you have to earn, it’s who you ARE.
Let’s quickly run through just two implications of this.
If I’ve been made holy in the sight of God, it is my Savior who should be praised, not my sin.
Let me be clear, repentance and confession are powerful. Acknowledging my sins to my wife, friends, and family in Christ is important. There is freedom found in doing this. But if my sin becomes the point of emphasis in an effort to be “authentic” and “transparent”, I am glorifying the very thing that put Jesus on that cross.
My youth group knows that I sin. I tell them.
My family and friends know. They see it.
Those I disciple know that I sin.
But my youth group, family, friends, and those I disciple all know as well that I have a Savior in Christ Jesus who set me free from anything they see and anything I confess. I glorify my Savior, not my sin. Let us not be so concerned about not being judgmental to others that we start to parade our sin and not our Savior.
If I’ve been made holy in the sight of God, so are all others who follow Him
Our churches are full of men and women who are prone to act like immature toddlers (same as I). Gossip, slander, backbiting, attention seeking, anger, rudeness, selfishness. There is this in abundance. But, if we are all holy, shouldn’t we thus see the best in those around us? Where would gossip and slander go if we acknowledged that Becky and Brandon were holy? Where would the selfishness and attention-seeking go if we realized we were all equal in the sight of God?
I believe that these classic church sins would disappear if we saw each other as fellow recipients of the holiness of Christ.
You, if you’ve put your faith in Jesus, are holy.
Stop trying to earn it.
Stop waiting to live with and for Christ once you die.
Accept who you are.
Let it change everything about you.
Nothing so floods our hearts with the experience of God’s grace as making sure it overflows from our hearts. – Bryan Chapell
In His Name,
Lazarus was dying. He was terminally ill and his sisters were in desperate need for a miracle. Good thing they knew a Miracle-worker. They knew Jesus. Jesus had dined with them, they worshipped Him as God and they knew He was capable of healing the sick. So they reached out to Him. They sent for Him. They sent Him news that Lazarus, whom Jesus loved, was sick. Then they waited. And waited. And waited some more. Lazarus died and there was still no sign of Jesus.
This story in John 11 is one of the most painful circumstances in the gospels in my mind. I try and place myself in the Biblical stories, especially the stories of Jesus in the gospels. I imagine how it would feel to have a loved one dying, to be crying out to God day after day, only to have the one I loved pass away. For some of you who are reading this, this requires no imagination. You’ve lost a parent, a friend, a husband, a neighbor, a coworker. You have faithfully served God and pleaded with God and yet God didn’t answer your prayers the way you had hoped He would.
This week in particular several of my friends have been facing loss in their families, unexpected loss. I don’t have the words to say. My heart is broken and burdened. I get home and think about God’s plans and purposes. I am not a pie-in-the-sky optimist and the Bible is not designed to create that mentality. Instead, the Bible is full of painful stories that are infused with the hope of Christ. I try then to share this hope with those I love.
The death of Lazarus in John 11 brings so many truths that lead to hope. Look at them with me. These aren’t alliterated because I guess I just haven’t been in ministry long enough to obtain that gift.
1. OUR WEEPING MESSIAH
To me, this is the prerequisite truth before one shares about the purposes of pain in our lives. Too many people have been turned off to the church because those who genuinely love Jesus and strive to love others through their grief lead with the fact that ‘God works all things for good and we are to count it all joy’. Many who have a high view of God’s sovereignty I think often miss this part, jumping to doctrinal truths before mourning with those who mourn. We miss the point when believing in God’s ultimate control over all things makes us horrible neighbors and brothers who are cold-hearted, intellectual, and jaded towards the hurting. That’s been me on many occasion, yet it’s missing the heart of Jesus. Cause here’s what Jesus did. It’s the shortest verse in all of Scripture.
Jesus wept. – John 11:35
There it is. Our Messiah, our Miracle-working divine Son of God wept with Lazarus’ friends and family in the wake of his death. Jesus is omniscient, He knew full well that He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. Yet He wept. This is such powerful encouragement to us in our pain. Jesus weeps with you. God’s heart breaks when your heart breaks. God’s knowledge of His plan for our pain does not lead him to distant coldness of heart. No, to see His child in pain causes Him to mourn with us. Share your hurts with Him.
2. THE PURPOSE FOR PAIN
While I believe that this shouldn’t be the first thing we say to those who are grieving, it most definitely needs to be said. Maybe not for days or weeks after loss, but eventually. In my daily pains of this broken world, I have to tell myself of this. There are two verses that illustrate why pain comes into my life. Why my loved ones die and experience the affects of this world.
But when Jesus heard this, He said, “This sickness is not to end in death, but for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” – John 11:4
and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there (when Lazarus died), so that you may believe; but let us go to him. – John 11:15
These two verses give us the answer to the ultimate reasons for our pain. Everything in my life happens so that:
A. God will be glorified
B. People would believe in Jesus
That’s it. Now again, this truth devoid of genuine care for the heart and soul of our brothers and sisters is cold, twisted, and unworthy to bring one to worship. This truth without the character of God leads one to feel like a pawn in a divine game of chess (I’m speaking from experience here). But this truth coming from a God who weeps with us, who hears our cries, who loves us, becomes a spark to the light the fire in my heart for me to worship God, even in the midst of immense pain.
3. ETERNAL LIFE
The Lazarus story has an amazing ending. Jesus raises him from the dead to the awe of all who saw. We thus see clearly how Jesus was believed in and God was glorified as a result of what took place. For other stories in our lives that isn’t always the case. My brother Trevor’s story still has not resolved in a way that has clearly done the above two things, at least not in my heart, and it’s been almost two years since he took off. Our stories don’t always wrap up with a cute bow and a clear picture of God’s plan.
But here’s the most hopeful part of this story. Infused in this story is yet another “I Am” statement of Jesus. I’ve been walking through these this summer and they have amazed me. The character of Jesus is beautiful. What He claims to be and promises to be is amazing.
Jesus said to her (Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies. – John 11:25
There you have it. The promise of eternal life.
When I was growing up, I kinda thought of the abundant life Jesus offered as starting after death. Like if you make through earth than you get this amazing offer of eternal life.
Yet Jesus is claiming with this proclamation that He is the resurrection. He brought the full life. To follow Jesus is not to wait until we die to experience the fullness of life that Jesus offers. Yet so many of us live like this.
Jesus is with you.
If you have put your faith in Jesus, He walks through life with you. He weeps with you. He glorifies Himself in you. He brings life to the death that is in your life.
I pray you are encouraged by the story of Lazarus.
Please know that if you are in need of prayer, you can reach out to me. Shoot me an e-mail or a Facebook message.
In His Name,
I appreciate any and all feedback and you can follow my blog below.
This season of wedding and camp preparations is making me feel like I’m moving a billion miles per hour. I am beyond grateful for a family in our church who is letting me stay with them, but not being able to stay at my own home (Jamie is getting it ready and actually looking like a home) has made me feel like I’m on vacation but still having to work every day. It is a weird feeling.
My natural tendency in the moments where life feels out of control is to do my foolish best to bring life back under my control. No matter how hard I grit my teeth and try and push forward into some semblance of faux control, I end up coming back to the same spot of acknowledging that I’m tired and can’t keep going. When life is going a billion miles an hour, I also slip into a subtle but not so subtle spiritual malaise where even when I’m spending time in God’s Word, I’m not spending time with God.
The last couple weeks of crazy I’ve been in God’s Word each day, yet the intimacy of just shutting up and listening to God while truly meditating on His Word in His presence has been missing. So this morning I decided to do just that before hopping in the shower to start my day. I opened up my Bible to read and pray a Psalm and Psalm 121 came crashing into my heart at the exact time I needed it (God is pretty great).
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel Will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade on your right hand. The sun will not smite you by day, Nor the moon by night. The Lord will protect you from all evil; He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever. – Psalm 121:1-8
Boom. A shorter Psalm with a power punch. In seasons of hecticness, I can try and grip the wheel tighter and try and hold onto all the control, which is hilarious really and never works out. This Psalm is one that draws us as God’s people into worship. My help comes from the Lord, who lest I forget, made the heavens and the earth, the entire cosmos we reside in.
I hope that you are encouraged by this passage. I know that there are mental health circumstances that make battling anxiety not so black and white, but for many of us this Psalm is the soothing oil we need to calm our anxious nerves. I believe the cure to much of our anxiety is found in meditating upon this Psalm and taking it to heart.
While in Phoenix, my anxiety was through the roof and I did a horrible job of handling it. Since I’ve been back to Texas, the anxiety can still spike in the weirdest of ways. Small triggers.
– realizing that a job responsibility slipped past my to-do list, causing anxiousness about my job performance.
– hearing an expletive-laced rant in front of a gym next door to where Jamie works, causing anxiousness about her safety.
– a text message casting doubt on how someone views me, causing anxiousness about my identity.
None of these are really life and death situations, yet all of them are aspects of life that we should care about. Vocation, loved ones, self. That being said, if I don’t nip these fast-flowing anxious thoughts in the bud, they can spiral on me and I start playing the ‘what-if’ game.
Psalm 121 blows this up.
When I’m getting anxious, I can lift up my eyes to the heavens in a way to remind myself that my help comes from God above. He is creative, good, orderly, and perfect. Just read the creation account. God makes, and what He makes is good. God separates, bringing order to an otherwise orderless cosmos. Sin entered the picture and so we live in a fallen world, but God’s purposes and promises are secure. He says let there be light, and by the very power of His words light is made. This alone is a stunning reminder that all God says, all He proclaims, will come to pass. He made the heavens and earth.
Verse three is amazing. He who watches over us does not slumber. He does not sleep. Jamie will tell you that I hate sleeping too long or napping. I am prone to being a productivity slave (that’s a blog for another time) and thus refuse most times to take necessary rest (leading to me being late to a morning appointment and accidentally crashing into a two hour nap just yesterday). Resting or sleeping is hard, because in my foolish brain and heart my inaction is equivalent to my cosmos being out of order. Yet I am but a creature. I am an image-bearer of God who needs rest.
Juxtaposed to this need for daily rest is the God who never sleeps. In verse four it says that He watches over all of the people of God. He has us all securely in view, and He cares for us deeply.
Verse seven tells us that God will keep us from evil (not that bad things won’t happen to us as His followers, rather that the enemy of our souls will not win our souls).
Verse eight is such a pleasant piece of Scripture. The Lord will guard my going out and coming in forever. There is nowhere I can go where He is not watching over me. I am always in His hands.
This Psalm is a solvent that dissolves my anxiety.
My prayer is that it would do the same for you. He is worthy of our praise and our trust.
In His Name,
DISCLAIMER: As stated in passing, I believe that there are chemical imbalances, mental health issues, etc. that make fighting anxiety much more difficult than I’ve written about here. I pray for those experiencing such things, and I am not intending to belittle those very real, very personal struggles.
God needs nothing from us, but He asks for everything.
In his book Paradoxology, Krish Kandiah argues that this is one of several apparent paradoxes that we see in the Christian faith. This paradox is most notably seen in the story in Genesis where Abraham is led by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Yet this paradox shows itself not only through other stories in Scripture, but through innumerable stories of missions and martyrdom that I have heard in everyday life.
In the past year, I have wrestled with this in a major way. In prayer, journaling, Christian community, and the like I have fought this ‘paradox’ with everything in me. I’ll be honest, the wrestling matches with God over this haven’t been easy or pleasant. Now I’ll be clear right from the get go that I personally have had an extremely blessed and privileged life, but my wrestling was dark all the same.
My biggest hold up in this aspect of the Christian faith is the fact that God directs all circumstances in my life to be for His glory. I’ll be real transparent here. This made me mad. This seemed vastly unfair to me. How could God be allowed to do anything He wanted to me, and all I was allowed to do was put on a smile and say it was for His glory? When He took away my granddad, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? When a member of my family went wayward, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? When my health got rocky, I was separated from all the guys I had deep friendships with from OBU, and I didn’t get to be with Jamie, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? If suffering, disease, or death came into my life, was I to just smile and say ‘for His glory’? I again know that I’ve been blessed, but this was the battle.
It didn’t seem fair. I had seen in Scripture that it’s super clear that God doesn’t need anything from me.
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. – Acts 17:24-25
I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. – Psalm 50:9-12
God owns all, He made all. He gives me everything and is not served by human hands. So why would God ask so much from so many of His followers? If He needs nothing, why does He ask for everything? Why would He ask Abraham to give up the very thing that the promises of God were contingent upon, his own son? Why does he ask so many of His followers to give their lives for Him in missionary service, to endure trials of many kinds for the sake of His glory?
God needs nothing from us, but He asks for everything.
Why? Why? Why?
These aspects of the Christian faith that seem like paradoxes tend to keep us at bay, as we shove these things out of our minds because they seem too difficult to rationalize, too complicated to come to grips with. My eyes are slightly beginning to open (in part because of the work of theologians like Krish Kandiah) to the fact that as we press into these ‘paradoxes’, the beauty of the gospel shines forth and we are led to praise the God who is in the center of the tension.
So I press forward. The verse at the center of this paradox for me is John 3:16.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
Yes, God asks for everything from His followers.
However, this must be understood in light of the gospel truth that God gave everything for His followers.
God sent His one and only son to live the perfect life I could not live, to die the death I deserved, and to rise from the grave three days later to set me free from the power of sin, hell, and death.
You may have heard this gospel message for the first time in reading this blog, or you may have heard it a million times.
Either way, it is the answer to this ‘paradox’. God is trustworthy, in that we know that He is doing all for not only His glory, but our good as well.
Psychopaths and surgeons have something in common – both can inflict considerable pain with a knife, both can cause scarring, loss of limbs and terrible disfigurement. But whereas we would fight off an attack by the psychopath, we would willingly put ourselves under the surgeon’s knife because we trust their expertise and their motives. We recognize that in order to save a life, sometimes pain and loss have to be endured. – Krish Kandiah
To use this analogy, God is not a psychopath. We know that when He goes to work on our lives, it is for our good. The pain caused by His work is for our good. We may not have the privilege of seeing in the moment why the pain is happening, but we can cling to the fact that He is loving and good to us. The Scriptures tell us so.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28
We know that we don’t see the whole picture. We also know that God is worthy of trust.
When He asks us for everything, we need to remember that He has given everything for us.
I would like to conclude with another lengthy paragraph from Kandiah’s book:
If God did not withhold even the life of his own Son from us, there can be no doubting the generosity or benevolence of God. The cross of Christ is the place where God dealt with our sin and gave himself up for us. If God loves us this much, we know that anything he does to us or asks us to do for him is not to be taken in isolation, but understood in the context of love. It is through the times of loss and trauma and sacrifice that we can learn most about trust and faith, God’s heartbeat and God’s resurrection power.
When you can’t see His hand, trust His heart.
In His Name,
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“Thank you for raising your Son from the dead, and for raising us from sleep every morning.”
This sentence rocked me this morning.
Every couple of days, my roommate and I start the day by praying through a Psalm. This morning we were reading and praying through Psalm 3.
1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
7 Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
8 From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
– Psalm 3
I love verses three through five of this Psalm. Despite being surrounded by foes who are proclaiming that David will not find salvation or rescue in God, we see a declaration of who God is out of the lips of this king who was running from his own son.
David proclaims what we know to be true about God.
- God is our Lord – He is in control of all things, from the microscopic to the cosmic. If He is Lord, He is worthy of having dominion over every aspect of our lives.
- God is the shield about us – in the face of many foes and attacks of the enemy of our souls, He protects us from harm
- God is our glory – ultimately everything we do in life should be for the praise of His Name. May he be glorified in the everyday matters of our lives
- God is the lifter of our heads – I love this one. God doesn’t let us stay discouraged or remain in the mire and the muck of our sin. He lifts up our head.
What is more beautiful is the fact that God answers the cries of our hearts. Not only does He answer them, but He answers them from His holy mountain. It is important to remember Jesus Christ in this. God is holy, and God resides in holiness. But because of Christ, we can approach God even as He resides in holiness. Our unholiness is paid for by the blood of Jesus on the cross, and the holiness of Jesus has been imparted to us.
Then comes verse five. It was in response to this verse that Matt made the incredible statement quoted above.
I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustains me. – Psalm 3:5
Every day is a gift. It’s easy to type those words out and not let them impact my thoughts, motives, and actions heading into each day. But that doesn’t make them any less true. In the case of David, waking each day was proof that God was protecting and sustaining him. Although the vast majority of us reading these words are not running for our lives, our waking each morning is no less an example of God’s grace poured out on us.
Each day my eyes flutter open is God choosing to give me another day to glorify His Name. Each day my eyes flutter open is an opportunity to reflect on the gospel.
“Thank you for raising your Son from the dead, and for raising us from sleep every morning.”
My prayer and hope is that the gospel of Jesus Christ will saturate into every aspect and activity in my life. My prayer and hope is that the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection would become the reflection of my heart and mind at all times.
That being said, what a beautiful way to start the day. What a beautiful way to begin a Monday morning.
What if when we first woke up we took the time to thank God for raising us from sleep by His grace, grace that is given to us only because God the Father chose to raise Jesus from death?
Can you imagine the impact that would have on our days?
Two of my biggest struggles go hand-in-hand: anger and ingratitude.
Both of these are put to rest with the gospel. Anger and ingratitude have no place in the heart of a man or woman who truly comprehend and meditate upon all that is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Let’s allow the gospel to impact everything we do.
Let’s start with beginning our days by giving thanks.
Thank you God for raising your Son from the dead, and for raising us from sleep every morning.
In His Name,
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