where was Jesus

Category : Jesus

I have heard people over the years challenge God by saying, “If God was so merciful, why did it take thousands of years for Jesus to show up? “  I think that’s a good question.  Why wasn’t Jesus standing outside of the Eden as Adam and Eve were being kicked out?  There’s no reason (that I know of) that would have prevented Jesus being there.  It’s not like it was impossible for God to do that.  Yet the question lingers: why did Jesus wait so long to enter the scene?

I think the answer lies in the journey itself.  God is more concerned about a relationship with us, then forcing us to be obedient.  It’s the same if you have kids.  You really want your kids to love you by their own choosing, not because you control their allowance, TV, or car privileges.  We know that deep down, a bribed love is no love at all.  Isn’t this the moral of many of those after-school-specials?  In those specials we learn that Betsy Sue’s “real friends” are the ones who want to spend time with her, not the ones who just want to ride in her new car.  (And if it’s on TV, it has to be true.)

It’s impossible to know for sure why God didn’t act faster.  But I think the evidence points to the fact that God was preparing us.  All of history, from Adam to Jesus is filled with examples of who God is, and what he wants for us.  He used the history of Israel to lay down the story that would guide our understanding of Jesus.  He time and again gave us a glimpse of who Jesus was.  Abraham, Moses, and David all demonstrate parts of God’s personality (just like you do, by the way.)  He showed us his power and redemption with stories like Daniel in the lion’s den and Esther’s position as a queen to save the Jews.

God wants us to be in relationship with him.  He wants us to be sons and daughters not servants and slaves.  If Jesus had come sooner, we wouldn’t have had the frame of reference to understand who he was, let alone why we needed him.  We would have been right back where Adam and Eve were.  And I think we would have been making the same choices as they did.  Because let’s face it, we all make daily choices against God.  It’s just that Jesus assumes our guilt.

I for one am glad it took Jesus so long to show up.

Photo provided by flickr user s-a-m

the death of a son

1

Category : Jesus

Could you kill your own son if God asked you to?  That’s the question Abraham wrestled with as he climbed a mountain with his son.

In most of the Old Testament God speaks with two meaning.  On one level he talks to the people of the time.   He’s literally giving a specific message to Abraham or Adam and Eve.  He is literally saying that Abraham will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3) or that Adam and Eve’s son will kill the snakes they find near their homes (Genesis 3: 14-16).

However, on another level God is speaking to future generations.  He’s preparing us to recognize Jesus when he comes.  To understand who he is, and why he is important.  For instance, the family blessing in Genesis doesn’t just mean Abraham’s family.  It also means the blessings that will come from Jesus (who was a descendent of Abraham).  And it’s not Adam and Eve’s immediate family that will be at war with the snake.  Jesus will also crush the serpent under his heel by dying on the cross.

Wherever you look in the Old Testament God is planting the seeds of Jesus’ arrival.

That’s what’s so remarkable about the story of Abraham and Isaac.  To us this is so scandalous, so offensive, that we don’t even want to believe that it’s a true story.  But back in Abraham’s time, child sacrifice was common.  Children weren’t seen as something to be treasured.  And if a god required a sacrifice?  So be it.

But as we read into the story we see that duality of meaning.

We first see it as Abraham is heading up the mountain; he places “the wood for the burnt offering” on his son.  What other son carried wood on his back?  Jesus, in the form of the cross.

Next we see it as Isaac, while carrying the wood, asks one question, “Father?…The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” (Genesis 22: 7)

Where is the lamb?

That’s a good question.  In fact it’s the only thing Isaac says on that journey.  To the reader, it seems as if Isaac has foreshadowed his own death.  But Isaac is not the lamb.  God spares Isaac from being sacrificed (God provides a ram.)

Although Isaac’s life is spared, his question is never answered.  In fact, his question lingers for the next few thousand years until Jesus comes onto the scene.  Jesus is that lamb that God would provide.  Jesus takes the hit that you and I (and Isaac and Abraham) deserve.  God saved us, just as he saved a boy from being sacrificed.  But it came at a great cost…

photo provided by flickr user Scootie

the scandalous birth of Jesus

Category : Jesus

Some things you never get over.  Like Bambi’s mother dying.  Or that creepy scene in E.T. where all the men in hazmat suits come rushing in to grab the family.  (OK, I was 5 when I saw that.)  But these things are shocking.  They cry out, “that’s not how it’s supposed to be!”  And that’s my reaction to Jesus’ birth.  No matter how many times I read Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth I am shocked by three things:

For those of us living today (which would be everyone reading this) these things don’t seem very shocking.  Teen pregnancy, while not fully accepted is pretty common.  They even have a TV show celebrating teen mothers.  We’ve also grown up with this idea that Shepherds are noble people. After all, isn’t that the point of Jesus’ own story about the Good Shepherd?

The only point that gives most of us any pause is the fact that Jesus wasn’t staying at a Holiday Inn Express.

But 2,000 years ago these things were scandalous.  It was no way for the Messiah of Israel to enter into the world.  Kings don’t come in the quiet of night; they come charging in with horns blazing!

Jesus’ birth was different.  It was shocking.  And frankly, it was offensive to your average Jew.  Mary was pregnant, but not married.  That was a punishment worthy of death in Jewish culture.  The future “King of the Jews” was born in an animal’s feeding trough.  Jews would have thought, “And this person is supposed to save Israel?”  Even shepherds were considered sketchy people.  They weren’t seen as trustworthy or honorable.  Jewish mothers didn’t exactly want their little boys to grow up to be shepherds.  For shepherds to be the first people to see Jesus (and then spread news of his birth), it would have been outlandish.

Yet this is how the radical, revolutionary God we believe in chose to come into our lives.  He didn’t show up with an entourage or trappings of wealth and power.  His birth couldn’t have been more humble.  His birth couldn’t have been any more shameful!

In every action Jesus took, he was reminding us that the Kingdom is different from this world.  His birth shows us that the way of the Kingdom is service.  After all, the one person who didn’t deserve a birth like that is the one who chose to be born that way.

Because the story of Jesus is so common, it’s easy to miss the revolutionary nature of God.  It’s easy to go to church and forget how revolutionary God is.  It’s easy to see Christianity as a religion and forget the radical call it makes on our lives.  It’s easy to live life but not live a life of faith.

Which brings us back to where we started.  No matter how often we cry out “that’s not how it’s supposed to be,” God remains revolutionary.  Even today.  And for that I am grateful.

photo provided by flickr user yngrich

living a life of ups and downs

1

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, living a life of faith

Peter (one of Jesus’ closest friends) often seems like two different people.  In one moment he’s lopping off an ear.  In the next he’s running away.  At one instance he’s walking on water.  In another he’s terrified of drowning.

It seems as if Peter just isn’t very consistent.

Which means he’s just like you and me.

All of this comes into play just before Jesus is arrested.  Jesus and a few disciples head out to pray.  Jesus knows what’s about to happen.  He knows he’s going to die in a way very few of us can imagine.  All he wants to do is pray, and have his friends stay with him.  But despite Peter’s best efforts, Peter keeps falling asleep.

Jesus is understandably upset with Peter, and says something profound: “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”  That line sums up our existence pretty nicely.  We have all experienced moments where we want to do the right thing.  But when that moment comes, something happens.  We end up not following through.  We become afraid.  Pride takes over.  Greed overwhelms us.  Whatever it is, we end up caving.

Peter, despite his best intent, ended up running away.

But as I said, you and I aren’t that different from Peter.  What sets Peter apart is the fact Peter said the things you and I think.  If Jesus told us, “you will deny me.”  We might think “yeah right!  No way Jesus!”  But Peter didn’t seem to have much of a filter between thought and talking – so he actually said it.

It’s a shame that Peter is sometimes portrayed as a coward.  In many ways he never stood a chance.  He always wanted to do the right thing, but his flesh was weak.

I don’t know what the takeaway from this is, other than maybe we need to give ourselves some more slack when we screw up.  And I think be a little more like Peter.  Because no matter how publicly he messed up, he always came back to give it another try.

photo provided by flickr user pittsinger

i need more than God

Category : God, Jesus, worship

A few months ago I heard the phrase “Jesus is my boyfriend” on Scotterology.  It was used to describe a certain brand of Christian music that seems more like an angst-filled love song, than a song about God.  At first I didn’t like that term.  I scoffed at the whole idea.  “There isn’t really music like this.  He’s just exaggerating!”

But then I started to listen to some of the lyrics.  (You can see a bunch more at Pomomusings).

“Friend of sinners, Lord of truth
I am falling in love with you
Friend of sinners, Lord of truth
I have fallen in love with you
Matt Redman“Friend of Sinners”

“You are my desire, no one else will do
‘Cause nothing else could take your place
To feel the warmth of your embrace
Kelly Carpenter - “Draw Me Close”

“In the secret, in the quiet place
In the stillness, you are there
In the secret, in the quiet hour I wait only for you
‘Cause I want to know you more
I want to touch you, I want to see your face
I want to know you more
Andy Park“In the Secret”

I’m still not convinced.  To be honest I even like a lot of these songs.  But it’s had me thinking for the last few months.  Exactly where is the line?  And how do we know when we’ve crossed it?  Some songs get uncomfortably close.

That’s when Erwin McManus said something that surprised me.  He said that we need more than just God.

“Wha–?!” I thought.  “That’s a pretty bold statement.  He’d better have a good argument.”  And you know what?  He did.

After God created the universe, and then man, it was God who said things weren’t quite right.  It was God who said man needed more.  So he created Eve.  God created us to need more than just him.  He created us to need community and relationships.

Could it be that we’ve become so focused on God that we’re losing the other important aspects of our faith, like community?

While our salvation rests only on God.  There’s more to life than our death.  There’s certainly more to life than overly sappy Christian music.  Everything exists in community.  People.  Angels.  Demons.  Even God himself exists in three parts.  I want God to be at the center of my life.  But I don’t want God to be the only thing in my life.  And I don’t think that’s what he ever wanted either.

photo provided by flicker user scootie

would you recognize Jesus if you grew up with him?

Category : Jesus, Mark, bible, different

I don’t get home very often these days.  When I was in college and graduate school I would go home for the holidays, but thanks to something called “work” I just don’t have that luxury anymore.  Now I grew up in a small town.  (It was a great place to grow up, despite having to walk uphill both ways in the snow to school.  But that’s another story.)  Even as a kid I always knew I’d be leaving.  There weren’t many jobs for an aspiring psychologist.  There still aren’t.  Such is the life of a small town.

Each time I went back home, I couldn’t help but notice something: the more I change, the less my home town recognizes it.  When I walk into my old church, or run into my old friends, they see me as the person I was.

I have changed in countless ways since I lived in that small town.  Yet when I go back, I am viewed as that shy, awkward teenager that left.  For them it’s hard to see what I’ve done with my life.

My guess is you have a similar story.  The people you grew up with see you as someone you really aren’t.  You might see this play out in your high school or college reunions.  You might even see this with your family.  They want to see you as someone different, but they just can’t quite wrap their mind around the fact that you are no longer “little Sally.”  (Especially since your name isn’t Sally.)

Jesus faced something similar.  When he went back to the small town he grew up in, people couldn’t quite get their minds around who he was.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked.  “What’s this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn’t this the carpenter?  Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren’t his sisters here with us?”  (Mark 6: 2-3)

They saw him as the carpenter’s kid.  Not as God.  “And they took offense at him.”

Here the people who should have known Jesus the best, were the ones who ended up knowing him the least.  They were upset that Jesus was claiming to be God.  (A natural reaction by Jews who believed in only one God – going around claiming you were God was a crime in that culture).  But instead of taking time to re-evaluate their opinions, they just went with their old assumptions.  And they missed out on seeing the change.

The same will be true for you.  As you move closer to Jesus, your life will transform.  But people you don’t talk to regularly will miss that change.  They will want to see you as they’ve always seen you.  That represents a challenge for us.  For one it makes it easier for us to fall into our old habits.  But it also means people aren’t getting to see the best testimony to God’s existence – the changes in your life.

Sadly, it’s often easier to ignore change if it means you need to reevaluate your views.

the shocking comparison of Jesus

Category : God, Jesus, bible, living a life of faith, revolutionary

Loving your enemy and not judging are forever linked.  If it’s your job to judge, you can never love.  You have to worry about fairness, outcomes, and justice.  Fortunately it’s God’s job to worry about that.  It’s his responsibility to judge and ensure justice.  We don’t need to worry about outcomes, so we can focus on our job: loving our enemies.

Loving your enemy is “advanced” – it requires faith, a trust in God’s character, hope in the eternal future, and obedience in the presence of an enemy.  It requires all of that to show the world just how different Christ’s compassion is.

It’s no wonder we struggle so much with it.

I am reminded of this as I read Elton John saying Jesus was gay.  Why did he say this?  Who knows.  I guess he just wanted to declare it.  Or maybe he just wanted to get some publicity by inciting Christians to attack him.  But frankly that’s not the most shocking part of that story – instead I was struck by the condescending nature of the article itself and commenter’s.

The condescension dripped from their “virtual pens.”

There is such a chasm between Christian beliefs and the rest of the world that it can be hard to come to terms with.  Especially for us Christians who tend to think everyone sees the world the same way we do.  Of course I think this is an opportunity.  I am convinced that Christians are living in one of the greatest evangelistic times in history.  What better way to compare just what Christ taught when we live in a world awash of other views.  Talk about a contrast!

Of course the challenge is to live out a life of faith.  Something we, as a church, tend to do very, very poorly.

While I think apologetics are important, I think what truly converts someone’s heart is when they see someone living out a life of faith.  That contrast is so shocking compared to others.  Take for instance someone who continues to give to the church despite struggling to pay bills.  That’s a shocking comparison to how the world says we should operate.

Consider Mother Teresa who lived in poverty to love on people who were deemed as unlovable.  That’s a shocking comparison.  Or consider people who sell everything they have to become missionaries because they feel called to provide medical services to people in third world nations.  Or what about people who take time out of their busy schedules to tutor at-risk children and to forge relationships across race and age.

These things are a shocking comparison.  And I think it’s the only thing that speaks to modern society’s heart.

Yes apologetics are needed to deepen your faith, but in a world of “if it feels good it must be right,” apologetics alone aren’t going to impress anyone.

focusing on obedience to God

Category : God, Jesus, bible, faith, taking action

Things are rushing these days.  I’m trying to juggle a new job, volunteering opportunities at my local church, writing opportunities (both for R3 and a book I’m working on), and most importantly a wedding.  Yes, that’s right; I got engaged over the holidays.

Which brings me to obedience.

Because so much is going on I need to streamline my life.  I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions.  But I wanted to try something new.  (Although I’m still not doing a New Year’s Resolution!)  I think God has a lot of things he’d like me accomplish, and to do that, I need to be organized.

So I’ve decided to identify four words that will define my 2010.  The first three revolve around productivity / work / scheduling / time.  But the fourth one, the most important one, is all about faith.

And, in case you haven’t guessed already, that word is obedience.

I want 2010 to be fully focused on God.  I want to be obedient in an intentional way I haven’t been before.  Sure I’ve been thinking about this word for a while now.  As you can see from the R3 post called the miracle of obedience.  I’ve even given talks focusing on what it means to be obedient.  But I’ve never tried to fully live it out, consistently, in all things.

That’s scary just saying that out loud!  Truth be told, I like my rebellion.  But all things must come to an end.

Which brings us to Mary…

“On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.  Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied, “My time has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

This is the only time in the entire Bible Mary gives a command.  (thanks to Erwin McManus for pointing that out).  Locally she’s speaking to the servants at the party.  But it applies directly to us too.   As I wrote a few days ago, the servants didn’t question what Jesus was doing (something that surely was crazy), they just did it.  They filled up giant containers of water that must have weighed hundreds of pounds (which was a lot of work without forklifts or running water.)

Through their obedience Jesus performed his first miracle.

Which makes me wonder, what miracles will he perform through my obedience?  What about yours?

the death of a friend

Category : God, Jesus, faith, live for the eternal, living a life of faith

A friend died.  Although I never knew him.

One of the things I keep coming back to is God’s way of weaving lives together.  I have for the last few years taught a course called “Welcome to the Revolution” at my local church.  My friend was in this class.  He was the type of person who, if you saw on a dark street corner, you’d change sides.  He was gruff.  With a gravelly voice.  And a violent past.  His tattoos revealed the fact that he was both angry and violent.

I remember the first time I saw him in church.  I didn’t consciously think much about it, but I recall thinking he was someone that didn’t “fit” in with the church.  He just stood out, and I thought, “man, I’d hate to upset him.”

I saw him a few weeks later getting baptized.

And then a few weeks later he was in my class.

He was still gruff.  Had a gravelly voice.  His tattoos still screamed at me.  He was also hard to look at.  Not because of the way he looked, but because of the intensity of God’s light that shone through him.  When I looked at him, I could see Jesus staring back at me.  And I realized that everything I had thought about him was wrong.  He wasn’t the guy who you’d cross the street to avoid.  He was the guy who would throw down to protect you.  He was an artist, who was thoughtful enough to hand draw me a Christmas card.

Of course he wasn’t always that way.  As we got to know each other I learned about his dark past.  The violence.  The substance abuse.  The pain.

But I also learned how Jesus had changed him.  I learned just how much God could redeem us.  What I saw was a new man, who was so intensely bathed in his relationship with God that it was hard to look at him, because it reminded me of just how far I have to go.

As the teacher you think you’re supposed to have all the answers.  That you’re supposed to have everything “under control.”  But God has a way of shattering those illusions.

I will be forever grateful to Bertie for shattering my illusions.  In every way that counted he was the teacher and I was the student.

You will be missed Bertie.  You, in the few short weeks I knew you, were as much of a friend to me as anyone I’ve known.  But you are with Jesus now.  I know because I’ve seen Jesus through you.  And one day, we will be together again.  And maybe that time, we’ll have the chance to become better friends.

the challenge of christianity

Category : God, Jesus, bible, different, faith, live for the eternal, trust

……….

One of the worst lies about Christianity is that if you start following God your life will be better / richer / easier / smoother … well, you can fill in the blank.  So many people’s faith has been derailed by this thinking.  Perhaps no other lie does as much damage.

To me this conversation takes on a bit of a personal tone.  Because I grew up believing that as long as you did the “big” things God would always have your back.  Which meant your life would be pretty easy.  But that’s so far from the truth it’s shocking.

If you look at the Bible you see story after story of people having to overcome terrible challenges.  Not because they are sinners, but because they are believers.  That’s the whole point of Job: you can be a good man, but still suffer horribly.  In fact it’s Job’s goodness that gets Satan’s attention.  (Let that one settle in for a bit!)

We don’t need to stop with Job though.  Out of the 12 guys closest to Jesus, all but one of them died unnatural causes.  And the last one, John, was died while in exile.  Did you catch that?  The people closest to Jesus all suffered greatly for that connection.

That sure doesn’t sound like the good “happy christianity” we are fed sometimes in church.

Odds are this conversation is making you uncomfortable.  It should.  Living a life of faith is something that’s different.  It’s something that’s radical.  And often times it is something completely counter cultural.  That’s at least what Jeremiah and Ezekiel learned.  In both cases, God essentially says, “because you believe in me, I’m going to give you an important task.”  Of course that task was to tell the rest of their country about their impending doom. Talk about a horrible job description!  No one likes to be told they are wrong, let alone going to be punished.  Just tell a 4 year old she can’t watch TV anymore and you’ll see what I mean!  But this is what God had them do.  Living a life of faith for Jeremiah and Ezekiel meant they were going to have to do some pretty hard things.  Things that made them hated, persecuted, and punished.

If living a life of faith means having a harder life, why do we do it?

For two reasons I think.

1.  Following God is always better than the alternative.

2.  Because there is a reward: it’s just not now.

Just like a good parent, God always has our best interest in mind.  When we follow him we end up being better people.  Maybe not financially, but character-wise and spiritually we are vastly improved.  We send our children to school even though they don’t want to be there.  Why?  Because it makes them better adults.  I think that’s what God is doing.  He sends us to “life school” to make us better.  But we don’t get to experience the full benefits of that until after we die.

For a lot of people that’s hard to take.  And I understand that.  I’m just as much a product of fast food, microwaves, and instant ramen noodles as anyone else.  But I don’t write the rules, I just try to understand them.  And then I try to do something with them.

So the next time you are faced with a challenge from God.  Accept it.  Confidently.  Knowing that while it might be hard, it is worth pursuing with all your strength.  God never asks us to do something without a reason!  We will get that reward.  God has promised us that much.  And who knows, in the end, you may find you like it better than money or a stress-free life.