His Blood Be On Us

All great stories have certain common components. There is a protagonist (the good guy), an antagonist (the bad guy, or that which stands against good guy), and the stakes (what the good guy aims to win or lose). The good guy wants something, the protagonist stands against him, and the audience watches as the good guy fights for what he wants.

Let’s use Jurassic Park as an example. The protagonists are the humans, whose goal is to stay alive. The antagonists are the dinosaurs, which aim to eat said humans.

In Matthew 27, we see a mockery of a trial. Jesus is accused of, well, no one is actually sure. He’s accused of everything and yet nothing. Though no one says it, Jesus is accused of upending everyone’s life. He was too dangerous. He asked too much of them—their lives. He was too powerful. He upended the status quo.

Pilate tries to punish and release Jesus (Luke 23:15-16), but the crowd will not relent. They want Jesus executed, and they are fired up. Pilate doesn’t see much fault in Jesus, but neither will he stick his neck out on his behalf.

When the mob starts to riot, Pilate figures it’s time to get on with the execution. He publicly washes his hands, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves” (Matt. 27:24). The mob gladly claims responsibility.

They shout:

“His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matt. 27:25)

His blood be on us and on our children. If only they understood the foolishness of these words. If only they understood the irony of them.

And here we must stop for a moment. This is the greatest story ever told, so yeah, the common elements are here. The protagonist is Jesus. The crowd are the antagonists. The stakes? They could not be higher. The stakes are the salvation of the world.

But there is a twist. The protagonist sacrifices for the benefit of the antagonists. The good guy, Jesus, lays his life down for the bad guys. To conquer their sin, he must first bear the brunt of it.

The crowd cheers and jeers as the guards brutalize Jesus. Though he endures unspeakable pain, he does not open his mouth. He takes it. He knows the stakes and he knows what must be done. The bad guys haven’t a clue this man who they mock and torture is their rescuer.

The arrogant mob meant it when they said, “His blood be on us and on our children.” What’s worse, they seem to have been earnest when they drug their children into the situation.

Jesus would turn their wicked statement upside down.

Jesus spilled his blood to atone for the sins of everyone present that day, and he offers that same blood to us. Though we deserve condemnation, Jesus’ blood purifies us. We don’t know who, if anyone, in the crowd experienced the saving love of Christ. I have great hope that some did. Maybe those who screamed for Jesus to be crucified experienced his grace. I hope.

Every night when I pray for my kids, I pray they would know how much God loves them. I don’t say it verbatim, but I pray for Jesus’ blood to be on them. I pray the same for myself, and the same for you.

Let his blood be on us and on our children.

Sweating Blood: From Despair to Redemption

And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

As the rocks pelted Stephen’s skull, he cried out faithful prayers of forgiveness for his murderers. The crowd descended upon him with gnashed teeth and boiling blood. Stephen learned just how offensive the gospel is as the mob brutally murdered him. It must have been terrifying and painful, faithful and hopeful though he was.

Jesus endured far more than Stephen.

As Pastor Scott mentioned in last weekend’s sermon, we should consider why Jesus was so grieved in the garden before his execution. Of course, there’s the theory that he was scared to be tortured to death—and there is no doubt this is true. If Stephen would have had advance warning of his stoning, he probably would have had a similar reaction. There is something more here for us, though. There is something distinctly different between the death of a Christian martyr and Jesus’ death on Calvary.

When I was a toddler, I got into some fire ants. I was in the front yard of a family friend’s beach house just playing away in the middle of a fire ant bed. I began to scream and writhe in pain. One of the men ran over with a water hose and sprayed me off. I began to swell up. I was allergic. My parents scooped me up and took care of me. They got me medicine and made sure I was okay. They covered me with their love.

Imagine if they had seen me and just thought, huh. What if they had noticed my anguish and turned their backs as the ants consumed my young flesh?

As Jesus endured the spit and mocking and torture, his Father had to let it happen. When Jesus died, he remained turned away. I cannot imagine the pain Jesus felt. I cannot imagine the pain the Father felt.

You see, the Father turning from Jesus during this dark hour was not capricious or mean. He was not punishing Jesus for anything Jesus had done. He was punishing Jesus for what we have done.

Jesus sweat blood because he knew his Father would reject him. He knew he’d drink the cup of the wrath of his infinitely powerful Father and that this cup entailed his rejection. This is a fate far worse than death itself. Rejection of the Father is hell. Jesus sweat blood in anticipation of this hell.

While this incident is dark and horrible, it is brightened by the fact that it was borne out of love. You see, Jesus knew why he was to endure this hell. The Father knew why he had to send his Son. It was for our ransom. It was to pay the price of sin. The blood Jesus wept was the same blood that covers our sins. And as we know from Scripture, Jesus did not stay separated from his Father. He rose, smashing sin and Satan and death and bridging the chasm between us and God. He prepared a way for us to escape the grave of sin to ascend to the perfection of heaven.


If only the disciples who were with Jesus knew the epic story they were caught up in, this grand narrative of loss and redemption and victory at the highest price. If only they understood what Jesus was dreading when he asked them to stay up with him. Maybe then they would have stayed awake. Maybe then they would have remained with Jesus and prayed with him. But they didn’t, and of course, Jesus would spread his forgiveness over them all the same.

Why is Good Friday Good?

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
Isaiah 53:5

Why is Good Friday called “Good” Friday? Couldn’t we come up with a different term? Good doesn’t describe what Jesus endured on the cross. He was brutally murdered. He was mocked and tortured until he surrendered his spirit as he hung on a cross between two criminals. Not good.

I’ll bet Jesus’ disciples didn’t think it was a good day, either. They saw Jesus do miracles, from feeding five thousand to calming storms to raising people from the dead. Jesus claimed to be God. But now he was dead. And even though Jesus told the disciples about his crucifixion beforehand, I am sure Thomas wasn’t the only one doubting.

Don’t skip to the resurrection. I know, that’s the easy explanation as to why we call Good Friday good. Because Easter makes it so! While this is true, we cannot ignore what happened as Jesus’ righteous blood ran down the rugged cross. Stay there with me for a moment.

We need to consider these words:
“…upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”

The crucifixion was not merely an execution of an innocent – well, actually perfect – man. It was that, but it was also a payment.

Sin is dark and deadly. It is treason against God. It is hatred of God. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So what can God do? Here are some options:

1. He could let it go
2. He could kill all of us (the wages of sin is death)
3. He could pay our debt

Letting it go will not do. God is a God of justice and equity. Letting an injustice go unaddressed is contrary to his character. He obviously didn’t kill all of us. He chose the third option: to pay our debt for us. The Father sent his perfect, blameless, wonderful Son to die for us. The bloody gravity of Good Friday covered the bloody gravity of our sin. Because Jesus died in our place, we must not turn away from the violence of this day. We deserve those wounds, the spit, the mocking laughs. But Jesus bore them for us.

Don’t look away. Look right at Jesus. Consider what he endured out of his great love for us. Go ahead and picture it.

Now understand what this day means for us. It means Jesus earned the pardon of peace for us. Now, because of the work of Jesus, God gives us grace in exchange for our rebellion. Good Friday washed our hearts of the stain of sin. Praise Jesus for Good Friday, the day he paid our debts and deposited eternal grace into our hearts.

Would you pray with me?

Jesus, I was not there. But I can picture it. I cannot understand the pain and rejection you endured. But I can imagine it. I know you did that for me. I know you washed me clean and purchased me forgiveness on that day. So I want to thank you. But more than that, I want to follow you and be near you. Draw me closer, Jesus. Help me know you more. I love you. In your holy name, amen.

 

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He is Coming

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. (Matthew 25:31)

Spring is officially here. Grass is turning green and the pollen has coated every flat surface. The sun is shining.

Jesus is coming.

Our joy ebbs and flows. We get fired, then hired. We lose a loved one and shortly after we celebrate the birth of a baby. Marriages go through hard times and honeymoon times. We get busy with distractions, amusing ourselves to numbness.

Jesus is coming.

We search and grasp for meaning, and we lean towards that next best thing that might satisfy us a little more. It could be a new iPhone or a promotion. We hunger for something that will soothe the core of our souls. We become frantic in our search.

JESUS IS COMING!

If you aren’t dead, you’re dying. You will soon approach the throne of God. He might just show up before you do. Jesus is not a sniper waiting to pick you off, he’s a Savior ready to pick you up. When he comes back, make no mistake, it will be terror for some. He will judge according to the hearts of men. Not their statements, bank accounts, or moral records. He will judge them according to whether or not their hearts fully trust in him.

The choice is so painfully obvious, but we walk past it like a beggar passing up a feast. We want something else, not the ancient way of God. It’s not shiny enough. But it is enough, and very soon it will be made shockingly clear that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

He is coming soon.

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What Remains

You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down. (Matthew 24:2)

Look around you. Everything you can see will eventually rust, rot, and decay.

Whether we are young or old, fit or out-of-shape, our bodies too are wasting away. I’m only 33 but my injuries seem to linger a week longer than they used to. It happens, and it’s happening.

When Jesus explained to his disciples that the temple was going to be destroyed, they couldn’t believe it. The temple was built like a bunker with hulking, heavy stones. It was beautiful. When Jesus explained that it would all be destroyed, it rattled them. They begin to ask more questions about his second coming and the close of this age.

They are seeking something permanent to hold on to.

We too seek permanence. We want something that will last, whether it is our kid’s childhood or our favorite show. But if we place our hope in things that are passing away, we place our joy upon an altar built with straw. It’ll all come down.

Jesus was before. He is here now. And he will remain after. He is past, present, and future. His redeeming work on Calvary spans the test of time – forward and back – and his kingdom endures forever. He is worthy of our hope. He will never pass away.

We have the choice to orient our lives around that which will pass away or that which will endure. Put your hope in Jesus, our indestructible Savior.

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Our Insurrection, His Faithfulness

Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ (Matthew 21:37-38)

Jesus’ parables were not just good stories meant to convey a point. No, he used parables as swords. I imagine that many within earshot of his parables would nod in agreement until Jesus reached the end of the parable. You see, it is tempting to see yourself as the good guy in the parable – the loving father, the one using his talents for God’s glory – but Jesus didn’t tell parables so we could improve our self-esteem by relating to the hero of his story. By the time Jesus reaches the end of his parables, most of them bring the bitter truth of conviction for the audience.

So it goes with the Parable of the Tenants. Jesus tells this story to a group of religious upper-crusters. These were the pious, educated, ceremonially clean guys – the chief priests and Pharisees. In the Parable of the Tenants, there was a farmer who leased his vineyard to some tenants. This was common in Jesus’ day. Wealthy farmers would lease their land to tenants so the farmer could run multiple operations at one time. The farmer owns the place, the tenant stays and works it. The fruit belongs to the farmer.

At harvest time, the farmer sends his servants to get the fruit of the vineyard – and the tenants assault them. The farmer sends more – surely the first time was a mistake – and the tenants attack these servants, too.

The farmer sends his son.

The tenants are not only jealous of the son’s claim to the fruit, they are jealous of his status as the farmer’s son. He is a privileged man, the heir to the fortune of the farmer. Their jealousy ignites and they murder him.

As the upper-crusters hear this parable, they imagine the rage of the farmer. Jesus asks them what the farmer would do to the murderous tenants in this scenario. The upper-crusters respond:

He will put those wretches to a miserable death…” (Matthew 21:41)

Of course, the upper-crusters are like the wretches in the story. Though they don’t realize it just yet, they are condemning themselves as they speak. They intend to do to Jesus what the tenants did to the farmer’s son – and for the same reasons.

Be careful – don’t condemn the upper-crusters, because Jesus is also talking about you.

We are tenants of the earth. We don’t own a molecule of it. We don’t own our lives, either. But we want to claim them. When God comes after our lives, we are all too prone to reject him. We are prone to start an insurrection against his reign over our lives. Don’t believe me?

Do you surrender your will to God’s on a daily basis?

Have you ever read Scripture and decided a command was for someone else because you didn’t want to obey?

Have you ever done something in God’s name to make yourself look good?

My answers to these questions convict me. I am guilty. Too often I seek my own will, explain away commandments, and do the right thing for the wrong reason. I join the insurrection.

If you too have joined the insurrection and assembled among the ranks of wretches, Jesus offers a way out. His parables are intended to instruct and convict, but not condemn. By getting to the gritty, painful truth Jesus unearths our need for a savior. And of course, he offers himself as that savior.

Jesus is king. He owns this place and he owns us. He wants the best for our lives. When we stop our rebellion and repent of our insurrection against his reign, we will taste more of his fruit. We may rebel, but God is faithful and longsuffering. He made a way, and his name is Jesus.

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You Do Not Know What You’re Asking

And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:21-22)

Years ago I had to fire a guy. It was a volatile situation and he had nearly come to blows with one of his colleagues. As I sat him down, I began to explain that things were not working out. To my surprise, he nodded and affirmed everything I was saying – that is, until I explained that we were letting him go.

“You’re letting me go? I thought you were letting him go?”

He thought we were firing someone else. He was shocked. His behavior which led to his dismissal was completely excusable to him. To paraphrase Stephen M.R. Covey, he judged himself by his best intentions and others by their behavior. He was completely unaware of his wrongdoing.

We all do this. We self-justify and compare our intentions against the faulty behavior of others. This is how marriages crumble, business partnerships dissolve, and churches split. When we ignore our own sinfulness yet see sin in others, we are delusional destroyers. We will hurt those around us and in so doing, we will starve our souls of grace.

When the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus, she brought this delusional mindset with her. She expects that her sons should sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his kingdom. She wants Jesus to confirm that this will happen. This is not unlike the dad who yells at his son’s t-ball coach because his son isn’t batting cleanup. Nevermind that little Timmy can’t even hit a stationary ball – he should be in the best position just because.

The funny thing is, we all approach Jesus like this to some degree. We may show up proud and we may show up ashamed, but we all show up entitled. And you know what, Jesus died so we could be entitled. Let me say that again: Jesus died so we could be entitled.

If our salvation was based on the net result of our good and bad, none of us would be saved. We do not want a merit-based salvation because we come with no merit. With empty hands we approach the throne of grace. But it does not matter, at least not to Jesus. He knew we’d need help. He knew we’d be so blind as to think we might somehow measure up to the standard of a holy and righteous God. So, because of Jesus’ work on the cross, we are now entitled to his love, acceptance, and eternal salvation. We didn’t earn it, but he freely gives it to us.

As Pastor Scott said last weekend, “Grace isn’t fair.” If grace was fair and only those who deserve it would receive it, we’d all be out of luck. No, grace is not fair – it is benevolent. The grace of Christ is generous. It is merciful. It is not a reward for good behavior, it is a surprise party for failures.

We cannot earn grace, but we can accept it. Praise God that grace isn’t fair.

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The Suffering and Blessing of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is hard. It is not as simple as opening the jail cell of a prisoner and saying, “go free – you are forgiven.” Forgiveness is more complicated and more costly than that – and it’s designed to be. We do benefit when we forgive others, as giving others the grace we have been given by God is a joyous thing – but it’s painful.

To forgive is to absorb something. It does not go away. If I slight you and you forgive me, you don’t un-remember my offense; you merely accept it for what it was and you choose to absolve me. That hurts. The offense still happened and if you choose to forgive, you get to internalize it in your memory.

God is an exception, however:

“…For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34 ESV)

God is an exception because of the work of Jesus on the cross – he remembers our sins no more. When our debt was paid by Jesus’ crucifixion, God not only forgave – he forgot. On purpose. It would be helpful if we shared this ability with God, but it appears not to be the case because I can remember nearly every harsh word someone has said to me. Our memories are sticky with other people’s sins and very loose with our own.

When we give the grace of forgiveness, we also taste the grace of forgiveness. It’s like sharing a meal with someone. When we forgive, we remind ourselves of Jesus’ ultimate forgiveness – and this should refresh our spirits. The grace Jesus pours into our hearts is bigger than the bitterness of past hurts.

In Matthew 18, Peter asks Jesus how often he should forgive someone who sins against him, likely searching on the outer limits of forgiveness. Jesus offers no such answer. Jesus tells Peter he should forgive seventy seven times. Seventy seven times. Jesus isn’t being technical here; the point is that you cannot reach the end of your need to forgive others. You cannot stop absorbing the sins of others as you free them from their bondage of their wrong against you. You pay, they go free.

Jesus knows how this feels. He knows what he is asking. He has absorbed your sins already, suffering to the point of death for your transgressions. May that immeasurable grace be our portion as we forgive – and suffer – the sins of others.

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Leave Your Embassy

Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:2)

We have really good fences in the suburbs. Some of them are plank on plank on plank, leaving no cracks from which to view our neighbors. The taller the better it seems.

The saying goes that good fences make for good neighbors. That may well be true. Fences can give you privacy and keep your dogs contained. Fences and privacy are good things.

There are certain types of people that are front porch people. Now, front porch people (or “FPPs”) used to be more common back before we lobotomized ourselves in front of the television at night – but they are still around. An FPP spends time out front where there are no fences, where neighbors drive up and people walk by.

You notice things when you hang out in the front. You see the man down the street in his wrinkled suit after a long day at the office eagerly walking in to see his family. You see the widow gardening. You notice when a car is gone for a long period of time or when a moving truck pulls up. You notice your neighbor signing “I love you” through the windshield to his wife as she backs down the driveway.

2 Corinthians 5:20 says we are ambassadors for Christ. We represent him in the world.

Picture a U.S. ambassador to a foreign country. He arrives on his plane and he is taken by car to the embassy. Once there, he buries himself in email and busywork – never leaving the embassy. He learns nothing about the people and he never allows himself to rub shoulders with the locals. What kind of ambassador would he be?

If you are a follower of Jesus, consider your home an embassy. It is a stronghold for the kingdom of God. Given our affluence and the creature comforts we all enjoy, it’s easy to hang out in the embassy. But that isn’t where ambassadorship happens. Ambassadorship happens in the public square: at work, in the streets, in restaurants, at the gym, at school, etc. When we get out there, we engage with others, and this allows us to learn their story. When we walk outside our walls, we push back darkness and engage in the battle against the spiritual forces of darkness (Ephesians 6).

In October, there are two teed up events to enjoy your neighbors in close proximity to The Door Church:

  • National Night Out (Coppell) – 10/4
  • Halloween – 10/31*

*Don’t get all weird about Halloween, by the way. Though originally a Celtic tradition that had something to do with warning off roaming ghosts by wearing costumes (and I must grant that is weird), it has also been celebrated as “Hallows Eve” the day before All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a day to honor martyrs of the past. Halloween is what you make of it. Kids, candy, and costumes are fun. I’m down for that. But even better is the opportunity to get to know neighbors and spend time together. Redeem it. Make it an opportunity to be an ambassador for Jesus by hanging with your neighbors.

I have lived by people who I barely knew. Lots of them. And I think that’s a tragedy. God made each of them a masterpiece, and there I sit on the couch. I pray that the Lord would shove me out the front door and into the life of someone who needs his hope.

Let’s be FPPs. Let’s carry the gospel into our neighborhoods. Let’s step out of our embassies to spend time with the people God has put around us. Let’s be ambassadors.

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Jesus Says, “Come.” So Go.

He said, “Come.”

Peter was a bit of a character. I’m not sure I’d recommend following his example in many respects. He denied Jesus three times like a coward. Jesus had to rebuke him sharply and even called him Satan (Matthew 16:23). But something about Peter inspires me, fallible though he was. He trusted Jesus. He would follow him anywhere.

In Matthew 14:22 we catch the disciples worn out on a boat. The water was rough, and the waves are tossing the boat around. Though several of them were experienced fishermen, being on a boat in high winds is terrifying and dangerous.

Peter was not exactly fearless like Jesus. But he had his moments. When the disciples in the boat see Jesus on the water from afar, they understandably freak out. People don’t walk on water. They thought Jesus was a ghost. As tired as they were, they must have wondered if they were hallucinating. They weren’t.

Never the subdued one, Peter perks up. Now the game Peter plays is a dangerous one. Peter says if the ghost figure is Jesus, it should command him to walk on the water towards him. Now I can think of a million different scenarios where this would be ill-advised.

Jesus, if you’re really there please catch me when I jump off my roof.

Jesus, if that’s really you telling me to ask her out, make this light turn green.

Jesus, if you really have my back I need you to show me a sign.

Remember Matthew 4:7: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” Satan tests Jesus just like Peter, but for a different reason. He’s playing with Jesus – tempting him. Peter, on the other hand, is innocently seeking Jesus. That is the primary difference and it’s a huge one.

 

Peter’s 4 Possible Outcomes

Jesus’ response to Peter’s test is powerful: “Come.” This is the dog catching the car. Peter must now put his money where his mouth is. So he steps over the drenched wooden gunwale of the boat and on the surface of the stormy waters. His foot holds. (Imagine the sensation of the water moving but holding underneath his feet.) He puts his other foot outside the boat and it also holds. He starts making his way to Jesus in what must have been at once awkward and miraculous.

But something bad happens. Peter notices the wind whipping at his clothes. The wind sprays water and pushes him around. As Peter begins to internalize the mess he’s gotten himself in with this whole walking on water business, he feels his foot dip beneath the surface. He cries out for help and Jesus reaches out to help him. Jesus’ response is enlightening: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” We see here that Peter’s doubt was the problem. It would have sunk him but for Jesus’ help. Peter’s blind faith had him walking on water; his doubts had him sinking.

Peter doesn’t strike me as the type of guy to create spreadsheets. He probably wasn’t a pros and cons type of guy. But let’s say he was. Let’s say Peter wanted to do a cost/benefit analysis of heeding Jesus’ command to come. This will have profound implications for our lives.

When Jesus told Peter to come, here are the four possible scenarios:

  1. Peter says, “Nevermind.” He stays in the boat and thus he stays apart from Jesus. Peter would have no idea the power of saying yes to Jesus. His faith would probably have weakened further by his cowardice.
  2. Peter tries to walk on water but drowns. Drowning takes minutes to cause death, so within minutes Peter presumably would have been dead and in heaven. A quick death with a good outcome.
  3. Peter tries to walk on water but his buddies have to rescue him. Maybe the walking on water thing doesn’t work out and the disciples grab him and throw him in the boat. Peter would have an adrenaline spike and then much confusion as to why Jesus called him into the water to sink. He’d be humbled and wiser for the experience.
  4. Peter walks on water and meets up with Jesus. This is what happened. Though he started to sink, he walked on water and made it to Jesus – or should I say, Jesus made it to him. He ended up in Jesus’ arms.

Because #4 happened, Peter is emboldened in his faith and humbled by what just went down. Peter realizes with faith he can do crazy supernatural things but with doubt he sinks like a rock. Peter knows on his own he is ill-equipped but in Jesus he is well-equipped.

 

Our Possible Outcomes

Things aren’t as cut-and-dry for us. Jesus ascended into heaven so it is very unlikely you’ll have an experience like Peter. His Spirit lives inside us, so we’ll experience God’s invitations differently than Peter. This is why people can say God called them to things and it’s hard to argue with them. Who is to say whether God did or didn’t compel them to do something?

We have to test those voices in our head and the promptings of our conscience. Here is what I mean. If you feel this strong compulsion to wake up in the wee hours to pray for your wife, or the urge to give a poor person money, or feel the overwhelming need to speak an encouraging word to someone, do it. These urges are backed clearly by Scripture and by the character of Jesus himself. They are slam dunks and I would hold that these types of urges are absolutely promptings from the Spirit inside us.

But what if we feel the urge to quit our job? What if we would like to change churches? Or what if we feel a strong need to engage in a conflict to speak our piece? These things are murkier. They are grayer. They require prayer, counsel, the reading of God’s word, and common sense. We can’t just act and say God told us to do it.

For our purposes, let’s say it’s clear to you that God has told you to come. This could be a ministry opportunity, a career move, a family decision, etc. After prayer, counsel, reading your Bible, and some time-soaked common sense you are convinced this is God beckoning you to do something. Specifically you feel God calling you to something scary, risky, or controversial. You face risk of life, limb, property, and/or reputation if you obey.

So what can happen?

  • You can die. That’s a win (Philippians 1:21).
  • You can be utterly humiliated. Since we regard no one according to the flesh, ourselves included, this is no devastating event (2 Corinthians 5:16). We will learn, grow in maturity and faith, be wiser for the failure.
  • God can come through. In such case, you’ll see something really cool happen and God will get the glory.

You see, when God calls, it is always best that we go. The possible outcomes for obedience to God are all positive. We like to think in binary terms – this or that – but God is sovereign and he shapes all of our lives for our good and his glory (Romans 8:28). When we step out in obedience, God will step in faithfully. It doesn’t mean we won’t fail, but it means we will slog through the waves into the arms of Jesus.

Go.

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Scattering Gospel Seed

He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32)

I am a ministry failure. Countless times I have given someone counsel, presented the Gospel, or encouraged someone with God’s truth with absolutely nil results. From strangers on planes to neighbors to close friends, I know what it feels like to fail – at least by my short-sighted temporal standards.

There is an unwritten rule we live by: if you’re expending effort, you had better be sure you will gain something from it – or you had better at least achieve your desired purpose. This is why dating websites are so popular. It is a zillion times easier to approach a woman through the distance of the internet than to look into her dazzling eyes and choke out a request for a date. We don’t want to tread into the unknown where our egos are at risk.

This is economical, instinctual even. We are wired to expend energy in worthwhile places and in many cases this is a good convention. Take for example, American Idol contestants. I know you’ve seen one of those horrendous auditions where the terrified young singer screeches out a song like a mammal giving birth. These youngsters, bless their confused hearts, need to spend their energy somewhere worthwhile. In their case, that would be anything but singing.

But ministry is an exception to this rule. This is due in part to the fact that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is of the utmost importance and thus, all effort is worthwhile. When we see our fellow man on the road to eternal separation from our dear Jesus if we have a modicum of love we will try to turn his head – even if he heads up a local atheist softball league.

The primary reason ministry is an exception to the cost-benefit analysis is that the Gospel is maximally effective. When we eek out our attempt at a Gospel presentation in a coffee shop, there is spiritual nuclear warfare going on. We aren’t just a red-faced evangelist, we are a warrior from heaven. You see, when we share the story of Christ with another human being we invite the hosts of heaven into a cosmic battle. And because the Spirit intercedes for us (Romans 8:26), while we may feel more like one of those American Idol contestants, our words may come across like a John Piper sermon as the Spirit steps in miraculously.

The good news of Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection is not flashy. To claim belief in such a story is arcane and foolish to the unbeliever. But it’s true. And thus, we have the truest and most potent news in human history. This is a story that changes eternities just by telling it. It must be told.

There are several kinds of mustard plants that grow in different parts of the world. We don’t know which species Jesus referred to, and I don’t think Jesus was trying to give a lesson in botany. Mustard seeds are small and they can grow large plants – or even trees – from a very small beginning. That is what we need to know.

My wife and I just finished building our garden. After creating the border and fence, we put in the plants, which we had already started from seeds by using small trays. Now the plants are in the ground. They may grow, and if they do, it’ll be gradually. I doubt very seriously that we will look out the window and see anything shockingly different. Some of them may die. When you garden, you don’t grow vegetables, you plant them. In the same way, we don’t convert people -and God help us for even trying. If we think our Jesus sales pitch is compelling enough to change someone’s soul, we are delusional. We plant Gospel seeds by sharing the story of Jesus’ work and then we water by love and friendship. And if something does sprout in the heart of our friend, we aren’t entitled to the credit.

We are to sow Gospel seeds as we walk through life, in the cracks and soils of our context in which God has placed us. And we should do so with tact and love and without the expectation that our seeds will sprout conversion just because we planted them. But we should also understand we are not playing a trivial game. We are engaging in war, with a violent battle taking place for the soul of our friends. Because God is sovereign, he wins this battle every time – but we may not be able to make sense of it.

Lastly, there’s something to Jesus’ mentioning of the birds in the mustard tree. Because Jesus was God, he surely understood how plants grew. After all, he’d made them. And Jesus surely knew that birds eat seeds and spread them over a large distance. So if a mustard tree grows through a man planting a seemingly insignificant seed, it would attract birds. These birds might eat seeds from the tree and they might just chill there for a bit – or both. If the birds ate the seeds, they would disperse the seeds over a wide territory. If you follow this logic for a bit, you can imagine an exponential increase in mustard trees.

Our seemingly insignificant Gospel seeds might grow mighty forests, but they might not be within our range of vision. An investment in sharing the precious and powerful news of Jesus’ victory for sinners is the planting of world-changing truth. So, beloved brothers and sisters, may we run hard and scatter Gospel seed all over the place. You never know what God might grow.

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The Problem in the Mirror

In March of 1968, a demoralized company of American infantrymen entered the village of My Lai. Their orders were to destroy the village. Whether the orders included mass extermination of the local populace is a matter of debate, but they did just that, to a heinous degree. It is said that Charlie Company murdered around 500 people that day, nearly all civilians and many of them women and children. They raped, tortured, and slaughtered the village.

It could have been even worse, but Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson was flying through the area in his chopper on a reconnaissance mission. What he saw from the air was incomprehensible. Charlie Company was chasing the retreating villagers, mowing them down as they ran. Thompson acted. He landed his helicopter between Charlie Company and the villagers, right in the crossfire. Thompson threatened to open fire on Charlie Company if they did not immediately cease their attack on the villagers. In what must have been a very tense moment, Charlie Company backed down and Thompson’s heroic move thus ended the massacre.

Charlie Company was a typical group of American soldiers. Some were from farms and others from big cities. They had various upbringings. So what could cause a group of ordinary men to commit such an atrocity? What led to this bloodlust?

I am not qualified to answer this question in detail. I wasn’t there that day and I’ve never set foot on a battlefield. But I can tell you this for sure: they objectified the villagers. Charlie Company had lost a lot of their men from booby traps and fighting, and they saw villagers walk safely in areas where shortly after Americans were killed by traps. Charlie Company decided the villagers were the problem and regardless of their orders, they violently extinguished the problem. The tender faces of babies and the pleading faces of their mothers were from somewhere beyond humanity to Charlie Company, and they struck them down like roaches.

Examples of the objectification are endless. The recent ambush and murder of five Dallas police officers. The terrorism in Nice, France. Racial profiling. Nazis. The Rwandan Massacre. Slavery. The sex trade. Objectification yields hatred and violence. And we do it all the time.

In his sermon entitled “What’s The Problem?” Pastor Scott explained the mechanics of objectification of other people. He explained that when we idolize something, we in turn objectify the opposite or the resistance to our idol. This empowers everything from college rivalries to mass murder, because often we see people as the thing getting in between us and our idols.

Atrocities happen every day in corners of the world that our eyes don’t see, suicide bombs and rapes and slavery. In our white picket fence America, we don’t see the blood, but lately the darkness has become too much too ignore. It seems violence is bubbling up in unexpected places – and we want answers. What is causing all of this and how to avoid it and when will this end?

It’s easy to assign blame to other people. It’s the terrorists or the racists. And yes, there are evil people doing horrible things, and we should seek justice. But what about us? What about me? It’s not so easy to condemn the man in the mirror. But I am the problem, and so are you. It is the idolatry in our hearts that perpetuates objectification of other people. We must start our work on the darkness in our hearts. It starts with us.

We must kill our idols and repent.

Jesus offers his hand to us. He sees our false gods and he offers a better way. When we place our worship rightly on Jesus, the world is made better from the oozing of grace, love, and truth that emanates from our hearts. When we idolize false gods, we are violence in waiting.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). I don’t know about you, but with all of the recent violence, I’m pretty heavy laden with grief. It seems like it’s closing in on all sides. Amidst the pain and confusion, Jesus again offers his hand.

When we start with ourselves, with repentance and submission to Jesus, our institutions change (police departments, schools, churches, political parties, etc.). After all, institutions are made up of individuals, of people like you and me. Instead of running frantically down the line of people to blame, we must start with owning the problem ourselves. What idols do we keep on the shelf? How do these idols create objectification of other people? How do we kill these idols?

John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” I would add that our sin might also kill others.

What, if it were taken away from you, would make your life not worth living? What is the one thing that you cannot live without? What in your life, if God were to remove it, would cause you to lose your identity? These are probably inherently good things, mind you. Maybe the answer is your kids or success or a hobby. But when we make good things god things, they become violent things. You may never have thought of that, but it’s the truth.

The answer, as always, is Jesus. Not the idea of him, or tradition, or the good stuff he offers, but a personal relationship with him. The gospel is not merely a story or an idea – it is a relationship. Jesus purchased an eternal union with him for you. Just as infidelity kills marriages, our idolatry kills our relationship with Jesus.

It starts with us. It starts with our idols. When we repent and put on the light and easy yoke of Christ, the world changes.

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