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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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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He is (Still) Risen

For as by a man came death, by a man has also come the resurrection of the dead. (1 Cor. 15:21)

 

The landfills are littered with colorful plastic eggs. The leftovers sit in the fridge. That chocolate bunny with one ear eaten is still tempting and your pastel Easter shirt is back in the closet. Easter has come and gone.

But Jesus is still risen.

It is quite easy to get caught up in the brightness of Easter. In the midst of the colors and family (and this year, heavenly weather), the air is electric with praise. After all, we celebrate the greatest news in the history of the world. Great news carries great buzz (“Did you hear?!?!”) and the greatest news carries the greatest buzz.

So how do we move on from this news? How do we zombie though another day and forget the power of Jesus’ resurrection? For many of us, it’s like watching a great movie. You’re moved and then you move on. But we cannot move on from celebrating Jesus’ resurrection. It is the hope from which we live.

 

Hello, Immortal

Grab your phone. Look at your contacts and picture their faces. Think of your friends and those who you might consider enemies. Picture everyone you have ever known in a giant room.

They are all immortals.

We are on an eternal trajectory to heaven or hell, to (as Scripture playfully puts it) “recline at table” with Jesus or to endure eternal separation from Him. Death is a transition, not an ending. Those of us in Christ shall be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22) again.

Today is not another day spent in our short existence, it is another day to enjoy in our permanent union with Jesus. We are immortals because of Jesus’ resurrection, and we will enjoy Him forever.

 

The Power

Jesus was fully human. He humbled Himself to be fully human. This means He wept, slept, and ate. He endured the human experience just like we do, one day at a time. When He was tortured and hung on a cross, he asphyxiated and died. If you have ever seen someone recently dead, the heavy reality of their death is unexplainable. They are without life, just a shell.

Jesus reanimated and walked out of there. When the angel told the two Marys about what happened, they trembled in fear. Could it be true? It’s true.

The man who raised Himself from death is the same man who offers Himself to you this very day. If He can lay down His life and pick it back up, imagine the strength He can wield in a difficult marriage, an illness, or depression. Jesus’ power was showcased in His resurrection and He continues to show it off, raising us to eternal life and working in the right now of our lives to draw us nearer to Him.

 

Rescued

We live in a broken world on a path to redemption. Things aren’t right but they’re being made that way by God over time. This world is His even though Satan has a stronghold. When Jesus raised from death, He conquered evil and sealed our promise of hope. We live in that light.

Too often we see ourselves as the rescuers, the heroes. Or maybe we don’t think about it at all. We just live through today and do some stuff and send some texts and sleep so we can do it all again. We are like the avalanche victim who, when uncovered and warmed, chatter through blue lips, “What’s f-f-f-for d-d-dinner?”

You, my friend, have a bright future – one that never ends. Having been rescued from your sin and the death it rightly causes, you will live in the Father’s house when your last breath leaves your body. Jesus will be there with you. Live today in light of that hope.

He is still risen.

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God With Us

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.” (Matthew 1:18)

 

I was in the room when my kids were born. I remember the doctors, the pattern on the couch, the look on Lindsay’s face, and the smell of the sterile hospital. I remember time went slowly at some points and quickly at others. I was there.

But I don’t know what birth is like.

Observing something and experiencing something are different. We can empathize when we observe and we learn by watching, but doing is another matter entirely. That’s why Jesus’ incarnation carries so much weight.

If you look at other faiths of the world, their gods are ethereal or detached. They are in the heavens or in some other realm and we are in this realm. So even if these other faiths presume divine creation, their gods don’t know what it’s like to be in creation. But Jesus does.

All of the human experience is known to Jesus, except the experience of sin. Jesus learned, wept, laughed, worked, went to the bathroom, and washed clothes. He did the normal stuff we do. And He did it perfectly. But He didn’t live perfectly so He could say, “Look people, you can be perfect like me – just try harder.” No, Jesus lived perfectly because He was earning a perfect record on your behalf (2 Cor. 5:21).

I appreciate the reverence of the paintings and sculptures that give Jesus flowing locks of hair, a perfectly trimmed beard, and 4% body fat. I think the goal is to show respect and honor to Jesus as God – which He is. But these renditions miss something, and that is the important fact that Jesus was also one of us. We know in Scripture that he wasn’t a real attractive guy (Isaiah 53:2), but rather He was just a regular blue collar guy. You wouldn’t look twice if He sat next to you at Starbucks.

Jesus entered the pain of being human for a purpose. So He could further bear the pain of the sin of all humans. It was a journey of pain and suffering. But you know what, Jesus didn’t do it begrudgingly. His love for us was bigger than the pain He endured. It was worth it to Him and it was worth it to The Father, who sent Jesus on this mission.

No matter what you’re going through, you have an Advocate. He has been there, not in some vague sense but in reality. He has been there.

His name is Immanuel, which means “God with us.”

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God is Good – All the Time

While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. Luke 24:15 ESV

 

Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Our loved ones pass away and we follow them shortly after. War, abortion, sickness, murder, poverty, and other forms of brokenness invade our world. If things are smooth sailing, it is temporary. Suffering is unavoidable, like death and taxes.

Several members of our church experienced the loss of loved ones this week. It is a heavy week, with hearts grieving yet rejoicing.

In Luke 24, two of Jesus’ disciples are hurting. Jesus had just been crucified and the hope of many died with him. Others whispered about a resurrection but many were skeptical. Rumors abounded. But as we watch these two walking down the road, we see Jesus Himself draw near to them. We see Jesus enter the space of their grief and interrupt the mourning with His presence. That’s what Jesus does.

But Jesus did not only offer His presence (which is enough), He gave them an explanation of what happened. They started their walk in sadness and confusion and Jesus ended their walk with clarity and peace.

As we mourn with those who mourn, know that Jesus mourns as well. Jesus wept with those weeping about the death of Lazarus. He shed real saline tears from the bottom of His perfect heart.

And then He raised Lazarus.

Our Lord never leaves us to weep alone. He enters into the places where our hearts stick in our throats and our eyes sting from crying. With His presence, He displaces the confusion and infuses a love so deep it is hard to comprehend. Now does this make our weeping stop? Does it make it all okay that we have just lost someone very close to us? No on both fronts. We will weep and hurt and it’s never okay to lose a loved one. It hurts, badly. But if those who we lost knew Jesus we know that He too will raise them. That their death is merely a transition to a deeper communion with Jesus.

While death still stings, it won’t sting forever. Our mortal body will put on immortality.

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”

“O death, where is your victory?

O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:51-57 ESV

So we mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. We offer hope and sometimes we offer nothing more than our presence, because that’s where Jesus starts. And we know that God is good – all the time.

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Beautifying His Beautiful House

…and I will beautify my beautiful house. (Isaiah 60:7 ESV)

Heaven is an interesting topic to discuss. Some people picture heaven like a wispy cloud with eternal boredom accentuated by harp music. Others think heaven is just a big party with Jesus and wine and loved ones and what not. I haven’t been there so I don’t really know what heaven is like, but we do know for sure that heaven will be like living in our Father’s house.

Consider what Jesus told the disciples:

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:2-3 ESV)

Sounds pretty incredible, doesn’t it? With a renewed body, we will hang out with Jesus after He takes us to Himself so we can be with Him. He is preparing a place for us.

We are so small in the grand scheme of creation, yet highly valued. Do you notice the role we play in the above verses? We are recipients of God’s work. Nowhere does it say that we are beautifying God’s beautiful house or that we are responsible for getting our place ready in heaven. We are recipients – beneficiaries – of God’s grace.

Over the years I have heard many people get bogged down with the concept of Calvinism. Usually they focus on the concept of free will, which they feel is in conflict with God’s sovereignty. I can understand the resolute insistence that we have free will – it just seems natural here on the ground in real life. And we do have a measure of free will. But here is the trump card: God’s sovereignty. If God is all powerful (omnipotent), preeminent, and all-knowing (omniscient) – which He is – our free will plays out within the bounds of His sovereign rule.

Why does this matter? Who cares about Calvinism and what does this have to do with God’s beautiful house?

The reason God’s sovereignty and our position as beneficiaries matters is trust. God is roaring lion powerful and cross-enduring loving. He makes us and breathes each breath into our feeble lungs and Colossians 1:17 says that in Jesus all things hold together. We have much reason to trust. To trust that He is in control of our lives. To trust that He loves us and that our circumstances aren’t a surprise to Him. To trust that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4). No matter what life throws our way, we can trust that life did not in fact throw anything our way but that which God allowed.

Our future as Christians is inconceivably great and our present is better than we deserve. So when life gets hard or confusing, when death knocks on your door, you have but one response: to trust. It’s easy to say but it’s hard to do sometimes – and God will care for you either way – but a position of trust is a position of faith. And this faith is rightly placed in the God of the universe who is already preparing a place for you alongside Himself.

Whatever your life looks like right now, trust the God who cares for you.

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