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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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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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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Unsafe and Good

“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr. Beaver…”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” ~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Teaching leadership is big business, and for good reason. Civilizations rise and fall on the tide of leadership – as God wills. There are hordes of books on leadership, some good and some not so good. I don’t claim to be a leadership expert.

But I have noticed something.

First, people want their leader to be predictable. When a boss of a company has random moods and changes his mind like the weather, the team wonders what version they’ll get today. This hurts morale, as the goal becomes peacekeeping or a minimization of volatility. It’s natural. The more predictable a leader is, the more her team will be at ease and the more trust will grow.

Second, a good leader is predictable but a great leader is good. And thus, the great leader may be wildly unpredictable – dangerous even. When playing in junior varsity, predictable leadership is better than most. But when it comes to leading well, it takes goodness of character. A leader must have a heart set upon a rock.

Consider Jesus. No one knew what he would say or do next. For example, when he rebuked the storm. The disciples were freaking out – and for good reason. These were experienced watermen. This was not their first rodeo. The storm was raging and their boat was in danger of capsizing. Meanwhile, Jesus sleeps. When they rustle him awake and beg for salvation, he rebukes the storm but he also rebukes them for their lack of faith. That’s always confused me. These guys know Jesus is powerful and beg him for help and he rebukes their faithlessness. Remember, he’s unpredictable, but good.

The heart is the heart of the matter. With leadership, we look inside the chest of the leader. A man bent on fame, riches, or power will lead horribly even if he is sharply trained. An ordinary man with a heart set upon the eternal things of God and a conviction to match can take on the world.

This isn’t about leadership. This is about who we will follow. Our earthly leaders will be a mix of train wrecks and saints. And we should do our best to follow them and honor them and pray for them. But they do not lead your heart, or at least they shouldn’t.

When we put our heart in someone’s hands, they better be the right someone. And here is where we must consider the dangerous and good nature of Jesus. He is unsafe because he has the power to calm storms with a raised voice. He raises people from the dead, himself included. His power is like that of a tornado – you want to watch but you don’t want to stand in its path. But unlike a tornado, which goes this way and that destroying stuff without a brain, Jesus’ power is leveraged perfectly in pursuit of those things that are for his glory and our good. It’s pretty scary nonetheless, but we can trust him.

The worst leader of all stares at me in the mirror when I brush my teeth. When we decide we belong on the throne of leadership of our life, and we grab our bootstraps and make these self-determined actions that will guide us to a certain future, we are like a kid building a crude sandcastle just before the tide comes in and washes his empire away. That’s James 4:13-16. Don’t abdicate your personal responsibility over your life – you are indeed the one who must act. But if you determine your course based upon your own good ideas, you’ll navigate yourself into foolishness, destruction, or if you are successful, pride.

If you follow Jesus, you can rest assured you’ll experience fear and frustration that you aren’t in control. You will be pushed into situations beyond your ability and certainly beyond your threshold for discomfort. But if you follow Jesus, you’ll follow a leader who is dangerously good. You will grab the mane of Aslan and trust that he cares for you, even if his jaws could snap you in half in the blink of an eye. You trust because you know he’s for you.

I recently had coffee with a professor who has studied C.S. Lewis for years. He has even studied those who have studied Lewis. And he told me something that blew my mind. When I read Lewis’ fiction, I assume I am reading an allegory – a myth based on the facts of Christianity. And this is true. But it isn’t necessarily what Lewis had in mind. You see, Lewis wrote Narnia as the very best story he could write. He did not necessarily start with the characters of the Christian faith and put them in a story with different names, he did the opposite. He shaped and made a story to the best of his ability. What happened was that Jesus was the best character Lewis could imagine: dangerous, good, loving, cunning, tender, ferocious. And Aslan became Jesus, not Jesus became Aslan. Lewis’ soul ached for Jesus and so he created Aslan.

If your life is boring and flat, consider the deep questions. Do you really trust Jesus? Do you really intend to follow him? Do you intend to do what he says? Because if you follow Jesus, your life will be anything but boring. It may be terrifying and weird and fast and tiring, but boring is not a prescription for the life of a follower of Jesus.

I’d start here, with a prayer: 

Jesus, I admit that when I consider your power it scares me. But I trust that you are good. Disrupt my life, take hold of my life, and by the power of the Spirit I pray for the courage to follow you where you lead. What do you have for me? Where will we go? Jesus, I trust you. I will follow wherever you lead. In your holy name, Amen.

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The Pass/Fail Test of Following Jesus

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:22-23)

We like ranking systems. When the college football rankings come out each year, the media outlets buzz with judgments on who should be ranked where. We want to know where our kid’s elementary school stands in the ranks. Some people want to know their IQ so they can rank themselves against other people. We rank cars, restaurants, and computers. When I got a dog recently I found his two breeds (he’s a mix) were at the top of the list of best gun dogs by Field and Stream – and somehow this made me feel proud. Rankings – and competitiveness – are part of our economy and this spirit is woven in the fabric of our country.

If we aren’t careful, our American competitiveness can creep into our relationship with Jesus. You see, there are no echelons of Christianity. One person cannot be more Christian than another person. The very notion that someone could be a lesser or higher Christian shows a belief in a false assumption.

The false assumption is this: by our good behavior we can raise our standing with God. But this is far from true. Now this doesn’t mean that obedience isn’t important or that we should not fight for holiness – we absolutely should. But we are not going to change our standing with God. If my daughter throws a rip-roaring fit in the grocery store she will still be my beloved little girl. I will love her no more if she folds her little hands and prays for everyone as we go down the aisles. Her standing with me is sealed once and for all because she is mine.

When we follow Jesus and put our faith in him, we are adopted. And that means the deal is done, finished. We are adopted into God’s family. If you were to ask my son if he were a Larson and he said he was “trying to be”, you would be confused. You either are or are not a Larson, it has nothing to do with your behavior. So it goes with our faith in Christ – we either are or are not adopted into Jesus’ family. As Yoda said, “there is no try.”

So how do we know if we’re in the family?

Well, first, some good news. Christianity isn’t a Rubik’s Cube. It is not reserved for those who can unlock its magic. God is not interested in making us squirm while we wonder if there’s an open seat at his table. No, he makes it plain to us.

If you want to know if you are a Christian, consider where your hope lies. A faux Christian is someone who puts on Christian clothes and hopes in a standard of good behavior, serving the poor, or tradition. A legit Christian is someone who lays their moral and spiritual bankruptcy at the nail-pierced feet of Jesus and gasps, “help me!”

He not only saves us, he brings us in close. His Spirit lives within us and we become his friend and family member. We are saved by faith as a gift (Ephesians 2:8).

Say you are drowning. You have tread water for hours and you are about finished. The sharks are about to show up. A boat pulls up and a man stands there at the railing with a life preserver. As your head slips beneath the surface of the water, the man throws you the life preserver. You are saved.

The follower of Jesus knows he is drowning. His resume won’t help, his strength as a swimmer won’t help, and his arguments won’t make a difference. His traditions won’t help, nor will his reputation. We can worship Jesus with our mouths, but if we are busy measuring our behavior instead of trusting in Jesus (Matthew 7:6), we should be scared. A drowning person needs help or they will die.

So, friend, you are not trying to be a Christian. This is pass/fail. You are either in the family or you are not. Where is your hope? As Jesus cried “It is finished!” he bore your penalty and earned for you what you could never earn. He is our hope and if you trust in him and depend upon him and believe in him as your only hope, you are already sitting at the table. You are accepted, saved, and loved.

For he himself is our peace…(Ephesians 2:14)

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Only God Can Judge Me

Judge not, that you not be judged. (Matthew 7:1)

When I was in high school, I listened to mainly rap and country. This proved my identity crisis, I guess. There I was in my blue truck, blaring Merle Haggard or Tupac, depending on the day. I remember that one of the sayings of the time among the rappers I listened to was “only God can judge me”. Man that sounded right. I can do whatever I want and disregard what people thought because only God could judge me. I think the rappers meant they could smoke weed and shoot people and only be liable to God’s judgment, which very well could have been true for some of them.

I had my own issues – don’t judge me – that I felt I could sweep under the proverbial rug by repeating a saying like that. The problem wasn’t the saying, it was the interpretation. The truth is that God is the judge, the one and only judge – but we need to do some work here.

A judge rules on the future of a person, taking stock of their character and their track record. You can picture a judge on a bench, reading glasses perched on the nose, robed arms resting on the built in millwork in front of her. She looks at the defendant and cocks her head, deciding what to do with this accused person before her. Is this person worthy of freedom?

What Tupac and teenage me got wrong is the definition of judge. We thought that to be told you’re wrong is to be judged. For someone to disapprove of your lifestyle, yeah that’s condemnation. But this is foolishness. We all make assessments of the behavior of others all the time, and this is really unavoidable. If your friend treats his wife disrespectfully, you’ll discern his behavior. You might even judge his behavior.

The judgment Jesus is referring to here is a judgment like the judge on the bench. You know the feeling. Someone does something so detestable that you want to harm them. You decide they are not even a decent human being. In this way, what you have done is as good as murder (Matthew 5:4) and you have pronounced judgment on your brother.

Not only is our judgment wrong per se – and it is – but we are missing something. When I watch the news and see some monstrous crime, it is my default mode to determine the perpetrator a monster. And you know what, they may well be – but this misses a crucial issue. The sin in my heart is as dark as theirs and I am capable of God only knows what. By his grace he has saved me and, as Jesus says in the Lord’s Prayer, led me not into temptation. Sometimes someone possesses evil that is unexplainable except that it’s just, well, evil. But before we jump there, we might consider if we were raised in their home with their severely abusive father or drug addict mother or what have you, and then we were faced with the mental illness they face, we might end up in that mug shot.

Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things and it’s desperately sick. An unrescued heart – a heart that has not been taken captive by Jesus – is capable of anything and everything. Those of us with redeemed hearts must bear in mind that: 1) our salvation is a gift (Ephesians 2:8) and 2) we are still capable of all kinds of darkness – but God protects us. You see, the credit belongs to God and his work in us, not our Pharisaical moral report card.

Lastly, it is important to consider that Jesus says that if we judge, we too will be judged by the real judge – God. That’s pretty scary, considering I have judged. So what then? Am I headed for hell? No, thank God. I plead Christ, I repent, and I bask in his grace. If we had a pass/fail test on judgment, heaven would be empty. Jesus is speaking to the heart here, I believe. If you constantly judge others and condemn people harshly (again, not their behavior, them), you would be wise to consider if you truly have been born again of the Spirit. Judgment is not a fruit of the Spirit and while we all fail sometimes, a heart set upon judgment carried in the same person whose mouth proclaims Christ is an incongruity.

We have seen this too often in our culture with the issues of the day. Hatred towards those outside the typical lines of Christendom is rampant. Slate named 2014 the Year of Outrage, and it seems 2015 and 2016 aren’t much different. We are mad at everything that is wrong with the world: candidates, bathroom classification, traffic, the church. But what we don’t seem to be mad at is ourselves. Somehow everyone is mad at someone else but no one realizes the sin in themselves.

Jesus says we have a log in our eye, while our brother has a speck. How we can see past the wood impaled through our cornea is beyond me, but we do. It’s so much easier to notice your sin than mine.

Friends, we must ask Jesus for his heart. We must ask for the Spirit to convict us deeply of judgment and warm us with grace and truth and love. We must understand the difference between spotting sin that is hurting our brothers and sisters and damning our fellow man for his misbehavior. Here too we return to the foot of the cross and we come with bloodstained hands.

Will you pray with me?

Help us, Jesus. Help us to see our judgment and renew our hearts such that we might see our fellow man through your eyes. Remove our log and help us to love our spiritual family members well enough to have the courage to tell them when we see their specks. And for those outside our family of faith, may we do as you did. May we engage with them, recline at table, and wash their feet. May we cast aside our judgment and love without restraint, knowing that you are the perfect judge, thus alleviating us for our need of the bench.

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Implications of Saltiness

You are the salt of the earth…(Matthew 4:13)

 

Salt has been used as a food preservative since ancient times. Salt draws out water from cells through osmosis and this process kills the organisms that cause decay or disease in the food. The salt kills that which intends to kill.

Salt was vital in Jesus’ day. It was used as a preservative for food and a seasoning. When Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, the people to whom He was talking understood the significance of salt. It had value and it had an important role in their lives. Roman soldiers got an allowance to buy salt, which was called their salary. That’s where we get the word.

Jesus says that we are the salt of the earth. This has some big implications. Consider what it means to be the salt of the earth.

 

We Preserve

We bear the image of God – the imago dei. However broken and sinful we may be, those of us who follow Jesus are God’s ambassadors and He makes His appeal through us (2 Cor. 5:20). He entrusts His gospel to us to share with others. We represent Him and showcase His attributes.

As preservatives, we are tasked with keeping the world fresh with truth. When the truth is proclaimed, especially the capital T Truth of the gospel, it invigorates the world. Truth is like oxygen.

Through divine delegation, we get to preserve God’s kingdom.

 

We Push Back Darkness

There is a force of darkness – Satan – that prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour (1 Peter 5:8). He hates Jesus’ kingship and he loathes our worship of Christ. Satan’s chief end is to destroy and tear down, and usually he does this in the shadows through distraction, disqualification, or subtle lies. In the same way that Satan destroys subversively, it’s not easy to spot disease in food with the naked eye until it’s too late. But when salt is present, it kills disease and decay, making room for light and flourishing.

If we share the glory of God – His light – with the world around us, we shine light into dark corners. Think about the light metaphor that Jesus uses. If light played rock-paper-scissors with darkness, light wins every time. When light and darkness collide, the light illuminates the darkness and snuffs it out. Darkness cannot hang with light.

In the cosmic battle of good and evil, we carry the sword of God: His light. The light of the gospel, which is the love story we all hope for. This light transforms the world by pushing back darkness.

 

We Season

Growing up, I remember my mom putting salsa on a tortilla chip and salting it. It seemed gross until I tried it. Salt tastes good. It seasons.

The good thing about salt – especially in Jesus’ day – is not only that it preserves by killing disease and decay, but also that it makes food taste good. (It’s almost like God designed it that way.) So too we grains of salt have the opportunity season the world with the glory of God. Though some will take offense to the gospel (Isaiah 8:14, 1 Peter 2:7-8) and will respond with hatred, by God’s grace can make life taste better for our fellow man.

When you go next door to speak an encouraging word to your neighbor who just lost a loved one, that’s seasoning. When you create art, you season. With God’s help, we can make the world a more beautiful place by seasoning it with the scandalous love of Jesus.

 

It all starts in the heart. When Jesus takes hold of you, your heart will change. You will become salty. Embrace your saltiness and look for opportunities to preserve, push back darkness, and season God’s world. Pray to Jesus and ask Him what areas in His kingdom could use some salt.

Being salt is an adventure. It is dangerous to preserve, fight darkness, and season. There is risk involved for sure – but that’s what makes it fun. As we listen to God’s call to be salt, He goes before us and stands beside us and abides in us. He moves powerfully and impacts the world. And we get the joy of watching our King in action.

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The Coiled Spring of the Sermon on the Mount

And he opened his mouth and taught them…(Matthew 5:2)

The Sermon on the Mount never convicted me. I have always read it, the red letter brilliance, as advice and commands from Jesus. Clearly words to heed and live by. Certainly good verses to pray over and seek for clarity. And it is that, no doubt. But this past weekend when Pastor Scott recommended we also use the Sermon on the Mount as a diagnostic, it took me down the path of brokenness.

If you consider Jesus’ words in the SOTM and compare yourself next to them, you will despair. You will feel anguish. If you don’t, I hope the Spirit moves and makes you more contrite because none of us can stand in the light of the SOTM with swagger.

The SOTM is a gracious self-fulfilling command if we see it rightly. Jesus starts with “blessed are the poor in spirit.” There are two reasons, I believe. First, when we are poor in spirit we are humble recipients of the grace we so badly need. Second, I believe Jesus was about to help us get poor in spirit with His words. The SOTM sobers us if we consider how our life compares. By Jesus helping us get poor in spirit we can then come to the fountainhead of grace – His feet – and drink.

 

Why Go There?

You might wonder why it makes sense to turn this beautiful sermon into an opportunity to feel broken. Shouldn’t we just sit underneath His wisdom and listen and stay positive about it all? Why the long face?

The reason we should welcome the awareness of our spiritual bankruptcy – both in this context and in the broader context of our walk with Jesus – is that brokenness precedes healing. And we are all broken. If we deny our brokenness, we are delusional and we remain in a posture of pride. A person who knows she is broken will walk behind Jesus, meet Him at the well, and pour her expensive perfume on His feet in an effort to get better. She’ll plead with Him, and she will lay hold of the Word until the Spirit lights up the pages and delivers the words deep into her heart.

You are sick. You are guilty. If you’ve ever been angry at someone, it’s as good as murder to Jesus. So you’re a murderer. Have you ever lusted for someone who wasn’t your spouse? You’re a cheater. I won’t go on – you get the point. We need to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to the words of the SOTM to help us understand how badly we need Him.

 

A Good Cycle

As we read Scripture, we should see God more clearly. And when we see God more clearly, we can then see ourselves more clearly. The more I read the Bible and the more I walk through life with Jesus, the more convinced I am of my depravity and God’s goodness. I’m a mess and He is magnificent. The distance between my righteousness and Christ’s righteousness seems to grow in my mind even as, by the power of the Spirit, He makes me more like Himself every day.

Beholding the glory of God and our human brokenness, we feel small. Have you ever stood on top of a mountain or watched giant waves pound the shore? It’s a glorious smallness we feel. We comprehend that what we observe is massive and we are not but we don’t want anything to change. We search the expanse with our eyes on top of the mountain and we stand there on the beach with the salt air as the waves roar. We were designed to take in awe and stand amazed at God’s greatness.

The more small I feel, the bigger God seems. And this is a good cycle. Because the more I see God’s power and holiness, the happier I get. He has adopted me as His son. He has my back. All of this grandeur, this terrifying power, is leveraged in my favor. How great thou art!

 

The Coiled Spring

The SOTM compresses us. We read it and lap up every word Jesus says and if we do so from a self-aware mindset, we will feel our unrighteousness. Jesus perfectly exhibits the qualities He preaches on and while we may have glimmers of them, we want more. But we don’t measure up. But we want more.

As we sit at Jesus’ feet and listen, we are like a coiled spring. The more we are compressed by our imperfection the more potential energy is stored. The Gospel – the Good News of Jesus’ perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection for us sinners – releases that kinetic energy. When we are weak we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10). We spring upwards in joy as Jesus looks into our eyes and says, you are mine. I will heal you.

The Lord doesn’t give us commands so we can fail a test (unlike my math professor in college). He gives us commands so we can understand how to live and to see the grace of Christ more clearly. So let us sit underneath the SOTM and soak up Jesus’ words as applicable ways to live our life. And let us also notice how dreadfully short we fall. But let us move from there to spring upward into the arms of God with a soul-penetrating grin. He has saved us and He is making all things new – including us.

 

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Have You Left Your Nets?

Two brothers, Simon and Andrew, hang out on shore cleaning their nets. It had been a long night. Even though they have landed the boat and have decided to get some rest, Simon throws the net out into the water one more time and catches nothing but water. They had fished all night and caught nothing – not great results for vocational fishermen. Simon and Andrew haven’t slept much and they’re probably not in a great mood. Their buddies and fishing partners, James and John, are nearby gathering their gear in a different boat.

Jesus walks the shore of the Sea of Galilee (also called the Lake of Gennesaret), a large freshwater lake. It is a beautiful lake, brimming with life. He sees some fishermen, guys messing with their nets and moping around. He approaches them and they look up.

Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat.

Simon and Andrew are probably confused and perhaps annoyed, at least at first. They probably knew who Jesus was. At the time He lived in Capernaum, which is a city on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Now we don’t know where exactly the Scriptures find these fishermen on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, but if they fished the area often they probably lived nearby. Surely they had heard about this young man who preached a new message, a message of repentance and salvation. He was now in their boat.

As people congregate on shore, Jesus takes a seat and begins to teach from Simon’s boat (Luke 5:3). After teaching for a while, Simon and Andrew presumably sitting next to Jesus in the boat, Jesus tells them to put the boat out into the deep and let out their nets again. By now they were not annoyed – they were astonished. They call him “Master.” They hang on His every word. They are a little skeptical of dropping their nets, but when the nets sink into the water, they are so filled with fish that they can barely haul them in. When they pull in the fish, it almost sinks their boat. Their minds blown at the wisdom and power of Jesus, He speaks to Simon and Andrew:

“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)

Shortly thereafter Jesus makes the same invitation to James and John. These four ruddy and sun-tanned men had their world turned upside down by Jesus in a good way. When He makes the invitation to follow Him, here is their response:

“Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:20)

Simon, Andrew, James, and John leave their nets, still wet and fish wriggling in them. They follow Jesus. James and John left their dad sitting in the boat with their gear.

These men left their jobs and their families to follow Jesus. Instantly. Surely they had questions, but they knew after meeting Jesus that nothing in the world could compare to walking behind Him on the shore. In mere seconds, their hearts reoriented to Christ and their compass needle settled on his path. Drop net and go.

So here is my question for you: have you dropped your nets? Have you released your hold on security to follow Jesus wherever He may lead you?

Your net might be a career. It might be an idol or a habitual sin that you cling to. It might be your own identity – what you want to be. It could be your family. Maybe your net is comfort.

You cannot drag your net behind you as you follow Jesus. It will slow you down and you will find that He becomes a dot on the horizon as you sweat and pull and the nets drag on weeds and thorns. Whatever holds us back from a deeper relationship with Jesus is a net. And it must be dropped.

Dropping a net is an action. It is not the absence of a net altogether – it is taking the net in your hand, still wet, and dropping it so you can follow Jesus. Dropping your net is repentance, which means “a change of mind” in the Greek. One moment a mind focused on one thing, the next a mind focused on Christ.

I’ll end with this. It is possible that these fishermen ended up with their nets again. It is possible that these men still did some fishing here and there when they had to. But it was with new lenses and redeemed nets. They would hold on to their nets lightly, and Jesus firmly.

Have you dropped your nets?

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The Remission of Sins

For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. ~Matthew 26:28 KJV

When we put our faith in Jesus, we do not merely make a choice to be better. We do not simply sober up, act right, or clean up our language. These things should happen as symptoms, but they are not the action we aim for. If we think we can save ourselves, we are delusional. And thus if we choose to go to battle with our sinfulness without Jesus we are like David vs. Goliath without God’s help. If God was not with David, he would have been stomped into the ground by Goliath. His borrowed armor would have been crushed like a soda can and Goliath would have roared in victory.

Ephesians 2:8 says our salvation is a gift. The recipient of a gift is the passive party – the party being given something. The giver is the active one. And our gift, this gift of salvation from God, is a gift of death (Romans 6:3). We were buried with Him so we might walk in the newness of life (Romans 6:4). Death to life.

 

Progressive Sanctification

While our former nature is gone and the new is here, we are not yet perfect. We have died to sin nature – that is, being ruled by sin – but sin still remains. This is a long journey. We are a work in progress and the Artist is still hard at work with His chisel, piling up shavings as we become something beautiful – like Jesus.

Here is how it works:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. ~2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV

We move from one degree of glory to another. It is progressive. If you think of a line graph, the line is pointing up and to the right over time. Upon salvation, our standing with the Father is perfected (Ephesians 2:16), but we remain imperfect and sin-prone people. Saved but still being sanctified.

Notice the engine of sanctification – beholding the glory of the Lord. We see Him rightly and our faces glow as we stare into His light. When we behold Christ through prayer, Scripture, song, church community, nature, and family – sanctification happens. And our sanctification, like our salvation is also a gift: “For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

 

Remission of Sins

The King James version of the Bible says that Jesus’ blood was shed for the “remission of sins.” The English Standard Version uses “forgiveness of sins.” Both sound pretty good to me. The Greek word used for forgiveness/remission here, aphesin, means to pardon, release, and/or send away. The idea I get here is a prisoner released and told to leave the prison. You are free to go.

Romans 6:12-14 states:

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. ~Romans 6:12-14 ESV

“Let not.” “Do not.” “Present yourselves.” These are active verbs. Jesus opens the door to our cell and offers His hand. Will we get up and leave our prison of sinfulness? Will we take His hand and present our bodies as instruments for righteousness?

The saving work and the sanctifying work are God’s. Let’s not get confused here. We are not the agents of change. But we do have a role. Jesus’ atoning work on the cross put our sins into remission and bought us right standing with God, and that’s finished work. Irrevocable work. And now we live not under the law but under grace.

May we take up arms and fight our sins with the armor of God. May we walk out of our prison emboldened by our pardon, ready to wage war against the sin remaining in us. Christian, you are no longer under the law. Your sins have been sent away. Walk out of that prison cell into the freedom purchased for you on calvary.

Take His hand.

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The Herod In Us

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” (Matthew 2:13 ESV)

We are never the bad guy. When you watch The Lion King, you never associate with Scar. He’s the worst, that scumbag lion who wants the kingdom for himself. He’ll step on anyone to do it, even while smiling.

We are Mufasa. Or Simba. We wear the white hat and ride the white horse and we’re on the right side of the fight. We are William Wallace. The horns sound as we enter the scene of life and hope everyone realizes how great we are. We are trying to do the right thing. Did you see that? Why can’t anyone see I’m doing the right thing here?

You see, we all vie for our personal kingdoms. Whether we admit it or not is another matter.

Herod had a kingdom. So when Jesus came on the scene, his stomach turned. Back in Biblical times you were king until you died or until someone stronger came and overthrew you. Herod heard the word on the street that a new king had arrived. So he decided mass infanticide was a good idea. Just kill all the young male babies and that’ll cast a broad enough net to kill this new king baby I keep hearing about.

You are in The Garden. You and your perfect spouse. You walk around in harmony and God is a few acres away doing something cool and you walk upon that tree He mentioned. He told you not to eat of it because you’ll die. But then you hear another voice, a voice telling you that not only will you not die if you eat it but you’ll really live. Like life in HD on top of the mountain live.

You take a bite.

That is what we do. We know what is right, we just don’t want to do it. Because submission to God means dropping our kingdom in the trash as we enter His kingdom. And that’s hard, but it shouldn’t be.

The really odd thing about this dance we do is that there is one real kingdom, and that is God’s kingdom. We, like grass, wither and die when we take the last breath we were given by God on the world He made. Yet He keeps on living. He always has and always will. He makes it rain and He knit you in your mother’s womb. It’s like a toddler telling his parents that he’s in control. Or worse.

When I read the story of Herod, I am appalled. Not only at the baby-killing but at the selfishness of the reason. He wanted babies to die because he wanted to live.

I’m going to have to distance from the baby-killing part of Herod. I’ll keep that line in the sand. But his disgusting kingdom-building feels awfully familiar. And someone bent on building their own kingdom will, if history is any indication, do horrific things to put another brick in their castle.

Let’s not sit in this mess too long. If you’re being real, you can associate with the kingdom building grossness of Herod. I can. That is the essence of sin. It started that way in The Garden and it’s that way here in 2016. Until Jesus returns we’ll fight this nature of ours (Jeremiah 17:9). But we can choose how we respond.

We can get on the building committee for one project only – His or ours.

I don’t mean that to say you can just will yourself to start caring more about God’s kingdom. Our wills are pretty weak. But we can make the choice to submit. We can actually read the Bible and care about what it says. We can pray and ask for help. We can be readers of the Word and doers of the Word. Here’s how.

Our building committee is a joke. It’s just us and we start nailing a 2×4 to a cinder block with a rubber mallet and it just goes bad. God’s building committee is eternal all star. When we submit to the lordship of Jesus, the Spirit moves within us to shape us and mold us. We get into the flow of how things were designed. And it all goes better. We flourish, the world is made better, and we get something done of significance. That sounds a lot better to me.

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When God Intervenes in Marriage

When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…(Matthew 1:24)

Picture Joseph coming home from a long day in the field. He’s sweaty, tired, and hungry. He smells something cooking and looks forward to catching up with Mary. Though they had yet physically consummated their marriage, they were a couple and Joseph longed to spend an evening with his girl. He walks into their home and sets his stuff down.

Mary looks up and sees Joseph. “Hey love. I need to talk to you.”

Joseph sits down. “Sure, what’s up?”

“I’m pregnant.”

Joseph looks at her, bewildered.

“It’s not what you think. I know you won’t believe this, but I had this encounter with an angel who said God was going to make me pregnant with the messiah. I thought I was crazy but now I’m pregnant and I wasn’t with anyone and – isn’t this wonderful?”

“Uh…”

“Joseph, I am being serious. I was not with anyone!”

“I need a minute to think.”

Joseph storms out of the house. He walks into the evening air. He keeps walking, hoping that covering distance will soothe the pit in his stomach. It doesn’t work. He is madly in love with Mary and now this whole story about miraculous pregnancy just crushed his world. He feels a deep sense of loss, embarrassment, and anger.

Now into the night, Joseph resolves to divorce Mary. He just can’t buy this Holy Spirit pregnancy bit. He figures he will divorce her quietly and try to keep Mary’s reputation intact. Joseph isn’t sure how he’ll pull that off exactly but he cannot stay with Mary due to her betrayal. He’ll figure it out tomorrow.

Footsore and tired, Joseph makes it home. Mary is asleep, her hair still damp from tears she shed as she cried herself to sleep. Joseph looks at her sleeping and his heart aches. He lays down on the other side of the room and after much thinking, he falls asleep.

That night, Joseph is visited in a lucid dream by an angel. The angel corroborates Mary’s story. At dawn, Joseph wakes up. He yawns and walks outside the house to get some air.

Then he remembers his dream.

“Mary! Mary!” He shakes her awake. “Mary, I get it. Sweetheart, I get it. I had a dream where an angel of the Lord told me your story is true. The angel told me we will call him Jesus, because he’ll save his people from their sins. And I just – “

Mary smiles and embraces Joseph.

I cannot imagine how Joseph felt when Mary told him that she was pregnant. I also cannot imagine how he felt when God intervened into his marriage via a dream and made it all make sense. Absent God’s intervention in that dream, Joseph and Mary would have parted ways and ended their marriage.

Marriage is beautiful. It is a picture of the Gospel, with sacrificial love and care and bearing with sins. Marriage is about forgiveness and joy and submission. And marriage is not merely a covenant between two people, it is a covenant between two people and the God who made them. God is a party to this covenant, not just a county clerk who stamps the certificate.

Too often we take God’s grace for granted. Like the air we breathe, it is all around us and in us but we just don’t think about it. God’s grace in sustaining a marriage is astounding. Two sinful people combining their sins and baggage with love is a recipe for a short union – absent God.

Jesus intervened in our world when our sin left us hopeless and rightly judged. He does the same in our marriages. How often do we notice?

When your spouse apologizes, that posture of the heart comes from the movement of the Spirit.

When your argument somehow turns to laughter, God has stepped in.

When you mourn the loss of a child and somehow end up feeling closer to God and your spouse, that’s grace upon grace.

When your ugliness is laid bare before your spouse and they love you anyway, that’s Christ’s love shining through.

Joseph was a solid dude. He was humble and gentle and listened to God. But if God didn’t intervene supernaturally, he would have walked out on Mary as she was pregnant with Jesus. But God did intervene, just as He does in my marriage every day.

May we see the Gospel more clearly in marriage. Not because marriage is perfect, but because it isn’t and the Lord enters the space of brokenness and brings His grace.

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