Finding John

Who do you want to meet when you get to Heaven?  It is a question you may have been asked in casual conversation.  Maybe it’s a notion you’ve rolled around in your mind. I’d like to think that we’ll be so radically overawed by the presence of God that any desire we may have to ask questions of people we held in high esteem on earth will evaporate.  Besides, nothing of this earth will matter when we get there.

Still… while we’re bound by gravity to this material world, it can be an entertaining thought.  Who would I like to meet in Heaven?  And what would I want to ask?

I would like to meet the apostle John.  Mind you, meeting any of the disciples would be amazing.  

But John…

John seems so different.  As a young man, he and his brother were the “sons of thunder”.  They must have wild, and wildly competitive.  I want to know what made him so humble.  How did he find his identity, his sense of life direction?

John – along with Simon Peter – was present at all of the major events involving Jesus recorded in the New Testament.  While Peter would misinterpret, misunderstand and act in a misguided manner, John doesn’t display such impetuousness.

By the time Jesus is on the cross, John is showing signs of maturity.  While the other apostles scattered after Jesus’ arrest, John is the remnant who boldly went to Golgotha with his Lord and Savior.  Not only that, Jesus entrusts John to care for His mother, Mary.

Through it all, John sets the bar high for humility.  In his gospel account, he never refers to himself by name.  Rather he is “the disciple whom Jesus loved”.  And He puts Christ squarely at the very center of his life.  No swashbuckling removal of ears or attempts to garner the Lord’s favor.  

John did not find himself in his fishing profession, or his birthplace.  John identified himself solely in Jesus Christ, through God’s love – a major theme in John’s gospel and epistles.  Love – entirely selfless, wholly perfect – is central to John.  And not that John loves Jesus but, rather, that Jesus loves him.

When I get to Heaven, I’d like to ask John how he did it.  How did he bear all he did and not grow bitter?  How did he stay so humble?  How did he find so much strength?

But, I imagine John might simply say, “Shhhh…  we’re worshipping right now.  After all, the only thing that matters is that He loves us first and unconditionally.  We are His.”

Then it would all make sense.

Peace, Part 2: The Simple Source of Strength (or, This Week’s Episode is Brought to You By…)

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” – John 14:1 (ESV)

If the Gospel of John were a television series, this is the point at the beginning of episode 14 where the announcer would say, “Previously – on the Gospel of John.”  And we would get the replay of John 13 in short video bites:

  • Jesus washes the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper, teaching them the importance of servanthood and humility.
  • The betrayer in their midst (Judas Iscariot) is revealed.
  • A new commandment is given: love one another.
  • Jesus begins breaking the news to His disciples: they won’t be able to follow Him – at least not for awhile.
  • Peter is told a bitter truth about his faith, and himself.

As the camera closes in on Simon Peter’s downtrodden face, we hear Jesus say, ““Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.”

Roll opening title sequence and cool Newsboys theme music.

Of course this is no TV show.  This is reality.  And chapter 13 of John’s gospel presents a lot of reality being dumped on these unsuspecting disciples in a very short span of time.

Indeed, it all takes place during the course of one Passover meal.

And, sadly, Judas Iscariot is not the only betrayer revealed this night.  In a sense, Peter is outed as well (although his “betrayal” is not a case of premeditated deception, but a lack of true faith in Jesus’ promises resulting in Peter’s thrice denial of knowing the Lord).

Try to imagine how deflated and confused these men must have felt.  Jesus said, “Follow me”.  And they did – leaving everything behind and walking with Jesus for around three years.  Now He is telling His disciples they cannot go where He is headed?

Things would get worse as the night – the weekend – progressed.  But the lows of Friday and Saturday will be more than justified by the unsurpassable glory of the coming Sunday dawn.

But, for now, they had no real idea of what was about to hit them.

And Jesus is giving them the words they will need to remember: “Don’t worry.  Just believe in Me.”

Jesus knew they would run for their lives.  He knew they would be afraid.  He understood their human frailties.

But He loved them.  The flaws did not change the fact that these were His disciples.  Jesus was there, preparing the remaining eleven for the road ahead.  The changes would be great, as would be the pressure and the temptations.

The same holds true for us today.  We are God’s children.  The Lord loves us, despite our failures and weaknesses.  He guides us, even / especially when the path ahead is rocky and treacherous.

It is the reason Paul could later take the words Christ gave him with great confidence and hope:

9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV)

Quite simply, we are to called to follow Jesus, without fear of anything, in great faith, clinging to hope, knowing He is in control and we are part of God’s plan and God’s plan will not be thwarted.

People can threaten us. They can make us uncomfortable.  But they cannot separate us from God.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:31-39 (ESV)

Walk out today with fresh faith.  Look to the Lord and His promises.  See what Jesus has done for you because of His great love.  And do not be afraid of any circumstances.

There is nothing too hard for God.  Trust Him – no matter what.

 

Peace, part one: Opening the Hydrant

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it with great conviction, reverence and astonishment: there is not one wasted word in the Bible.  Not one bit of filler.  Not one ounce devoid of depth and meaning.

The Bible is not a book to speed read through.  You have to slow down.  You have to prayerfully approach this precious tome for it is the very real, very true, very living and active word of God Himself.  This is no mere collection of ancient writings.  Make no mistake: men may have penned the words, but God is the Author.

And He is trying to tell us a lot.

About Himself.

About us.

About life.

About what’s important.

About perspective.

I have been prayerfully reading John 14 today.  And I caught myself reading way too fast.  For example, there is a great temptation to take John 14:27 and just run with it:

27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. – John 14:27 (ESV)

In and of itself, this verse brings us great comfort.  For me, it stands as a reminder that the Lord is always with me.  His peace is beyond circumstances.  Indeed, no earthly situation can truly remove the peace of Jesus from our hearts.  Problems may kick us and knock us around.  But as long as we remember and cling tight to the promises of God, His peace stands firm within us.

But if we merely stop at John 14:27, not looking at the context and the cross-references and considering the audience, etc., we do ourselves a great disservice.

We need to slow down and take time to let the Lord unfold His Word to us, revealing in our hearts what He has for us.  It can be a lot like drinking from a fire hydrant, but what a blessing it is to savor His Word.

So… I think I will be parked at John 14 for a bit.  Would you like to join me?  I’d love the company.

 

 

Whose You Are (or, Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bushman)

321px-illustration_morus_nigra0I am a Christian. I can state this because I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

I am a husband, dad, son, brother, nephew, uncle…  I can state this because I have a beautiful wife (25 years together and going strong!), a son, a brother, aunts and uncles, nephews and a niece…

I am a Hoosier.  I can state this because I am from Indiana.  (Go Colts!)

I am of English, Scottish, Irish, German, French, Spanish and Italian heritage.  I can state this because I have done genealogy research on my family tree and have found ancestors from these countries.

I am a writer.  I can state this because I write.  (I make no claims as to the quality of my writing, but…)

I am a mulberry bush.  I can state this because… well… um… ok, I can’t state this.

Not honestly.

Not with a straight face.

Why?

Because – obviously – I am not a plant of any kind.  I am a human.  I may claim to be a mulberry bush, but I cannot actually be and not be a mulberry bush at the same time.  I have flesh and blood.  I have a brain, heart, fingers and toes… I stand upright.  I do not have roots (literally, not metaphorically).  I do not sprout leaves.  I do not produces mulberries.

This illustrates the litmus test for defining truth: either it is what it is, or it isn’t.  No room for gray areas.  No use for obfuscation.  Even if I grabbed a bottle of glue and adhered branches, leaves and berries to my body, you would look at me and say – with great reliance in the knowledge you are speaking the truth, I might add – “This is not a mulberry bush.  This is a human – and a very silly one at that – trying to pass himself off as a mulberry bush.  That’s not sap on his branches.  It’s Super Glue.”

It can be tough to truly define who we are.  We look at our careers for our identities.  We look to our heritage, our families, our abilities, our successes, our failures… all in a vain attempt to discover who we really are.

You are a firefighter until the day you stop going to the station putting out fires and making rescues.

You are an artist until you let your self-doubt take over and you bury the talent your fear took from you.

You are a proud descendant of both William “Braveheart” Wallace and the di Medicis until you discover the genealogy info you found on the internet was more fiction than fact.  (It’s sobering to find out you’re not directly related the man who bankrolled Michelangelo and hung out with da Vinci.  Rather, descended from “Stinky” di Medici, assistant to the assistant night manager of the Exxon Mini-Mart outside of Palermo.)

If you want to discover who you really, truly are, don’t look inward.

Look upward.

You see, God is the author of absolute truth.  He is also the author of the Bible, Hs revelation to humanity of Who He is, and who we are.

And who are we?  We are His children:

But to all who did receive (Jesus), who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:12-13 (ESV)

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. – 1 John 3:1 (ESV)

In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:5-10 (ESV)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. – Romans 8:14-17 (ESV)

Here is the God’s honest, absolute truth: who you are is not defined by what you do, or what you’ve done, or where your talents lie, or what successes or failures you have experienced.  You are not defined by what or who anybody else claims / blames you to be. You are God’s creation:

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them. – Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)

You are God’s child – an heir to His great and wondrous promises.

You are not defined by anything on this earth.  You are who God made you to be.  You belong to the Lord.  Your life is in His more than capable, loving, gracious hands.

You are God’s child.  And whose you are is far more important than who you – or anyone else – thinks you are.  In Christ we find our true identity.  Forgiven, blessed and loved.  Worthy and rich in the Lord’s promises.

Rest in that knowledge.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a mulberry bush to prune.

Twisted Reasoning (or, Friar Salty and the Folded Arms)

There are many times I find I am my own worst enemy.  I have a tendency to overthink everything: every problem, every plan, every idea, every moment… 

Let me use a simple food analogy.

My thoughts start out as an unbaked breadstick.


Simple.  Unadorned.  Doughy.

Then I begin thinking.  And mulling.  And rolling the thought over in my brain.

Soon I begin doubting.  I could never do his.  I can’t possibly write that.  There’s no sense in trying to do ___________ (fill in the blank).

My doubt and fear and anxiety begin twisting my breadstick thoughts around until I have a knotted up pretzel.

And I decide to give up on whatever grand idea I have.  After all, what if I fail?

But… just as I am ready to toss my half-baked thoughts in the trash (or, worse yet, let them sit and rot as the anxiety turns to worry, the doubt gives way to depression for yet another unrealized notion), I remember the legend behind the invention of the pretzel.

The story goes that, some 800-900 years ago, a monk wanted to reward local children for learning their prayers.  He came up with the simple idea of rolling dough into cylinders and twisting them into a shape resembling a child’s arms folded in prayer.  These pretzels were then given to the kids who could recite their Our Fathers and Hail Marys.

Thinking about it, we can make pretzels without tying ourselves up in knots of doubt and anxiety.  Indeed, pretzels can be a wonderful treat for any of us.  After all, the pretzel is far better than the breadstick.  It is more complex in form, flavor and texture.  And not nearly as bland.

The secret to the pretzel being a source of joy rather than the product of agony is found in its folded arms.  When we let doubt and fear creep in, we find our joy is stolen from us.  Which is not what the Lord intends for us.

Consider the disciples at the Last Supper.  Jesus was telling them what was about to happen.  

And His words didn’t line up with their preconceived notions.  

And, when Jesus was arrested and tried, at least zten of the twelve did the very human thing:  they reasoned out what they saw with their eyes.

And they ran for the hills.

Instead of taking Jesus at His Word – even though they had seen Him heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, feed 15,000+ people with one child’s lunch, walk on water, raise the dead – the disciples opted to go with their feelings.

And what they felt was fear.  Panic.  Anxiety.

Jesus knew all this would happen.  And He loved them anyway.  He even made sure they understood they were protected and firmly in the Lord’s grip:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. – John 16:33 (ESV)

When we are thinking things through, we have no reason for doubt or fear.  Instead of mulling over problems or plans and twisting them ’round and ’round, we should instead consider the folded arms of the pretzel.  

Instead of worrying, pray.

Instead of drawing solely from our sorely limited bank of information, we hound seek first the Lord in prayer and His Word.

Instead of scratching our heads, we should drop to our knees.

Instead of leaning anxiously on our own understanding, we need to trust wholeheartedly in God.

Today, be bold.  Be fearless.  Do what you believe God has called you to do.  Go with God, without fear.  

Pray without ceasing.

Embrace God with your whole heart and mind.

Keep your joy.  Keep His peace.

And live the life you were created to live.

Bartering in the Age of Narcissism (or, Self-Help Guru For Sale – Will Trade For Sparrows, a Lock of Hair and a Scratchy Old 45 of “I’m ‘Enery the Eighth I Am”)

29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Matthew 10:29-31 (ESV)

“Historians will probably call our era ‘the age of anxiety'”, wrote the evangelist Billy Graham in 1965.  Indeed, the sixties gave the world plenty to be anxious about: the Cold War, civil rights violence, Vietnam, the space race, nuclear arms, Herman’s Hermits…

Sadly, the anxiety of the times didn’t fade away when the calendar rolled into 1970.

Or 1980.

Or the 21st century.

Indeed, today we still have plenty of opportunity for worry on the world stage: Isis, terrorism, Trump v. Clinton, the economy, North Korea, Herman’s Hermits…  Instead of rising above the anxiety of the times, I believe we have morphed into the age of anxiety fueled by narcissism.

We all have concerns.  Deeper than the fears of this world, many people feel lost, isolated, disconnected.  The internet is a wonderful tool.  But social media tends to reduce our human contact down to tiny, impersonal (or, at times, overly personal), bite-size ready-to-eat mini-messages, more concerned with letter count than content.

That’s all fine and well for mass communication.  But it’s no substitute for real, personal interaction.

When you add to the mix the busyness of our lives (kids in soccer and baseball and basketball and football and foosball and on and on and on…), there simply is not enough time for developing true relationships.

And many people feel a deep longing for relationship.  Not buddies.  Not just fellow soccer moms or co-workers.  I’m talking brothers and sisters.  People with whom we develop deep, abiding relationships.  Community.  Iron sharpening iron.

So we feel lost.  Empty.  And we look to fill this huge, gaping void.  We search for meaning, for a panacea to cover the pain of the empty pit in our souls.  Maybe a self-help guru, someone to move in and help us each develop into the best possible version of ourselves so we can be better and do even more and be more focused on self-improvement.

And the narcissism of our times rolls on.

Part of our problem is that, with everything going on – with our being lonely in a crowd, our lack of true communication and deep relationships and, worst of all, our lack of relationship and time with God – we lose our bearings.  We lose our sense of being.  We lose the importance of who we really are, who we are created to be.

And we turn ourselves inward to discover who we are, what we should do, who we should be.

And we get our heads stuck sideways in our own navels.

Do you want to understand your self worth?  Stop looking inward, and start looking upward.  Consider what Luke wrote:

6 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. 7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows. – Luke 12:6-7 (ESV)

Yes, this is basically the same message as our key verse at the top of this post (Matthew 10:29).  But I prefer Luke’s rendering over Matthew’s.  Luke offers a better deal: five sparrows for two cents as opposed to two birds for a penny.  I like a good deal.  And, no matter what my wife may tell you, I’m not cheap.  Just frugal.

The message here is simple: a one cent bird, the only sacrificial offering many poor Jews of Jesus’ day could afford (lambs didn’t quite figure into the average budget).  Yet God keeps such a close eye on His creation that He knows – and cares for – even this most seemingly insignificant of beings.  He knows how many hairs you have on your head.  And, even if you are pulling out hair in anxiety or frustration or fear, the Lord is still keeping an accurate count.

So consider this: how much more valuable are you in God’s eyes?  Where is your self-worth?  If you want to discover who you are, don’t look inward.

Look upward.

Join a community of fellow believers and begin to serve.  Contribute.  Love others and help others.  Seek God first in all things.  And quit putting so much focus on busyness.  In doing so, in talking time to be with God and others and humbly listening, seeking, loving, contributing, giving, doing… here you will find who you really are, who God created you to be.

Focus on God.  Focus on love.  Don’t focus on troubles.

Seek God first.  Love one another.

_________

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Who Wants To Be Happy?

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For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

If I were to ask all of you if you’d like to be happy, how many would say “No”?  My guess is the vast majority of folks would say, “Absolutely!  Who doesn’t want to be happy?”

The idea of being “happy” rises some debate in certain Christian circles.  As if happiness runs counter to being a Christian.  As if there isn’t enough suffering in this world.

Yet, happiness is really just an emotion.  It has no real staying power.  It gives us a boost – often a much needed one at that!  When life is hard, nothing can break the tension like a good, hearty laugh.

But… should “happy” truly be our goal?  This is where the debate begins.  If, by “happy”, one means seeking to feel elated and self-absorbed in our own contentment, then the answer is “no”.  A life pursued only to make oneself happy is a life wasted.

If by happy one means joyous, at peace, fulfilled in Christ… then by all means, Yes!

We so often confuse joy and peace for happiness.  But really, they are distinctly different.

Joy exists in good times and bad, times of ease of seasons of struggle.  The same with peace.  This is because the source of our joy and peace, our strong inner contentment, lies in Jesus Christ.  Not in our circumstances.  Not in everything being perfect or going our way.  Happiness depends on such things.

James hit the nail on the head when he wrote:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. – James 1:2 (ESV)

You see, joy and peace have staying power.  We can rest in the Lord, keeping our joyful calm in the midst of any storm.  Life’s cares will rob us of happiness, because “happy” is a fleeting, conditional feeling.  Joy and peace are God-given fruit, deeply rooted and immovable in the life of those who put their whole trust in God.

The idea of a trouble-free life is very appealing.  But it is also unrealistic.  The least favorite promise that Jesus ever made was “in this world you will have trouble.”  Thankfully, He followed that with “Take heart!  I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  Jesus told us this to set our expectations right, that we have peace in Him, instead of spinning our wheels looking for constant pleasure.

It is in life’s troubles that we grow.  It is when things get tough that we can cry out to God for help with the full assurance that He hears us.  He’s always with us.  He loves us.  He has us in His grip.

And no amount of “happiness” can equal the joy and peace of knowing Jesus as our Lord and Savior.  So, today, whatever you are facing, whatever trials are pursuing you, whatever pain you’re dealing with, whatever has you anxious or worried or troubled… I want to challenge you to give up your troubles to God.  Go to Jesus.  Make the conscious decision to trust the Lord and take Him at His Word.

Accept that He loves you and you are His child.

Accept that your life is in His hands and He knows far better than you or anyone else what you truly need.

Seek God first.  Rest in His great strength and mercy and grace and love.  And in doing so, find what true, lasting “happiness” really looks like.

Know someone who needs a little encouragement?  Please feel free to share this article to anyone who you feel would be blessed by God’s comfort. 

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Nothing Lasts Forever – Nothing!


4 Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints,    

and give thanks to his holy name.

5 For his anger is but for a moment,  and his favor is for a lifetime.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. – Psalm 30:4-5 (ESV)

Nothing lasts forever.

In a zero degree freezer, raw steaks last about 6-12 months.  Bacon only one month.  (And, really, bacon deserves better than to be stuck in a chest freezer.)

Stoves should be good for 10-15 years.

Carbon-14 has a half life of 5730 years before it is no longer radioactive.

Senator Strom Thurmond’s 1957 filibuster on the floor of the U.S. Senate – the longest in history – lasted 24 hours and 18 minutes.

Iron Butterfly’s “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida” lasts 17 minutes.

“Back to the Future” ran for about six months at the theatre I worked at during my first attempt at college.  We also showed “Out of Africa” which lasts 161 minutes.  

Without the intermission.

I could have sworn it was a lot longer.

Nothing lasts forever.  Except, of course, God and eternity.  But, on this earth, everything has a shelf life.

That includes the pain of our troubles. 

God is so good to His children.  He poured His unending love and grace upon us.  He gives us peace to face our problems.  He lifts us out, or guides us through, every storm.  Indeed, as Jesus showed us, He is master over life’s storms.  

Tonight, whatever you’re facing, don’t face your troubles alone.  Give them to the Lord.  Trust in His greatness and goodness.  Sleep well. Rest in Him.

And, no matter how things may appear, remember that God has a plan.  He is in control.  And everything is ok.

Nothing lasts forever.  Except the Lord and His goodness, love and mercy.

Fear Not!  You Are Loved

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. – 1 John 4:18a (ESV)

God is love.

God is perfect.

God’s love is therefore perfect – complete, lacking nothing.  He treats we, His children, with amazing benevolence and deep affection.

What is there to possibly fear when the Lord is near?  And, trust me, He is always here.  With us.

With you. 

Ponder that.  Rest in Him.  Be joyful and strong in the Lord.