As long as we are self-sufficient & self-sustaining we live in a delusional field of self-deception & vulnerability

Can you imagine Jesus looking you square in the eye saying, “You give them something to eat.” That’s exactly what He commanded the disciples in the story of the Feeding of the Multitudes. When they pooled their resources they found themselves woefully inadequate to meet the needs they were commanded to meet. Jesus knew the loaf and fish count already so why did He tell them to do something He knew they couldn’t do? Well, as always Jesus is attempting to teach us all to trust Him. Here He vividly demonstrates through the disciples’ own situational analysis that they don’t have enough and that their resources alone will never meet the needs of their world.

Jesus asks us each day to meet the needs of our world and we respond by collecting our personal resources (usually what we have to spare) which usually results in our declaration that “We don’t have enough.” But Jesus doesn’t want us to stop there. That’s step #1, admit you are powerless over your problems, realize that our needs and the needs around us are beyond our resources and we need help. Until we say I NEED HELP, we are in a position of deception and vulnerability. As long as we are self-sufficient and self-sustaining and we can meet our own needs and that of a few others we live in a delusional field of self-deception and vulnerability.

So today, who is He asking you to feed that will cost you? What is he asking you to do that you don’t feel you have the resources, the gifts, the money, the courage, or the energy?

Sometimes God just doesn’t make sense

No kidding, sometimes God just doesn’t make sense. Think about the time when the crowds followed Jesus into the wilderness and as it was getting late the disciples made a rational proposal to him about how to handle the situation. “Jesus, let’s break for the day so the crowds can go to the nearby villages and buy themselves some food.” This was reasonable, the people weren’t in danger of starving, they didn’t need rescuing, there was no emergency, and the towns were not very far away.

Jesus’ response to the disciples’ logical solution was, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Jesus, certainly you are not assessing our situation clearly? The reality is: we have only 5 loaves and 2 fish and it would cost us six months of wages to feed all of these people. This would not be good stewardship, would take way too much effort and besides we’re tired, hungry and want to go home. And besides, these people have homes to eat in.

To our logical, efficient sensibilities, Jesus’ requests often don’t make sense.
Sometimes Jesus doesn’t answer our prayers in rational ways. Sometimes Jesus asks us to do seemily impossible and illogical things. When he makes these requests of us, we are left to ponder our own emotional, spiritual and financial resources to which we conclude that we just don’t have ENOUGH. And if we remain there we simply get frustrated and give up. But as he does this, he is seeking to teach us Who He is and to teach us to trust Him.

So what is Jesus asking you to do right now that just doesn’t make sense?

Listening is Hard

On occasion, my wife has been compelled to ask if I was really listening to her when she was speaking. My usual retort is that I listen to every word that she says. Once after my defensive response she uttered, “You listen for a bit and then in your mind, you fill in the rest of what you think I am going to say…. That’s not really listening!” She was right, is right, will be right. I’m not a great listener and as I’ve come to realize, few people are. Why? Because listening, really listening is hard!

To listen I must give a payment or investment of my mind, my heart and my ear while closing my mouth. I must attend closely and value deeply the person speaking or I won’t listen very well.

On the mountain top with Peter, James and John, there appeared Moses and Elijah and a transfigured Jesus who, on this day, even looked like God. And while Peter was still talking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Any audible voice from heaven would make anyone stop talking which it seems that Peter did as he and the others heard these words which combined the two images of Jesus as The Divine Conquering Son from Heaven (Psalm 2:7) and The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 42 & 53). This Divine Holy Son can accept dirty, flawed people like us because He is also the sacrifce. He is holy and He is gracious. He is the Divine Son, The Suffering Servant!

And the Voice Tells us to Listen To Him! The disciples had a hard time listening to what Jesus said to them. They had a grid for their understanding of who they thought Jesus was and they would discard or dismiss anything that didn’t fit what they already knew. So Jesus goes to the extreme attention-getting methods of Dazzling Divinity, Wonder Cloud and Heavenly Voice all because He wants them and us to listen to Him.

Often we think that just because we have become Christians that we have truly listened to Jesus. Peter and the disciples believed and were with Him everyday but they still didn’t attentively listen and understand what he was saying to them. It is easy to say that the Bible (which is God’s Word for our listening ear) is authoritative but if we don’t listen to it we are not living what we say we believe. To listen to Jesus, we must patiently sit and receive the Word from Him.

So here are a couple of questions to think about today:

  • In what area of your life are you listening to what Jesus says?
  • In what area of your life are you not listening to what Jesus says?

Heaven is on the Way!

The Lord gave tiny glimpses of Heaven to many of His servants as recorded in the Bible: Moses on Sinai, Isaiah in a Vision, even Peter, James and John on the mountain during His Transfiguration. These men were momentarily captivated by His Beauty and temporarily satisfied with His Presence. They saw what we have yet to see: A true picture of Heaven! What they saw for a moment, we will enjoy with them for eternity as the consummation of our chief end and purpose will be realized: to Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever.

We are constantly in situations in which the gospel and the Lord do not seem to be winning: unanswered prayers, the prevailing unbelief of family and friends, the prosperity of the wicked, and even our own ongoing struggle with the same besetting sins. The Scriptures give us brief peeks under the veil of heaven which re-light the fire in our hearts with courage and comfort our weary souls. God’s Word tells us that no matter how things look on the surface, Jesus is alive and working in the world and  in your life. He is Coming and Heaven in on the way!

Isaiah 51:5-6:

My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.
The islands will look to me
and wait in hope for my arm.
Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment
and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
my righteousness will never fail.

To one who is in expectation, even speed looks like delay

I was an impatient child. Some might say that I still am. But I remember doing a lot of waiting when I was younger. And it seemed that I waited forever for Christmas to come. In fact, I began my annual anticipation of Christmas Day on December 26th. Christmas represented everything that was special and fun about being a child, a rescue from the doldrums of math class and sibling spats. I wanted Christmas everyday but the sad part was that I had to wait a whole year for it to come again.

Memories of waiting for Christmas as a child help me deal with my anticipation and expectation of Christ’s return. I know well the truth of the common proverb, “To one who is in expectation, even speed looks like delay.” While there are lots of things that I enjoy about the world He’s given me: my wife, kids, friends, church, coaching, teaching, college football, music, coffee, Gulf Coast seafood and Disney World just to name a few, I am still reminded everyday that this is not heaven and it certainly isn’t home.

So, I live in expectation of Jesus coming back sometimes with both eyes lifted toward heaven, but more often cross-eyed with one eye on heaven and the other fixed on the earth. I long for a world that is free from sorrow, death, pre-mature babies struggling to breathe, cancer, chronic pain, the pressure to perform, the compulsion to be liked, relationship difficulties, my sin and your sin. In heaven, all of that goes away in an instant!

Moreover in heaven, I get to realize everything for which I have been created as I get to worship my Savior with a pure, unsinning heart. I receive my treasure and He is Christ, my Creator and Redeemer. I get Him and my eyes will be fully opened to the totality of what He has done for me!

The old Scottish Pastor, Robert Murray McCheyne penned a poem in 1837 which expresses some of these thoughts:

When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

How far is Heaven?

I’ve always liked the song, “How far is Heaven?” by Los Lonely Boys:

Save me from this prison
Lord help me get away
Cause only you can save me now
From this misery
Cause I’ve been lost in my own place
And I’m getting’ weary
How far is heaven
And I know I need to change
My ways of livin’
How far is heaven, Lord can you tell me

I love the honest assessment of earthly life as ultimately unsatisfying, the description of life and maybe even the human body as a prison where we are locked up. I appreciate the admission of disorientation of not always knowing what to do or where to go. And it is so refreshing that he’s not blaming God or anyone else for his plight, he believes that he is part of the problem, “I know I need to change my ways of livin’.” He’s tired, he’s weary and he needs to know, “Lord, how much longer?”

The song expresses sentiments similar to that of David in Psalm 6:

Have mercy on me, LORD, for I am faint;
heal me, LORD, for my bones are in agony.
My soul is in deep anguish.
How long, LORD, how long?

Turn, LORD, and deliver me;
save me because of your unfailing love.
I am worn out from my groaning.

Sometimes we simply need to cast our eyes toward Heaven and cry out to the Lord for mercy so that He can assure our hearts that Heaven is not Far.

Expectations are rarely met

Ever have a friend build something up raising your expectations and later you’re disappointed because it just wasn’t as great as you had hoped? It is rare that what we imagine or hear about ever meets our expectations. When an expectation is created, our minds and hearts exaggerate and intensify the inherent value of a person, event or experience often leaving us disappointed when reality is met.

When the Queen of the South finally met King Solomon at the height of his piety and power, she said to the him,  “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half was told me; in wisdom and wealth you have far exceeded the report I heard.”

Her expectations were far out-done. She is far from regretting the expense of her journey and gifts because the reality of who he was far exceeded his fame and reputation. He was at least twice as good as she had heard! Solomon was ALL THAT and MORE.

If you could interview the Saints who have gone on to glory and ask them if their expectations were met as they met Christ and experienced heaven, they would say, “I’ve been in church my whole life and heard preachers tell about how great He is and the magnificence of heaven, but I did not believe these things until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even a fraction was told me; Christ has far exceeded my expectations!”

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – 1 Cor. 2:9

We’re just not impressed anymore

A friend and I were discussing what impresses us? Apart from the athletic achievements of those like Michael Jordan or the financial prowess of investors like Warren Buffet, we’re not impressed by much. Have we lost our awe when it comes to God? We certainly have lost the meaning of the word ‘awesome.’

In the Old Testament there’s a story about a Queen who travels a far distance at great personal expense to meet King Solomon to hear of his wisdom, experience his greatness and to learn of his God. When the queen of Sheba saw all the wisdom of Solomon and the palace he had built,  the food on his table, the seating of his officials, the attending servants in their robes, his cupbearers, and the burnt offerings he made at the temple of the LORD, she was overwhelmed. There was no more spirit in her. Her knees became weak and she felt faint when she saw his magnificence.

Sure, she was impressed by his wealth and wisdom, but she was most impressed by the sincerity of his devotion to the Lord in the manner in which he went up to the house of the Lord. Solomon was soooo Great, but he went to the Lord with all Humility and Devotion with generous sacrifices. In all his greatness and splendor, he was humble before the God of Israel. And this greatly impressed her because NEVER HAD SHE SEEN SO MUCH GOODNESS ACCOMPANIED BY SO MUCH GREATNESS. Such humility accompanied by such majesty! And this overwhelmed her to the point where there was no more spirit in her. She was amazed, she had never seen the likes of Solomon.

Yet we can be so unimpressed by the One he worships. Jesus says in Luke 11:31- “One Greater than Solomon is Here.”

Do you ask WHAT or WHY?

It was said that during his life, Albert Einstein possessed 6% of the world’s knowledge and was considered the smartest man in the world. Now if you had an opportunity to spend time with the smartest man in the world, what kind of questions would you ask him? Better yet, if you had an opportunity to sit down with Jesus, what type of questions would you ask him?

Truly, neither you nor I would be prepared to enter into those conversations now as we would have to study for weeks, months, even years to even know enough to ask a good question.

Even when we ask questions generally, do you mostly ask “WHAT?” questions or do you find yourself asking more “WHY?” questions?

When we ask ‘WHAT?’ we are typically seeking an understanding of the true nature, identity, or worth of something. We are seeking to understand the the sum of its characteristics. We ask a ‘WHAT?’ question because we lack knowledge.

When we ask ‘WHY?’ we are typically seeking the reason, cause or purpose behind something that we already know. We are already satisfied with our knowledge and understanding and are ready to judge the reasons and motivations behind it. We already think we know WHAT, now we just want to know WHY.

Recently, I’ve become aware of this tendency in myself to ask WHY when I really don’t yet understand WHAT. So I’m attempting to know WHAT about myself, others, and the organizations in which I’m involved. Asking WHAT takes time, patience, thoughtfulness, along with a great deal of humility. When I don’t take time with the WHAT, I miss out on a true understanding.

A man named Doug Larson once said, “Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have preferred to talk.” This is a nice paraphrase of Proverbs 18:2- Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.

Does Jesus Create Customized Salvation Plans for individuals?

We’re familiar with Jesus interaction with the man known to us as the Rich, Young Ruler (RYR) who comes to Jesus looking for Jesus’ seal of approval for a life well lived. The RYR asks the question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Then, in an attempt to challenge the man’s entire Life Program of human and moral goodness, Jesus gives a surprising answer regarding the one thing that the RYR lacks in order to inherit eternal life, “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

What do you think about Jesus’ answer to the man’s question? How would you answer the query of your neighbor who asks, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” I would answer my neighbor by pointing him to Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. That He died to pay the penalty for our sins and to satisfy The Father’s holy wrath that was due to us. I would say you must repent and believe the gospel. In fact, in all of my years of sharing the plan of salvation, I have never told anyone that they needed to sell everything they have and give it to the poor.

There is also no record of Jesus giving this same salvation plan to another. He tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born again, but doesn’t mention money.  He tells the woman to go and sin no more but fails to mention the poor. He tells money-loving Zacchaeus to give half of his money to the poor before announcing that salvation has come to his house, but he doesn’t have to give everything to the poor. Jesus certainly doesn’t command everyone to give it all away in order to inherit eternal life but the RYR must give it all away in order to go to heaven. Christ tells THIS man that he must give up his earthly inheritance to receive eternal inheritance.

So does Jesus create a customized salvation plan for each individual? Kinda Sorta! Looking back, the bare recital of the law had no effect on the RYR, so Christ employs other words for detecting the hidden disease in the man’s heart. He places his surgical finger on the precise place of self-rightness in the man. The RYR is not just self-righteous about his morality, he is self-righteous about what he has. His confidence, trust, security and identity are wrapped up in his money and possessions. So, with crisp, clear and steely vision Jesus sees through the projected image of moral rightness and exposes the man’s true savior! No man can serve two masters and Jesus will not be your savior if you have another.

Think about it this way, the call of the gospel is never just start Trusting Christ. The call of the gospel is stop Trusting Other Things and Start Trusting Christ. Repentance and Faith are the twin sisters of our gospel response which lose their meaning and context when seperated. Jesus’ customized salvation plan for individual people is always this: “stop trusting in your false savior and start trusting in Me.” Because Jesus knows our hearts, he sees through our false piety to the place where our basic spiritual justification and identity originate.

So what is the one thing you lack? What is the one thing that you trust in to make you feel RIGHT in your heart, in relationships, in the universe, before God? What is the one good thing about yourself that justifies your Life in the universe? Repent and Believe!