Tag Archives: loveable

The Other Eleven

Some stories in the Bible are so familiar that it is easy just to skim over them and not really think that there is much else to learn. For me, one of those stories is when Peter walks on water. It is found in the Gospel of Matthew:

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. (Matthew 14:22-32)

 So picture this scene in your mind. The disciples are in a boat struggling with a storm that came up suddenly. Then, out of the crashing waves and foamy sea, a figure appears, coming towards them. Any reasonable person would do what the disciples did – panic! Clearly this is some sort of supernatural entity, a ghost, in other words. What else could it be? Real people do not just walk on water. So they scream, call Jesus a ghost and cower in fear.

Most sermons that I’ve heard on this passage focus on Peter. Peter gets out of the boat!  Peter walks on water. Peter starts to sink. Jesus rescues Peter. Peter, Peter, Peter, blah, blah, blah. Let me just say that I am NOT Peter. I am still in the boat with the other eleven watching Peter’s adventure. I can imagine the thoughts and feelings running through their minds. “I’m not going out there! Maybe I should have? Is Jesus going to be mad at me, disappointed with me for not stepping out? I should have recognized Him? How could I not have recognized Him? What kind of idiot am I? What kind of disciple am I? I’m a failure. I missed a chance to show Jesus my faith in Him.” On and on it goes believing they’d “missed it.”

And yet we do the same thing. We are so quick to beat ourselves up when we think we don’t have enough faith, or we aren’t “doing enough” for Jesus. We so easily disqualify ourselves and we throw up our hands and give up. Well here’s the rest of the story. After Peter and Jesus get into the boat, those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God’” (Matt 14:33). The other eleven worshiped Him. They made Him the focus of their hearts and minds and did not wallow in self-pity. They recognized who He was and responded appropriately.

And let me remind you of one other thing. The other eleven in that boat were still sent out by Jesus to preach the Kingdom. The other eleven saw the resurrected Christ. The other eleven received the power of the Holy Spirit. The other eleven went out from Jerusalem and changed the world. They didn’t miss anything.

So, I want to encourage you today as you read this. If you are thinking that you’ve missed “God’s plan for your life.” (Play dramatic music here). If you think your faith isn’t strong enough or you’re too afraid or you can’t see how God could ever use you, remember that regardless of our weaknesses, our screw-ups, our lack of faith, Jesus is still the Son of God. That never changes. Just worship Him. He still loves you very much and hasn’t given up on you. You and the other eleven are in the same boat.

I Am Not A Worm

My son introduced me to a new term last week – worm theology. I had never heard this term below, so I googled it. I guess it’s been around for a while and it generally means having a very low view of oneself, believing that if we take on this “worm” mentality God will be more compassionate or merciful towards us. According to worm theology, we are to view ourselves as unworthy, undeserving, unfit and justly contemptible. We are nothing and deserve nothing. Worm theology is thought to be the same as humility. And this is how many Christians live – “wormy” – shoulders slumped, head bowed, shuffling through life, just another sinner barely able to lift our wormy head towards our Great and Majestic God.

I don’t think Christians should subscribe to this worm theology concept, but there is a place for it. Let me explain. Before we come to Christ, before we are saved, when we are in our “natural” state, we are, in fact, dead in our sin, enemies of God, slaves of unrighteousness, unworthy, unable to save ourselves, without merit to earn God’s love or grace. It’s a pretty bleak picture. Yes, we are worm-ish. And yet God looked upon sinful Man and chose to send His Son to save us. Even as worms, the Just One died for the unjust, the Sinless One died for the sinner. It can properly be said that we were sinners saved by Grace. If there is a time to apply wormly thinking it would be then – at our pre-Christian state.

But once saved by grace, a miracle happens in the life of this newly-minted Christian. The formerly wormy sinner is re-created as a child of God. A new creature has come into existence, one that reflects the image of God, a residence for the Holy Spirit. This new creature is called a saint – holy and set apart – a partaker in the divine nature. This new creature is promised glory in the future and freedom in the present. This new creature is guided, instructed, corrected and called into a wonderful life of Kingdom work by the King. It seems to me that such a creature is not a worm! And to view ourselves as worms is an affront to the work Christ as wrought in us.

Now let me be clear. It is completely appropriate to look back to our pre-Christ days and stand, or kneel, in awe that God saved wretches like us. His grace is amazing and undeserved. But we shouldn’t stay there. Instead we should stand, or kneel, in awe of what God did with this wretch. Look at the transformation! I am no longer a worm. I am a son! If that isn’t enough to cause us to worship our Father, I don’t know what is. Humility isn’t about constantly beating ourselves down. Humility is simply continually acknowledging that God did it all.

So dear Christian brother and sister, cast off your worm theology. Reject the false humility of worm-ish thinking and put on the “new man” formed by the Holy Spirit and being transformed into the image of Christ. That is how the Father sees you. That is how you can see yourself.

True Freedom

The United States just celebrated 238 years since that fateful day in 1776 when the colonies declared independence from what they considered an unreasonable and tyrannical British monarch. Since that time the principle of freedom – both individual and national – has been deeply ingrained into the American character. It is one of the highest values we hold and are willing to fight for. And yet while I am not making a political statement here, I think we deceive ourselves if we think that our government or any human institution can bestow or guarantee true freedom to individuals. Freedom – true freedom – can only come from a much higher and reliable source. Humans crave a freedom of soul and spirit than can only be granted by our great Savior. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

As I read Scripture there are three main areas in which Christ sets us free and these three freedoms form the basis of a healthy, dynamic and joy-filled life. As Christians we are free from the power of sin, we are free from the power of the Law and we are free from the fear of death. Each one addresses a deeply seated need in our spirits.

As we read Romans chapter 6, we hear Paul tell us that we have been freed from the power of Sin. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. “ (Romans 6:6).   Sin is no longer our master. In Christ we are no longer beholden to Sin; we are no longer compelled to carry out those desires and practices of our natural self that are so destructive and demoralizing. We have been unchained from Sin’s power to dictate our life course. Now, to me, that doesn’t mean I can’t sin. It means we have the ability to say no to sin. This freedom allows us as Christians to choose to obey God, to live godly, righteous lives, to pursue purity. Without this freedom from the power of Sin a relationship with the Father would be impossible and loving Him would be unattainable. Freedom from the power of Sin addresses our deepest need to know and be known by God.

Second, Christ’s life, death and resurrection freed us from the power of the Law. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). By that I mean our attempt to earn God’s acceptance by the adherence to a list of rules and regulations. Living under the power of the Law means we have to be “perfect” or we need to try harder to be perfect. We can’t step out of line or we risk God’s displeasure and rejection. We have to try to make ourselves good enough to be loveable. It is both exhausting and impossible to keep up this kind of life. Fortunately we don’t have to. Read all of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We are not made acceptable to God by our self-effort, but by placing our trust fully in Christ. Being freed from the power of the Law means we can rest in the completeness of his sacrifice, it means we can get off the treadmill of performance and breathe a sigh of relief.

Finally, Christ has set us free from the fear of death. “…through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14,15). Why does this matter? Because being free from the fear of death addresses our need to know that there is something “more” than just this life. Death is not the end for us who believe in the power of the resurrection. We do not cease to exist. We do not face an eternity of emptiness. We look forward to that day when we see him face-to-face and feel his embrace. This assurance enables us to face the difficulties of this life and the possibility of persecutions with another-worldly joy knowing that death has no grip on us.

When I consider all that Christ has won for me – freedom from the power of Sin, the power of the Law and the fear of Death – I can’t help but stand in awe, grateful and joyful. I am free to be all that God has made me to be. I am free to live! Now that is freedom worth celebrating with some fireworks.

The Successful Christian Life

How do we define “success” when it comes to Christian ministry? For some it might be by the size of the church congregation or by being an internationally known conference speaker or by the number of music albums recorded. Perhaps we should count the number of healings attributed to our ministry or responses to our altar call. But these measures only apply to the professional ministry, what about the vast majority of ordinary, everyday Christians? How do we define a successful Christian ministry for the stay-at-home mom or the single dad who only sees his kids every other weekend or the college student trying to resist the pull of the world around them? What does success mean to them? What does “ministry’ even mean to them? We look up from our corner and think, “if I was a really good Christian, then I should be doing more.” And the full-time pastor looks at the bigger church down the street and thinks, “If I were more spiritual, I could have a bigger church.” We’ve based our value and idea of success on some vague concept of accomplishment that has more to do with the world’s values than Christ’s values.

Jesus dealt head on with this concept of “successful ministry” and totally flipped it on its head. The story is found in the Gospel of Luke. After sending seventy-two of his followers on a “ministry trip” they return ecstatic, flushed with success. Here’s what happens next.

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”  (Luke 10:17-20)

They had been out traveling throughout the area preaching the good news of the Kingdom, healing and casting out demons. Even the demons had to do what they said. If that isn’t successful ministry I don’t know what is. But Jesus stops them short, “do NOT rejoice that the spirits are subject to you…” What? What could be better, more exciting than that? “…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” He goes on to say. For Jesus, it wasn’t about all our “doings” or even how well we did them. For Him, the most important thing is our “being.” Having our names written in heaven means that we are known, intimately, individually, personally, deeply; it means being included and accepted. Now THAT is a successful Christian life. And the most beautiful part is that the great book has the names of the little child who simply understands that “Jesus loves me this I know” and the mega-church pastor, both their names are written in the same column on page 127,284 in the same size font, not because they did something special but because they are equally loved. All the names are there because of His incomprehensible love for us, not because of any impressive deeds we think we have done.

So let me ask you a question. Is it enough? Is it enough for you simply to know that your name is in that book or do you still strive to “do something great for God?”   Are you delighting in being known or are you chasing some other measure of success? I honestly don’t know what the successful Christian life looks like, it will be different for each of us, but I do know that right now He is reading my name in His book and smiling. It doesn’t get better than that. This is me – rejoicing.

Is God my BFF?

I’ve had a few good friends over the years. Well, let me clarify, I’ve had many friends – people I can hang out with, talk over dinner, that kind of friend. But I have only had a few really deep friendships. These were godly men who I could open up to; share my struggles and fears without feeling condemned; men with whom I could be totally myself and be accepted. It was much more than conversation over dinner, it was sharing lives and becoming a better person, more encouraged, more inspired or more grateful. I’ve only had a few of those kinds of friends. So as I was reading Psalms I was deeply moved by this verse.

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. (Psalm 25:14 ESV)

The “friendship of the Lord!” It is so exciting to think that I can have that kind of relationship with God Himself, a relationship that leaves me a better person, more encouraged, more inspired and more grateful every time I spend time with Him. That phrase – friendship of the Lord – evokes affection, closeness, familiarity and acceptance. It is a relationship that is not only possible, but real – today.

But also note one very important phrase in that verse. The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him. We cannot approach God as just another one of our casual friends. He’s not our Facebook friend. We must approach Him with the reverence and respect that is rightfully His. Our friendship with Him is not based on impulse or whim but on His character. He will not be toyed with. He will not be disregarded or marginalized. We can’t treat Him as our BFF-du-jour. There’s a difference between being afraid of Him and fear of Him. Being afraid implies a capricious, demanding, condemning deity, ready to strike us down if we step out of line. That is not who He is. But the “fear of the Lord” is having a healthy respect that He is the sovereign creator, near to us, but also high and lifted up. We can sit on His lap, but also fall down in worship.

I think that it possible to have a deep and rewarding friendship with the Lord, a relationship our souls longs for and one He wants to have with us. It’s possible as long as we remember who He is and treat Him accordingly. You see, as we cultivate this friendship with the Lord He will tell us marvelous things. And as we speak to Him about our struggles and fears we will hear His words of fondness towards us.  He will talk to us about the promises and commitments He is making to us – “his covenant.” This is a friendship that starts today and lasts forever. This is a Best Friend Forever in the truest meaning of that phrase.

Tools of the Trade

We place a lot of value on building relationships.  It’s important to us to have good, solid and meaningful relationships with the people in our lives, whether it be friends, children or significant others.  I was thinking about this process of building relationships to try to see how it really happens – what are the tools we need to do this.  And it occurred to me that I was probably other thinking it.  Relationships are something we just do, not think about.  It comes naturally – to most of us.  But if I wanted to be more deliberate in approaching someone or starting from scratch how would I build that relationship.

The tools are fairly simple.  We spend time with each other – we “hang out” and talk.  We share our thoughts, feelings, desires and dreams.  We listen to the other to learn what makes them tick, what’s important to them, what they care about.  Depending on the type of relationship, we may tell them how nice they look or how much we appreciate them or how much we love them.  When we are with them we try to think about what would make them happy or just enjoy their presence without being demanding or self-focused.  It’s really about sharing our lives with them and learning to receive back from them their affection and acceptance of us.

So these tools of relationship building are effective, powerful and common to all our relationships.  I think they also apply to our efforts at relationship building with God.  Now I’m not suggesting that God is on an equal footing with our best buddy.  I don’t want to underestimate His Majesty and “other-ness.”  He is not like us in many ways, but to develop a deep and genuine relationship with Him means using the same tools.  The problem is that when applied to God, we’ve given these tools names that are laden with expectations, guilt and toil.  Instead of sharing our thoughts, feelings and desires with Him, we call it prayer.  But it becomes a burden.  Instead of listening to learn what is important to Him, we call it Bible study and it becomes a duty.  Instead of telling Him how much we appreciate Him, we call it worship and it becomes a performance.  Maybe it’s time to rename these “power tools”, or, at least, remove all the baggage we’ve attached to them.

Our Father wants to hang out with us and show us how trustworthy and approachable He really is, if we would only use the tools we already have and used all our lives to build that relationship.

The Old Self Costume

There are a lot of striking images in the Bible that are meant to help us visualize spiritual truths, images such as the Church as a bride, or a human body.  There is the image of Jesus’ followers as vine branches or pick one of Jesus’ parables for vivid pictures of the kingdom of God.  Providing these kinds of mental pictures sometimes makes a difficult, vague concept more real and concrete, something we can refer to for understanding and encouragement. 

There is imagery that Paul uses in his letters to the Ephesians and Colossians that stood out to me recently and made a powerful impact on how I think about myself and sin.  He speaks of “putting off the old self” and “putting on the new self.”  Here are those passages:

But that is not the way you learned Christ! – assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  (Eph 4:20-24 ESV)

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col 3:8-10 ESV)

What struck me immediately is the idea of the old self as a Halloween costume.  We dress up in some outrageous costume and take on the persona of that costume, whether it be superhero, movie character or horror creature.  We identify with the costume character while we wear it and at the end of the night when we take the costume off we go back to being the true us. 

The old self that Paul refers to is that sinful, pre-Christ person we used to be and yet, even as Christians, we “put on” that self and take on the characteristics of that old persona.  We start to act and think like that person we used to be – that old self.  We wear him like a costume.  And the longer we wear the old self costume the more we believe him to be our true self, the more we identify with him and the harder it is to break free of his grip.  That is why Paul’s words are so powerful.  “Put him off!  Take off that old person!  That is not who you are!  Cast him aside!  That belongs to your old life!”  I can simply imagine ripping off the Halloween mask, pulling the costume off over my head and dumping it into the trash.  Never again to be worn.  It’s possible because that old self is only an ugly, outer shell not the real me.  I am not condemned to wear that old self costume. 

Even more exciting is that I have a new identity, a new self.  So when I struggle with sin and I start to  think the battle is lost, I remember that it is only an old self costume that I can – I CAN – pull it off and reveal the true me, the new self.  This one looks like God.  This one is clean and holy.  This one fits me like a glove.  This one I will wear forever.