Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ashamed of Holiness

"Don't be ashamed of being smart." -Dr. Walther

My advisor and history professor Dr. Walther said that more than a few times.  He said it because he saw that students had a pattern of dumbing down their vocabulary to avoid the shame of being smart.  He saw the intrinsic desire to want to appear "normal".

Christians, don't be ashamed of holiness.

In some Christian circles there is the strong desire to be authentic, relevant and relatable.  We find these words on many church websites in their description of themselves and I applaud the desire to be authentic, relevant and relatable.

Christians should be authentic, relevant and relatable.  However, has our pursuit of authenticity been made in inauthentic ways?

There seems to be an unspoken balance of messiness and holiness that is accepted as authentic in these Christian circles.  There is a holiness that is too much to be "real".  There is a purity and a pursuit of it that is deemed irrelevant and non-relatable and most certainly inauthentic.

In our effort to be approachable and authentic and liked have we created a culture where we're only allowed to share our faults?  Testimonies of minor depravity have been deemed glorious and useful in our small groups and prayer time; while testimonies of faithfulness and fleeing from immorality have been rejected as unhelpful and unwanted.

Don't hear me wrong: self-righteousness is wrong, but righteousness is desirable.  Yes, we must "confess our sins one to another" (James 5:16), but do we do this instead of living a life of visible purity or in addition to it?

In our good intentions to rid our churches of self-righteousness and Pharisaicalness have we also weeded out the glory of obedience and faithfulness and holiness?

"Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from the sinful desires, which war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they might see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us." 1 Peter 2:11-12

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Timothy 4:12

Why is it today that we are encouraged to have invisible holiness and visible flaws?  Would Peter and Paul be called puritanical, self-righteous, inauthentic church leaders today when they called for visible holiness?

Authenticity is a good thing, but inauthentic authenticity is deplorable.  The idol of authenticity that pulls us toward the "norm" and not toward sanctification is an idol that must be smashed.

We are called to holiness.  We are called away from self-righteousness.  We can do both.

The key seems to be found in who we want to please.  Is our authenticity aimed at pleasing God or men?  If it is aimed at pleasing men it will gravitate to the norm of society.  If it is aimed at pleasing God it will produce an honestly transparent Christ empowered pursuit of holiness.

Be authentic, but don't be ashamed of holiness today.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day and Baby Teeth

Our eschatology, understanding of the end times, affects our daily lives more than we realize.  When I was younger I believed that the earth was going to be burned up and a new earth would then be created.  The Bible most certainly teaches that there will be a New Heaven and a New Earth, but my understanding was dreadfully incomplete and it affected my daily life.

I thought if there was going to be a New Earth then environmental issues really don't matter.  I thought that humans were of utmost importance, and humans do have greater worth than the animals or plants, so whatever helped humans most was the best.  I had a short sighted view.  I didn't see how my interaction with the earth had anything to do with eternity.

Imagine if you will a young boy named Timmy.  Timmy has just been told that his teeth will one day fall out and be replaced by new adult teeth.  Timmy's baby teeth will be gone and new teeth will replace them.  So, Timmy guzzles as much pop as he can, he refuses to floss or brush, he uses his teeth to open glass bottles rather than using a bottle opener, and about anything that he feels like doing with his teeth.  The hope of new teeth gave Timmy license to disregard his current teeth.

After years of ignoring his dental health Timmy's baby teeth fell out early leaving strange spaces for his new teeth to grow in mismatched directions.  The bacteria that he let fester near and on his baby teeth ate away at his unseen adult teeth.  Timmy's understanding about baby teeth was incomplete and he suffered because of it.  Rather than having beautiful new teeth, he had braces and implants.

What we do with baby teeth and what we do with the current earth matters.

We can't screw up God's redemption of the earth like we can screw up permanent teeth.  However, it is true that what we do with the earth matters greatly.  Earth is and will be our home.  God will make His dwelling with man on the New Earth.  It matters how we take care of this planet. 

"God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Genesis 2:28

Part of the first set of commands that God gave humanity was to have dominion over the earth.  He gave us dominion over His creation.  To use and abuse it?  No, to be a good steward of it.  If someone gave you something that was theirs would you use and abuse it?  No, you would treat it well.  You would try to leave it in excellent shape before, during and after your use of it.  Why would our stewardship of the earth be any different?

If your eschatology makes you believe environmentalism is for liberals and tree huggers (there is most definitely unbiblical viewpoints from some that wear the label "environmentalist" but I'm not addressing that here) then I invite you to further investigate your understanding of Scripture.  I know my daily life has been changed by deepening my understanding.  

So, on this Earth Day ask yourself if you're using God's creation the way you should be.  Ask if there's a way you could be a better steward of any of the creation that He's given you dominion over.  And after seeking and find the answers to your questions act accordingly today. 

Monday, April 17, 2017

To Those Who Kill Us

Lent is done and therefore I'm done blogging daily.  Thank you to those who joined me for the last month and a half whether it was each day or just once.  I'm done blogging daily and will move to about once a week (though it often takes me a while to slow my pace again).  I normally wouldn't be writing the day after Easter but I badly wanted to post this.

On Palm Sunday Christians in Egypt were bombed.  Two churches were bombed killing 45 and injuring about 126 while they worshipped.

I was saddened by this attack like most of you were.  I sent an e-mail to a friend in Egypt letting him know that I was praying for him and our brothers and sisters in Egypt.  He told me thank you and said that amazing testimonies were resulting from the attack.  He sent back a link to a video that blew me away.  In the video Father Boules George delivers a message that is so loving and so wise and so beautiful.  It is a must watch.  Watching the video convicted me and inspired me to my core.  This man is a man who believes with all certainty in the promise of Heaven, this is a man who loves his enemies and prays for those who persecute him, this is a man who is clearly empowered by the Holy Spirit to obey the radical words of Jesus.

I could write more about it but I can't say it better than Father Boules George did.  Be sure to click the "CC" button on the bottom right of the video so you can see the English translation.  It will be the best nine minutes of your day today.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Three Enter, One Leaves Alive

"Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?" 1 Corinthians 15:55

In the Easter story sin, death and Jesus entered the tomb and only one came out alive.

Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross.  The victory was final at the cross as Jesus cried "It is finished!"  But the story reads as if Jesus, sin and death went into the tomb for one final battle royale and only Jesus came out alive.

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

On Easter we celebrate His victory over sin and death.  We celebrate that the grave could not hold Him.  That He is a defeater, not defeated.  This morning we sang songs that celebrated this.  We sang songs like: "Christ is Risen", "Resurrection Hymn", "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" and "Forever."  We sang and announced His victory with lyrics like these:

"Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling over death by death."- Christ is Risen

"Oh, death!  Where is your sting?
Oh, hell!  Where is your victory?
Oh, Church!  Come stand in the light!
The glory of God has defeated the night!"- Christ is Risen

"Death is dead,
Love has won,
Christ has conquered!"- Resurrection Hymn

"Lives again our glorious King!  Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting?  Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save!  Alleluia!
Where, thy victory, O grave?  Alleluia!"- Christ the Lord is Risen Today

The Son of God in darkness laid,
A battle in the grave,
The war on death was waged,
The power of Hell forever broken.

The ground began to shake,
the stone was rolled away,
His perfect love could not be overcome.
Now death, where is your sting?
Our resurrected King,
has rendered you defeated!"- Forever

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  And sin and death have been defeated.  Three entered the grave and one came out alive.  Praise God for the resurrection today.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Between the Cross and Empty Tomb

The Bible doesn't tell us everything that happened in the life of Jesus.  It tells us everything we need to know but not everything.

"Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written." John 21:25

"Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name." John 20:30-31

The Bible tells us everything we need to know to have a saving faith in Jesus.  But have you ever imagined what might have happened in the spaces we don't know about?  Have you wondered what Jesus was like as a child?  How on earth did Mary and Joseph raise Him and how did His brothers and sisters react to living with a perfect brother?  Did Jesus ever play a goof with the other disciples on Peter or Thomas?  What did His laugh sound like?  How did Mary, Martha and Lazarus get to know Jesus?

There's so many things about the earthly life of Jesus that I want to know.  John said there isn't enough room in books to write them all, I mean every moment of His life was holy, but eternity has enough room to hear them all.  I do so look forward to asking James if there was a time Jesus laughed so hard He cried or if Jesus gave Bartholomew a perfectly timed hug.

But today is Holy Saturday and today I wonder what Saturday felt like for the disciples.  Between the cross and the empty tomb what was the mood like?  What were the conversations like?  Did Peter's failure feel final?  Was John boastful that he was the only disciple at the crucifixion?  Were the women disappointed thinking that they'd misunderstood Jesus' message?  Did they hide for their lives?  Were they filled with sadness or anger?

On that first Holy Saturday I bet they all felt stuck, defeated, confused, upset, bamboozled and afraid.  Jesus had made so many promises, He was supposed to be the eternal King in the line of David; what happened?

We all have the benefit of knowing that Holy Saturday is followed by Resurrection Sunday.  We all know that Good Friday is in fact good, that it wasn't defeat but victory.  We all know that the tomb couldn't keep Christ.  We all know that sin, death and Jesus entered the tomb and only one came out alive.  We know that Jesus won the fight.

But we all know the feelings of Saturday.  We know the feeling of being stuck between the announcement of victory and the experience of victory.  We feel the tension of the "here but not yet" Gospel.  We exist between the first coming of Jesus and the second coming of Jesus and we eagerly await the consummation of the Gospel.

Below is a post I wrote in 2012 about Holy Saturday.  I know this post is getting long, but I encourage you to read it because I know, even though I wrote it, that I am encouraged by it today.


Yesterday was Good Friday and tomorrow is Easter.  Today is Saturday.  "Duh, Matt."  But let's think about that a bit today.

On my Good Friday post I wrote about Jesus' victory cry of "It is finished!"  Tomorrow we will celebrate Easter which is the experience that the victory cry is truth.  Saturday we are left unsure.  If Jesus just dies for us He is just one of the most loving people in history, but He is not Savior.  Good Friday is great but it is only a neat story without Easter.  But what about Saturday?

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in Saturday.  What I mean is I know the victory is mine to claim with Christ, but I haven't seen its completion.

"Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6  I know that He will completely perfect me, but it hasn't been completed yet.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or morning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4  I know this is true but I see cancer and heartache every day.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." Romans 16:20  I know I will crush Satan's head but right now he's tormenting me.  I'm stuck in Saturday.

We live much of our life in Saturday.  The victory has been declared but we can't realize or see it fully yet.  That is why we must hold on to the promise of victory in faith.  Easter will come into its fulness in everything that was promised.  Until then believe the truth of Good Friday, "It is finished!"  Saturday will pass and the sun will come up tomorrow.  The Son will return and we will see that "It is finished!"

Hold fast to the promises of Christ because they will come to pass.  Look forward to tomorrow and in doing so endure today.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Beautiful Death

Today is Good Friday and on this day we remember the death of Jesus on the cross.  There shouldn't be a day that goes by without us reflecting in some way on Christ's death on the cross, but today we focus specially on it.

Crucifixion was a terrible thing.  The death Jesus died was a terribly ugly death.  He was flogged before being crucified.  This flogging was brutal.  The whip would rip one's skin to shreds and sometimes the whip would get stuck on the skin and the torturer would yank it out taking loads of flesh and even ribs with it.  The type of flogging that Jesus received would have left Him near death.  Then Jesus carried a crossbar on that nearly skinless back through the streets to be paraded and jeered.  Jesus was so weak from the beating that He couldn't finish carrying it.  He then had His raw back laid on rough wood and had nails driven into His hands and feet.  Then the cross was raised with His naked body hanging from it and Jesus was asphyxiated as He dangled by His hands with His arms stretched out.  Every breath He had to take required Him to pull up with His arms and push up with His feet causing the nails to rip more of his body.  All the while mothers would pass by and warn their little boys not to do whatever it was that Jesus did, people openly mocked Him as the enjoyed the spectacle of His execution, soldiers stole His clothes right in front of Him.

Crucifixion was terrible and the above paragraph doesn't begin to do it justice.

Crucifixion, however, was not that uncommon.  It was reserved for the worst of the worst and Roman citizens couldn't be shamed and tortured in this manor, but it wasn't uncommon.

So, what made Jesus' crucifixion notable?

First, Jesus was an innocent man.  He did not deserve to die.  In fact, Jesus never sinned, He was perfect.  His death was the first death of a perfect man.

Secondly, Jesus died for others.  Jesus died in the place of others, He suffered in order to be a substitute for others.  Not just others, but sinners and rebels.  Jesus died not for good men and women but for sinful men and women.

Thirdly, Jesus chose His death on the cross.  Jesus' life was not taken (John 10:18), it was given up for us.

But what I want to focus on now is the way Jesus suffered.  There was something about the way Jesus died that was different from all other deaths.  Consider the thieves on the cross.  Matthew tells us that both heaped insults on Jesus as He was crucified.  Both did.  But then in Luke we see this:

"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: 'Aren't you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!'

But the other criminal rebuked him.  'Don't you fear God,' he said, 'since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.'

Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'

Jesus answered him, 'I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:39-43

Matthew and Luke's accounts don't contradict one another.  Both criminals mocked Jesus on the cross, but then the one repented and found faith in Jesus on the brink of death.  I believe there must have been something in the way that Jesus suffered that changed his mind.  Jesus must have suffered in a way that allowed this man to see a king in the form of a bloody, beaten man who was suffocating under his own weight.

And the centurion, too.  This man must have seen a number of crucifixions because they were at least somewhat common and apparently part of his job.  Yet there was something different about Jesus' death.  Now, the centurion had the benefit of seeing darkness cover the land at noon and perhaps the temple curtain tearing in two, but there was something different about Jesus' suffering that seperated it from the suffering of all the other thieves and insurrectionists that the centurion had been charged with killing.

"And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard His cry and saw how He died, he said, 'Surely this man was the Son of God!" Mark 15:39

The flogging and crucifixion of Jesus was a dreadfully ugly act.  It was extremely brutal.  Jesus was scarred beyond recognition.  Yet, there was a beauty in His death.  He even suffered and died in a way that displayed His eternal beauty.  A criminal and a torturous supervisor looked at Jesus and saw undeniable beauty and glory.

On this Good Friday I urge you to gaze at the beautiful, gruesome death of Jesus today.

(Dramatic reading of the crucifixion)

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Maundy Thursday

Tonight my wife and I went to Maundy Thursday service at the Lutheran church nearest our house.  Growing up I didn't celebrate all the days of Holy Week, but now I'm finding a deep richness in further focusing on the events leading up to Easter.

On Maundy Thursday we remember the Last Supper and Jesus washing His disciples feet.  Maundy is from the Latin for command.  On this day we remember Christ's command to the His disciples.

"A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another."  John 13:34-35

"As I have loved you..."  What a strong aim for love!  Because this is so similar to what I wrote yesterday about need to be marked by love I won't expound on that today.

Below is a post I wrote last year on Maundy Thursday.  I hope it encourages you to follow Christ's maundy for us today.

Maundy Thursday

Today in Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday.  This day we remember Jesus' Last Supper with His disciples before the crucifixion and His washing of their feet.  Maundy is a word derived from Middle English and Latin meaning mandate or command.  On this day we remember a command Jesus gave.  Let's look at that command found in the book of John.

"It was just before the Passover Feast.  Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father.  Having loved His own who were in the world, He now showed them the full extent of His love.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around His waist.  After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, 'Lord, are you going to wash my feet?'

Jesus replied, 'You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.'

'No,' said Peter, 'you shall never wash my feet.'

Jesus answered, 'Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.'

'Then Lord,' Simon Peter replied, 'not just my feet but my hands and head as well!'

Jesus answered, 'A person who has had a bath needs only to wash his feet; his whole body is clean.  And you are clean, though not every one of you.'  For He knew who was going to betray Him, and that was why He said not every one was clean.

When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place.  'Do you understand what I have done for you?'  He asked them.  'You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than His master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them."  John 13:1-17

So, what is the command or Maundy in this passage?

We must first examine what Jesus did.  Jesus, the greatest in the room by far, assumed the role of the least and washed the feet of the disciples.  In that culture the servant that washed the feet of people had a crummy job, the guest of honor would never do this job nor would the least honored guest if there was a servant around.  Jesus assumed the role of servant even though He was aware of His actual place amongst the other men in the room.

Jesus also washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, who He knew would betray Him that same night.  Jesus assumed the role of servant even for His enemy.

So, what is the command?  The Maundy of Maundy Thursday is to do as Jesus did.  Christians must be the servant of all, both high and low.  There is no one too low for the Christian to serve.  If the Almighty can wash the feet of some lowly men from Israel, then you can and must serve anyone.

Christians must also not only tolerate our enemies but also serve them.  If Jesus can wash the feet of the man who would betray Him in a matter of hours then so we must follow suit.  You might not use the word 'enemy' but is there someone you'd be shocked to have to serve?  Is there someone you'd rather avoid than serve?  Maybe it's the Syrian man or woman needing refuge.  You may be scared because of what had happened recently, but Jesus commands us to serve them.  Maybe it's the person who votes differently than you.  Maybe it's the one whose sexuality differs from yours.  We aren't commanded to bend the truth in any way, He's not asking you to call right what is wrong; He's telling you to serve them anyway.

Here's what Jesus is not commanding:  "I served you, so you serve me."  This would be easy.  There are a billion reasons to serve Jesus.  Jesus said, "Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet."  Jesus commands us to serve one another, even when the one anothers in our life don't deserve it.  Remember in Matthew 25 Jesus said "Whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sister of mine, you did for me."  We serve Jesus by serving others, especially those that society deems are below us or our enemies.

Remember Jesus' Maundy or mandate for us.  Be a servant like your Master Jesus today.