Simply Seeking Jesus

In Mark chapter 8, there are a couple verses that tell of Pharisees coming to Jesus and questioning Him. And it says that to test Him they were asking for a sign from heaven. In other words, they were saying do something amazing and miraculous right now and prove to us that You are the Son of God.

And in Mark 8:12 it says: “He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.’” The crazy thing is, Jesus had been doing amazing signs and wonders all around them, but apparently these Pharisees failed to see any of them. 

If they would have just opened their eyes, they would have seen that He indeed was the Son of God. I honestly believe that even if He had shown them a sign, they would have found some excuse to not believe. Their hearts were hardened and they weren’t willing to accept the truth that was right in front of them.

How often do we fail to see the miracles of Jesus in our own life because of hardened hearts? It’s so easy to allow the cynicism of our world to cause us to lose sight of the Lord and to allow our hearts to be hardened. But if we don’t ask the Lord to soften our hearts, then—like the Pharisees—we’ll fail to see all the wonderful and amazing signs that Jesus is doing all around us. 

I think the key for our generation today is that we need to stop seeking signs and miracles and simply seek Jesus. Jesus is our sign, He is our miracle, and we will see the miraculous as we seek Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever and His miracles are happening all around us.

Lord, help us to seek you, to seek Your will and way for our lives. And help us to have eyes to see the amazing miracles that You are doing in our world!

Be Prepared

This week’s our Children’s Pastor shared a great devotion with our church, so I thought I would share it on my blog:

The Oregon weather during the past number of weeks has gone from warm and sunny to cold enough for snow flurries! I have loved the extremes here, and it has really made me think about preparedness on a variety of levels: starting with the clothes I wear each day but then, more importantly, praying that God would prepare me in the way Scripture describes in 1 Peter.

1 Peter 3:15: But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”

I love this verse! Some of you that know me may be laughing because you’ve heard me say that about many different verses in Scripture! It’s really hard for me to pick a favorite—I now have a top 10 instead of top 5.

This verse is jam-packed with wisdom! Take a look at the order in this verse….

1) Revere Christ in your heart as Lord

2) Be prepared to talk to people about the hope that you have (JESUS)

3) Remember to talk to people with gentleness and respect

Jesus has to be respected and worshipped as Lord in your heart first and foremost. That is heavy-duty interior work because He isn’t just the Lord over one part of our life…He is THE LORD over all of our life. We can’t compartmentalize Him. 

And when Jesus is the Lord of our life, joy springs forth. You can’t help but focus on Jesus and the hope that He brings. It’s an ongoing growth process that develops each of us into a more hopeful person in every aspect of our life.

As we talk about the hope that we have in Jesus, the Holy Spirit guides us in those conversations with gentleness and respect. Gentleness and respect flow from a heart that is yielded to Jesus and a desire to share the hope that we have. I appreciate that Scripture includes a reminder to us of the fact that there is a way to share our hope. That way is the way of Jesus. When He is Lord of our life and we have put all our hope in Him, we don’t have to strive to fit Him into conversations. He will actually guide us with what to say and when to say it. Sometimes we don’t say anything and it’s the kindness and the love that flows from Jesus through us that speaks the loudest.

Often we think of accepting Christ as our Lord and Savior as a one-time decision. This is totally true…and it’s also true that keeping Him central, as the highest authority in our life, is a choice that we make every day. It’s waking up and asking God, “What do you want to accomplish through me today?” It’s taking time mid-day to ask, “How am I doing, Lord?” It’s yielding all the results of the day to Him at night by telling Him, “I give you this day and all that was in it: Please use the successes and redeem the mistakes so that it may be pleasing to You and give You glory, Lord”. 

In my walk with the Lord, these daily practices have been incredibly life-giving and have helped me to be better prepared for both exhilarating and devastating days, and also for the many days that fall somewhere in between these two extremes.

Good Friday: Taking Up Our Cross

In Luke 9:23, Jesus tells His disciples: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” When He spoke these words to them, they really had no idea what He was saying. But I’m guessing those words took on a whole new meaning as they watched Jesus, bloody and beaten carry the cross that He would soon be crucified on.

I don’t know about you, but I try to avoid pain whenever possible. And as creatures of comfort I think most of us gravitate towards those things that feel safe and secure. Now, in most cases, that seems pretty smart but as followers of Jesus we are often called to step out of our comfort zone and trust in the Lord.

Jesus was never about comfort. He willingly went to the cross. He willingly subjected Himself to public mockery, horrific beatings, and one of the most painful deaths a person can experience. This is the Son of God and He endured all of this for us.

At any moment, He could have walked away. At any moment, He could have called down legions of angels to rescue Him. But He didn’t. And that’s because Jesus knew it was the only way to restore our relationship with God.

And now to grow that relationship, He asks us to follow His example—to willingly pick up our cross every day. The only way to experience the abundant life that God has for us is to offer our lives back to Him as living sacrifices. He calls us to step out of our comfort zone and live the lives that follow His example.

As we take time to reflect on what Jesus did for us on this Good Friday, let’s take time to ask ourselves some tough questions: Have I been taking up my cross? Or am I clinging to the safe and secure? What does carrying the cross actually look like for me?

Lord, give us the courage and strength to take up our cross and help us to see the areas where we fall short and ask for Your help as we learn to follow you. –Amen

When God Doesn’t Meet Our Expectations

This Sunday is Palm Sunday and we can read about it in John 12:12-16: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him. They began to shout, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!’ Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Do not be afraid, people of Zion; look, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt!’ (His disciples did not understand these things when they first happened, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about him and that these things had happened to him.)”

As we read the gospels, we see the progression of Jesus’ ministry and popularity come to a climax with His triumphal entry. People were laying down their coats and palm branches. In a sense, they were rolling out the red carpet for Jesus. They were all praising Him and excited about the future. Many believed this was it: the realization of why Jesus came. His mission was being accomplished and now the credits could roll.

But we know the story doesn’t end there. God has a much bigger ending planned as it continues to play out in our lives even today. It’s hard to believe that, within a week of Palm Sunday, Jesus would end up being arrested, tried, and crucified. These same people who were praising Him a week earlier would turn and against Him and demand that Barabbas—a hardened criminal—be released instead of Jesus. What happened? What made the crowd so fickle?

This man that they were calling the Messiah had healed the sick and performed miracles. And on that Palm Sunday, it seemed He had the favor of the world on Him. But over that next week, Jesus’ ministry became more and more controversial. He overturned tables in the temple and drove people out with a whip; He spoke in confusing parables and talked about dying. The people began to doubt Him and the Pharisees fueled the doubt with their own deceitful desires.

This promised king wasn’t supposed to die: He was supposed to conquer the Roman Empire and be, well, their king. The problem was that they had their own idea of what God was going to do and how He was going to do it. And apparently Jesus didn’t meet their expectations.

We all have the tendency to put God in a box. We predict how He’s going to move in certain situations and it can challenge the very core of our beliefs when He doesn’t meet—or stay within—our expectations.

We need to ask ourselves: Will we be faithful when God doesn’t show up the way we want Him to? Have there been times when we’ve been disappointed with God and how things worked out? How do we respond? Do we trust that God is at work and will ultimately work all things together for the good of those who love Him?

Jesus’ death and resurrection is the very best news ever given to us. His sacrifice changes everything for those who put their trust in Him, but it didn’t seem like it at the time.

Heavenly Father, we seek Your strength to have faith for ourselves, our family, and our church. May we believe in Your will and plan for our lives, even when it doesn’t make sense. –Amen

Disciple of Jesus

I was reading in Luke 5 today where Jesus was calling his first disciples. It’s crazy to think what it would have been like for James, John, Peter, and Andrew to leave their boats—and everything they had known—to go and to follow Jesus. I know it must have been scary, but at the same time so exciting and exhilarating knowing that they were becoming a disciples of Jesus—The Messiah.

As I continued to read through Luke 5 and the amazing miracles that Jesus was doing, I found myself thinking, “how awesome it would have been to be one of Jesus’ disciples.” Then it dawned on me, or perhaps a still, small voice inside of me said, “You are one of Jesus’ disciples!” Duh!

I think many of us know this, but for some reason we forget or think of our role as a disciple differently. But what makes us any different than Peter, James, John or the rest of the twelve? Really, the only difference is a couple thousand years. Yes, they got to physically see and touch Jesus, but we have the same amazing and wonderful gift that they received at Pentecost: His Spirit, Who guides us and directs us.

It’s true that we don’t get to physically walk beside Jesus like they did, but His Spirit is with us. His Spirit lives in us and we have been given the same commission that the original twelve were given: To take the Gospel to our neighbors and to the nations.

I know sometimes we can look at these amazing men in the Bible and feel like their calling was so much greater than ours, but the reality is that every calling is important to God because every life matters. So we must embrace our calling and be disciples of Jesus who help to extend His kingdom!

Which is More Frightening?

My wife shared with me some thoughts that came out of her personal devotions a few days ago. For my blog this week I want to share with you those thoughts from her journal:

Matthew 8:28-34 – When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. 29 “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” 30 Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. 31 The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.” 32 He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. 33 Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. 34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.

Which is more frightening: 1) Demon-possessed men who are so violent that no one can pass their way? or 2) Reconciling our hearts to a God so powerful that He frees those possessed men by speaking to the demons and casting them into a herd of pigs?

According to the people in the region of the Gadarenes, the latter is the scarier of the two. In Matthew 8:34, a whole town heard about Jesus freeing the possessed men (because those who had been tending the pigs ran to town to tell them)…and they PLEADED with Jesus to leave their region. They wanted him to go far, far away.

I often ask myself when I’m reading the Bible what I would do or how I would respond in the situations it outlines. In this case, I’d like to think that I would beg Jesus to come into town and heal every ailment and free every prisoner. But I also know that the fallout of that is that my life will be radically changed if He does. The people of this town became the caretakers of a TRUE story that is so fantastic that many might question their sanity.

Fast forward to today. Say the exact same situation happened and we’re the witnesses. Here are the questions that might be posed to us after the fact:

  • How do you know they were demon possessed? (Maybe they were just bad people.)
  • Did you actually hear Jesus talking to demons? What did the demons sound like?
  • Are you sure “demons” entered the pigs? (Maybe they were just startled by something.)

When Jesus walked this earth, He did fantastic miracles. The focus of this particular story should have been that Jesus healed two men who were out of their minds, but instead the focus for the townspeople was that Jesus did things that don’t make sense.

This is because miracles require faith: faith that believes even when the story doesn’t make sense in our logical minds and in the scientific world. God made science—He made the world with all it’s rules and scientific boundaries—but He is also outside of and greater than the world He created.

Prayer: Our Lord God, help us to pray for miracles, to believe the miracles we see, and to share the story of the many ways You are still freeing and healing people today. Let us beg for your movement, healing, and freedom and be frightened of a world without it.

What’s Your Excuse?

This week, my devotions led me to Jeremiah 1:4-9 – The word of the LORD came to me, saying, 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6 “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” 7 But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. 9 Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.”

If you were to tell me in high school that I would some day be a pastor and plant a church, I would have probably laughed. Even after 15 years as a youth pastor, I laughed at someone when they asked me, “When are you going to be a senior pastor?”

The funny thing is that I wasn’t really opposed to being a pastor: it’s just that I didn’t think I had what it takes to be one. Like Jeremiah, I had all sorts of excuses. I’m to young, I’m uneducated, I’m not mature enough, etc…

But the fact is that God knew before I was ever born that I would be a pastor. He knew the plans he had for me and they were far beyond my capabilities. God wants to use all of us beyond our own abilities. I love the way Pastor Mark Batterson says it, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”

The God who knew us before we were ever formed in our mother’s womb desires to send us out to make Him known—to our neighbors and to the nations. What excuses are keeping us from making the difference that God wants to make in and through our lives?

I understand that not all of us are called to be prophets like Jeremiah or even pastors like myself. But the truth is: We are all called to let His light shine through us and to make an impact in our world. And we can’t underestimate what God is capable of doing through a willing vessel.

Can I Get A Witness?

This week my wife Stacy did our weekly devotional for our church, so I wanted to share it with you:

In Acts 1:6-8 we read: Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

What do you think of when you hear the word witness?

I tend to think of a trial in a courtroom. You know: “The defense calls so-and-so as their next witness.”

But a witness is so much more than that. A witness is someone who has heard or seen something that they can then share with others: in order to shine light on the experience and expose a more complete picture.

In his book A GLORIOUS DARK, AJ Swoboda writes: “Being a witness is like finding that little restaurant in the heart of town that nobody else knows about. It’s having your fill and then running around and telling everyone about the meal. Witnessing and eating are so closely related. Witnessing isn’t arguing for the existence of the cute little restaurant; witnesses eat at the restaurant and tell everyone that they have to go for themselves.”

When Jesus told His disciples that they would be His witnesses, I believe He wanted them (and us) to share their personal stories of following, traveling with, and learning from Jesus. He created each one of us and knows that the story we tell is going to differ from that of our best friend or brother or aunt because our experience has been as unique and individual as each of us are.

And Jesus knew that the beautiful picture that emerges—as we each tell our own story about how He changed OUR life—is a more complete representation of Him than if we rely only on a single story or witness.

  • The servants at the wedding in Cana were witnesses that Jesus cares about even things that don’t seem spiritual when He turned water into wine as a kindness to the wedding hosts.
  • The woman at the well was a witness that Jesus knows everything about us because He told her everything she’d ever done.
  • The lepers were witnesses that Jesus loves, touches, and heals people that the rest of the world deems unclean.
  • The paralyzed man was a witness that Jesus has not lost sight of or forgotten our prayers—but He acts in His time and in His way.

What is your story? What have you witnessed Jesus do in your own life?

And have you shared it?…Because that’s what witnesses do.

A Life of Learning

A pastor I’ve loved and respected for years used to have a saying, “Leaders are readers.” Now I have to admit, this saying drove me crazy. The reason is that I felt like God called me to be a leader but I am not really a reader. And just because I’m not a reader, does that mean I can’t be a leader?

I was sharing these frustrations with my wife years ago and she said, I understand what that saying is getting at, but maybe a better phrase would be, “Leaders are learners.” Yes, I agree with that. I may not be a reader, but I am a learner. I watch, observe, ask questions, and I learn from others. That pastor has actually now adopted Stacy’s wise words as he has changed his saying to, “Leaders are learners.”

And as I have done my best to grow and learn as a leader, I’ve realized that learning isn’t just the job of a leader—it’s the job of every believer. As followers of Christ, we are called to be lifetime learners. I love the way The Message translates Proverbs 18:15: “Wise men and women are always learning, always listening for fresh insights”.

Jesus calls us to be His disciples. And another word for disciple is learner. When we choose to become followers of Jesus, we become His disciples, which means we begin the process of learning what it means to follow Him. As disciples of Jesus, we never stop learning. It doesn’t matter how old we are or what we do in life, we need to continue to learn and grow in the Lord.

Are we growing? Are we seeking to know more? If we think we’ve learned all there is to learn, then we don’t know God. He is bigger than we can fathom. We could spend the rest of our lives reading and asking every question imaginable about Him and still not even come close to learning all there is to learn. May we be people who continue to grow in the Lord and seek to be lifetime learners!

United in Christ

This morning, I read 1 Corinthians 3. If you’re not familiar with this scripture, Paul is talking about how childish the Christians of Corinth were being as they quarreled amongst each other. They would say things like, “I follow Paul.” While others would say, “I follow Apollos.” Paul had some pretty strong words as he tells them he can’t even address them spiritually because they are still so worldly. Ouch! As I read through these verses, it seemed like a ridiculous thing to be arguing about. In reality, who they are in Christ has nothing to do with Paul or Apollos.
The question is: Are we any different? We still see these same quarrels happening among Christians today. Instead of it being Paul or Apollos, though, it’s Foursquare, Baptists, Presbyterian, or maybe it’s even Republican or Democrat. We act as if a denomination or political affiliation makes a difference when it comes to who we are in Christ—as if one is better than another.
There’s one thing that’s true about every denomination, movement, or political affiliation in this world: they are each wrong in one way or another. Now, I can’t tell you how or where they each fall short, but none of them have it completely right. No one denomination, movement, or political affiliation has perfect ideas or beliefs. I know there are those who may disagree with this. But if no person is perfect, then no denomination or affiliation is perfect.
So why do we put our trust in denominations and political affiliations? Why do we claim these titles in the same way the people of Corinth did? I’m guessing if Paul were addressing the Church today, he would probably be saying these same things to many of us.
God is the only One Who’s perfect and He is the only One in Whom we should place our trust. I’m not saying it’s bad to align with any denomination or affiliation. In fact, I believe there are great things about the many denominations we see in our communities today. And I believe that both Republicans and Democrats have good causes worth backing. But we aren’t called to follow denominations or political affiliations: we’re called to follow Jesus. And we are Christ followers first.
If we’re letting denominational or political lines keep us from linking arms and uniting together to see His Kingdom extended, then we aren’t being the Church that God has called us to be. Jesus said in John 13:35: “…everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” God’s desire for us is that we love one another. Unity in the body of Christ can change our world, not to mention the fact that Jesus said it is how others will know we belong to Him.
Listen to what the final verses from Paul in 1 Corinthians 3 might sound like in today’s language: So then, no more boasting about denominations or political affiliations! All things are yours, whether Foursquare, Baptist, or another denomination, whether Democrat or Republican, whether the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. As followers of Jesus we are all of Christ. So, let’s come together as THE CHURCH and truly be the united force that God has called us to be in this world!