I know vacations are supposed to leave you feeling relaxed and refreshed, but there must be a different set of rules that apply when you have two or more children under five tagging along. While Esther, the kids and I did have a wonderful and adventure-filled camping trip at Lassen Park these past few days, I nevertheless find myself oddly fatigued today. Missed phone calls to return. Piled up emails to respond to. Meetings to attend. A house and office to clean. People that matter to me, with real and pressing needs in their lives that I know I should be re-connecting with. But I have a headache that feels like there’s a vice ratcheting closed around my temples, and I’m pretty sure I could’ve slept a few more hours last night, and my alone time with the Lord today wasn’t as long as I needed it to be, and—
The list could go on and on.
Do you know how I feel? There are just those days or weeks or months or seasons or years in our lives when everywhere we turn, everything we do, just seems overwhelming. Too many responsibilities. Too much on the ‘to do’ list. Too much pressure to perform. Too much to improve at, keep current with, master, pass on, live out. Too much! Where to start? Whenever I get like this, I have two choices: 1) I can take a deep breath and just start plowing my way through the eternal “to do” list without a second thought, or 2) I can make the time to get refilled. Way too often, we’re empty vessels still trying to pour something out. It’s time to get filled back up. How do we do that?
We stop ‘doing’ and we just ‘be.’ That’s how.
Which is very un-American if you think about it. We’re a very industrious people, for the most part. We value action, motion, progress, efficiency. “Just keep swimming!” is the cry and cheer and chant of the school of fish trying to escape the fisherman’s net in Finding Nemo. “Keep moving forward!” is the theme of another kid’s movie where a young scientist encounters problem after problem standing in the way of success. We’re not much different. We want to think and plan and keep working our way out of our problems, out of our weaknesses, out of our sin, out of our exhaustion, but in the end it’s like my solution at age four to the hole in our swimming pool- “Just cut the hole out!” All we succeed in doing is making a bigger hole, all we succeed in doing is churning up the mud of our lives as we plow forward, head down, dragging our burdens behind us even as we convince ourselves that motion = progress. Why don’t we stop? I think because we know if we stop, we’ll have to face all the accumulated stuff in our wake that has simply followed the leader. And we reason that it takes less energy to keep going than to stop and deal. But like the driver of the forklift I once watched frantically gunning the engine to get unstuck, we only sink deeper and deeper the more we gun it. Instead of fixing the problem, we make a bigger hole. The mud keeps rising higher and higher, and we just get ourselves more and more stuck—which means more to dig out of once we finally stop spinning our wheels.
So how do we get filled up?
We stop ‘doing’ and we just ‘be.’
How do we do that!? Well first, before we can get filled up, we’ve got to drain what’s in there now. It’s like changing the oil in a car; if you want it to run as it was intended, you’ve got to drain the sludgy black stuff before filling the tank up with the shiny new stuff. But you can’t change the oil in a car while it’s moving. So make a little time during your day and—
Step #1: ‘Be’ willing to let God carry your baggage – spit out what you can’t handle.
“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” (Psalms 55:22)
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)
God will let you struggle as long as you think you can handle your cares and your anxieties yourself. But if you humble yourself, stop churning forward and take some time to face and inventory what’s weighing you down in His presence (prayer), He’ll help you. He’s waiting for that admission of need, and the moment He hears it, He’ll carry the weight of your cares and concerns, as well as the outcomes, on His own shoulders. This leaves your shoulders—and your heart—free to be filled up with what God gives you in exchange: His power, transferred to your life, through His word.
Step #2: ‘Be’ willing to let God have the last word— Soak up what you can’t live without.
“The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb. 1:3a)
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (Jesus speaking in John 6:63)
Especially in Christian circles, knowing a lot about the Bible can feel like just another one of those burdens on the eternal “to do” list of life. While it’s always beneficial to know and claim the promises of God that apply to different situations we face, not knowing them or where to find them doesn’t mean there’s no hope of us receiving the supernatural strength and sustenance we need to make it through a day. That’s because the Bible isn’t just another book full of smart and wise facts that we need to learn and manipulate and regurgitate—It’s ‘living’ and ‘active’ (Hebrews 4:12)!—that means the living Holy Spirit of God waits to speak life into you through its pages no matter where you are emotionally or spiritually and no matter where you turn in its pages (2 Tim. 3:16).
Are you tired? Overwhelmed? Exhausted? Then please, for Jesus’ sake, stop what you’re doing and let God carry your baggage. Then, let Him speak LIFE into your heart through His word. Here’s a small sample of the 'shiny new stuff'; fill ‘er up!
“For you are my lamp, O LORD, and my God lightens my darkness. 30For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. 31This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
32"For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God? 33This God is my strong refuge and has made my way blameless. 34 He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. 35He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 36You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great. 37You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip” (2 Samuel 22: 30-37)…
Here is the final question I was asked to respond to in the aftermath of the "Grill Bill" series at Neighborhood Church. There was a lot more I wanted to say here, but... sometimes simpler is better. It's also possible even my pared down response wasn't simple enough. We'll see. Your feedback is welcome!
Q: How do we know Jesus was who he said he was?
Thanks for the great question! There are plenty of excellent Christian books out there that tackle the empirical, scientific, evidence-based side of corroborating the story of Jesus' identity and claims, such as author and former atheist Lee Strobel's book, The Case for Christ. There are also ‘outside,’ non-Christian, ancient extra-Biblical sources that talk about Jesus as an actual, historical figure that walked and breathed on our earth, many sources that even tell about the things he did or supposedly did in his life. But as many of these sources as you read and study, they will not be able to prove for you definitively that Jesus was who he said he was. That's because Jesus made claims about Himself that go beyond the scientifically and historically answerable, and in my experience, these are the issues people want proved the most. Because of this, these other tools that examine His life can set the table for you, but they cannot make you eat. What I mean is that it will always be necessary for faith to be part of the equation when it comes to Jesus; you will always have to choose to believe or not believe what you've heard or read-- no amount of proof is a substitute for faith. That’s why I believe the only answer to this question is found by spending time in the Bible’s account of who Jesus was. Here are some of the claims Jesus made about Himself in the Bible. Who did He say He was? This sets up your question of ‘how do we know it’s true?’
In the pages of the gospel of John alone, through action and word,
1) Divine Identity
a. “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30)
2) Divine State of Being
a. 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' (John 1:30)
b. “Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
3) Divine Origins
a. “I have come down from heaven…” (John 6:38)
b. “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.” (John 8:23)
4) Divine Prerogatives
d. The authority to judge the world (John 5:22,27)
e. The authority to Abrogate/modify Sabbath regulations (John 5:16-18)
f. The authority over disease (John 9:6,7)
g. The authority over laws of nature (John 6:16-21)
h. The authority to lay His own life down and take it up again (John 10:17,18)
1) The worship of His followers (John 9:38)
2) The title of Messiah (John 4:24-26)
3) The outrage of His enemies (John 8:59)
JESUS TURNED DOWN:
1) Opportunities to extricate himself from trouble that came out of his identity claims (John 18: 33-37)
In these many ways in this single gospel, we see Jesus’ clear claims to deity, His claims to be the fulfillment of all Messianic prophecy, His claims to be the only hope for salvation and abundant life. So ‘how do we know Jesus was who he said he was?’
In one of his most famous quotes, Christian author and apologist C.S. Lewis stated his answer this way--“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” - C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was the LORD He claimed to be. Who do you say He is?
In the Bible, in Matthew 16, there is a very interesting conversation between Jesus and His followers about this very topic: 13When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" 14They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets." 15"But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?"16Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17Jesus replied, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.”
How could Peter know this for sure? He knew it because he was close to Jesus, because he was listening to Him speak and watching Him live. He knew it because God the Father spoke for Jesus, testifying through the integrity and power of His life, confirming and revealing in the heart of Peter that this was no normal man but the promised Son of God.If we want to know, if we want to be sure, that Jesus was who He said He was, we’ll have to do what Peter and the rest of the disciples did; we’ll have to stop basing our beliefs about Him on what other people are saying and go to the source to investigate for ourselves. We’ll have to start spending time with Jesus— which for us means reading the Bible’s stories about Him—so that God the Father can again speak on His behalf to our hearts, through His Holy Spirit, until we too are able to confess that He is “the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Last week I posted my answer to question #2 that I was asked to answer during the "Grill Bill" series at Neighborhood Church in Redding. Today I'm posting my answer to question #3.
Q: “Why do tragedies happen like hurricane Katrina and 911? Why does a soccer mom die, while evil people live on?”
This, I’m afraid, is a question that has been asked, and will probably continue to be asked, until the end of time: Why do bad things happen—and specifically, why do bad things happen to “good” people, while “evil” people seem to thrive?
I’d like to start with the first question you ask—‘Why do tragedies happen, like hurricane Katrina and 9/11?’ There is a very straightforward answer to this, a theologically true and Biblically clear answer, but it rarely satisfies the person asking the question. Nevertheless, here’s the answer: tragedies like hurricane Katrina, 9/11, oil spills in the gulf, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc—each and every tragedy in our world is a consequence, a side-effect—of the very first sin. Romans chapter 5, verse 12 tells us how Adam’s sin opened the door for death and grief and pain to enter our world-- “…sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men…”
We are beings created in the image of God, with the ability to make choices and decisions that matter, both presently and eternally. As long as Adam and Eve chose to live in obedience to God, the present and eternal state of the world and its inhabitants was safe from tragedy. But the moment they chose disobedience, the temporal and eternal consequences of their decision meant pain for everyone that would follow. For that reason, humans, and not God, are directly responsible for being the sentries that let sin and death walk through the entry gate of our world. Human tragedy has been the result ever since.
The second part of your question is really the harder question—‘Why does a soccer mom die, while evil people live on?’ There are no easy answers to this question, I would be lying to you if I told you I could give you answers or reasons for specific situations. If I wanted to get technical and preachy on you (indulge me just a sec), I'd have to bring up the painful reminder that Biblically, there are no truly "good" people (Mark 10:18). Due to the fact that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), when our 'goodness' is measured against God's standard for goodness-- which is PERFECTION-- we see that we are all guilty of evil-- we have all fallen short of the standards of God. But I think I know what's at the heart of your question, so let's move on.
The Bible takes an entire book to deal with this mind-bending problem of 'bad things to good people' in the life of Job. He loses his children, his wealth and his health. All he has left is a wife who belittles him, best friends who mock him and the fact that he’s breathing. And here’s the most ironic part: the Bible makes it clear he did nothing wrong to bring this on himself (Job 1:1). Forget karma; this guy did all the right things, and bad things still happened to him.
So what’s the deal?
Does God sometimes allow, or bring about painful situations through secondary agents (human choices, evil spiritual beings) in order to discipline individuals and nations? Yes. We see this many places in the Bible. But is every bad thing that happens to us a divine reaction to something we did to make God angry? No, as the story of Job proves. God called Job “a perfect and upright man” (Job 1:8)—and yet He allowed pain to enter his life. “In the story of Job, though the LORD gave Satan permission to bring harm to Job’s possessions and children, and though this harm came through the evil actions of the Sabeans and the Chaldeans, as well as a windstorm (Job 1:12,15,17,19), yet Job looks beyond those secondary causes and, with the eyes of faith, sees it all as from the hand of the Lord: “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21) (Grudem, 325 Systematic Theology).
So what’s the deal?
The deal is, we live in a fallen world, where sin and its side-effects are felt by everyone, without exception. “Good” people, lost people, Christian people, “evil” people— all of us are affected by sin and tragedy, to varying degrees. This, I think, is the root of what troubles us—the “varying degrees” of pain. Why do some people suffer more than others, irrespective of how they live or what they believe? If the story of Job is any indication, God does not seem to feel obligated to answer that question of “why.” Instead, we see God demonstrate His superior understanding of all that goes on in the world and our lives, compared to man’s understanding, until Job can say of Him—“Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
One more thing: God is no stranger to the pain of human tragedy. What you feel, He has felt. What you have lost, He has lost. If the pain of human tragedy seems unfair to you, He also has suffered from that same unfairness. God lost a son to the unfairness of pain, and His name was Jesus, and He died to make things right again in a broken world. "32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32)
God uses the pain our predecessors ushered into the world as a means of reflecting back to us our level of trust in Him. Do you trust Him? That is the most important question of all.
“It’s just a few groceries,” my wife says with an innocent look on her face. And that’s how it all begins.
It’s the Eve of July 4th, and company is immanent, like barking dogs during fireworks; it is unavoidable, like Luke Skywalker’s destiny. Even though, technically, that ended up being… pretty much avoidable. Anyway, our family is coming over, so the idea is, we need to buy nicer food than we normally eat so they don’t think we’re cheap or starving or poor. Which—we pretty much are. And everyone knows it, but that’s just how the game is played. So we play along.
But my wife usually buys the food. I buy the cool stuff, like oil for the car, fishing line, bullets. Those kinds of things. But apparently not today.
“It’s just a few groceries, Josh,” my wife says. “Don’t be a baby.”
I have to buy a CD case too, which is marginally manly, so I figure I can use that as an excuse in case my quest to the store is questioned by any other suspicious males.
“Fine,” I say. “Where’s the list?”
Things go well enough for me as I check things off the grocery list until I get to the fruit and vegetable section. I honestly don’t know if there’s an official title for this area of the supermarket. Does it have a name? I vote we call it the Bermuda Triangle. I feel nauseous and disoriented just thinking about it.
‘Relax, take a deep breath’ I tell myself as I smile knowingly at an earthy looking man with dreadlocks, who looks for all the world like he probably grew half the produce isle himself. ‘As long as you pretend like you know what you’re doing, you’ll be fine.’
I see they’ve placed rolls of plastic sanitary bags in easily accessible areas. Grateful for such thoughtfulness, I unroll two of them and place one over each hand. ‘It’s odd they don’t shape these more like gloves,’ I think to myself, looking at my bag-covered hands and frowning in mild confusion at a pile of twisties stationed nearby. I’m not sure what those are for…
Finally feeling ready, I glance again at the last part of my list. It reads:
Right away, I’m in over my head. There are lots of tomatoes. Different sizes of tomatoes. Different shapes of tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. And the same is true for the onions—white onions, yellow onions, red onions, whitish yellow onions, purple onions—or are those the same as the red ones? I grab three of the biggest tomatoes I can find, a shiny yellow onion that looks like the one I picture from donkey’s metaphor in the original Shrek movie, and then head for the lettuce… that happens to be available in every shade of red, green, white, or… all of the above, but bagged. “Great,” I think.
But corn is the clincher. Because that’s all the list says: ‘corn.’ Is it supposed to be canned corn? Or… still on the cob corn? And if so, how many? That’s when I do the pathetic thing I’ve been avoiding all along—I take out my cell phone and call my wife. It’s hand-holding time.
“Help.” I say when she answers.
“Is this about the corn?” she asks.
“How did you—“
“Not canned,” she says. “On the cob. Six of them.”
“Okaaaay,” I mutter, turning in a slow circle with the phone still pressed to my ear, surveilling the foreign landscape to acquire my target. No luck.
“I can’t find the corn,” I whisper into the phone.
“WHAT? she says loudly—“I can’t hear you. Speak up!”
“THE CORN—” I blurt out, free hand hiding my face—“I CAN’T FIND IT.”
A girl in a yellow sun dress snickers as she pushes her cart past. An elderly man looks at the bags on my hands and shakes his head in disgust. I sigh and roll my eyes, turning around quickly. I’d rather face the mocking vegetables than the scorn of my fellow shoppers. And the vegetables don’t disappoint. There, directly in front of me, is the corn.
“Never mind,” I mutter into the phone, and hang up. White corn or yellow corn? I hastily grab what appear to be three of each.
My catastrophe of an errand lightens moderately at the checkout counter.
“That’ll be $19.68,” says the lady behind the counter to the woman in front of me, and then adds, under her breath—“The year the devil was born.”
The customer she’s talking to doesn’t seem to hear the addendum, but I can’t resist the need for more information.
“How’s that?” I ask, smiling with a squint as I take the bait.
“My ex-husband,” she begins, slowly reeling in the line before setting the hook— “that’s the year he was born.”
“Ouch!” I say with a feigned grimace.
“Yup,” she says with a genuine grin.
It’s a relief to be dealing with people again. You can keep the fruits and veggies.