Redefining Greatness

Last night in her talk, Kristen referenced Matthew 20:26 in which Jesus says, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” This is definitely not what most people think of when they think of greatness, but this redefinition is actually helpful.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr put it, “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”

That quotation is taken from a sermon Dr. King delivered that was entitled, “The Drum Major Instinct.”  Rather than me trying to summarize this great man’s words, here is a link to an excerpt from this powerful sermon.  Take a few minutes to watch it as it is well worth your time.

Prayer VS Worry

Cast all your anxiety on God for He cares for you.  1 Peter 5:7

This is good news.  God cares for you.  The Greek word translated “cares” points to God taking an interest in you.  God is interested in what you have going on in your life.  He wants to hear from you. He will gladly listen to what is worrying you or making you anxious.

But how do we cast all our anxiety on Him?

Pray.  Often people feel intimidated by prayer.  This is somewhat understandable as prayer is in fact talking to God, but notice what Peter tells us about God.  He cares for you.  God takes an interest in you and wants to know what is going on in your life.

That word anxiety is an interesting one because the Greek word is literally translated “to draw in different directions or distract.”  The things that make us anxious, nervous or worried are distractions.

But what are they distracting us from?

Remember last week we talked about how worry is always about the future.  Worry gets us so focused on tomorrow that we are distracted from today.  Worry about the future distracts us from making the most of opportunities that we have in the present.  The present opportunity that we focused on last Thursday was rest, but there is another very important opportunity: prayer.

Andy Stanley once said, “Worry makes things bigger. Prayer makes them smaller.”  When we cast our anxieties on God by praying, i.e. talking to Him about them, they become smaller.

Maybe you don’t believe that.  Maybe you’ve prayed about things before and they haven’t gotten better.  Maybe you’ve had prayers that weren’t answered. Well, I would say this.  The only people who have had prayers that weren’t answered are people who have prayed.  That’s just the reality of the situation.  I have some great stories of God answering prayers, and I also have stories of God not answering prayers.

So if prayer doesn’t always work, how is it better than worry?  Well, worry never works ever. You have never solved a problem purely by worrying about it.

True, I have stories where prayer didn’t work, but I don’t have any stories where worry worked.  At the end of the day, we can worry which never works or we can pray which just might work.  It’s your call, but as for me, I choose prayer over worry.

Sleeping Children

Last Thursday I made the claim that you know you trust someone if you are willing to sleep in their presence. Now yes, there are times when we are exhausted and pretty much pass out regardless of where we are, but for the most part the act of sleeping is an act of trust because you are amazingly vulnerable.  Never be the first one to fall asleep at a middle school sleepover, right?

Then I showed several pictures of my daughters sleeping.  They’ll sleep anywhere: car, couch, floor, highchair.  We might say, “They’re kids. Of course, they’ll sleep anywhere,” but Jesus has some powerful words regarding children.

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

 “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

What do you think Jesus meant by these statements?  

For a little context, 18:3 comes as an answer to Jesus’ disciples asking him who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven.  Why do you think Jesus answered this question by speaking of children?

19:14 is Jesus’ response the disciples rebuking people that were bringing children to Jesus.  Why do you think He responded to their actions with these words?

Mark’s account of the Matthew 19 interaction includes the following statement from Jesus, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15) What does it look like to “receive the kingdom of God like a little child”?

Often we are told to “grow up” or “act your age,” but here Jesus seems to be encouraging us, at least in some ways, to be more like children.  Why do you think that is?  What are some practical ways that you can “become like little children” and “receive the kingdom of heaven like a child’?

Scheduling Rest

The movie Apollo 13 has some really good lines in it.  “Houston, we have a problem” is definitely the most well-known, but there is a line that I thought about as I prepped for last night’s talk.  One of the NASA doctors tasked with monitoring the health of the astronauts during the mission says that they need to build in some time for the astronauts to sleep.  They couldn’t assume that the astronauts would sleep on their own; they needed to schedule it for them.

Often, we feel like we’ve got too much going on to be able to take a nap, get some extra sleep, or just rest.  We can get so involved in whatever we are doing that we look at the clock and realize several hours have passed.  Sometimes we just don’t think about resting, and so we don’t rest as often as we should.

The only way to change that is to prioritize rest.  I know this sounds crazy, but for those of us that keep calendars or planners, we should consider scheduling time to rest on a regular basis.

It’s Friday.  I don’t know what you’ve got ahead of you next week, but whether you have 8 tests and 3 papers or absolutely nothing, I want to encourage you to make the intentional effort to get some rest this weekend.  Maybe that means you go to bed a little earlier than normal tonight.  Maybe it means you go to a later church service Sunday morning than your normally do.  Maybe it means you sit on the couch watching March Madness basketball most of the day tomorrow.  Whatever it means, I would encourage you to do more than wish for a restful weekend, but make a plan to make that happen.

What’s in a name?

“’Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,  Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet; So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, And for that name which is no part of thee Take all myself.” 
– Juliet, From Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 2

“What’s in a name?”, Juliet asked. Their names – is that what is really keeping her and her love apart? She is a Capulet and he is a Montague. Their families are enemies and they are supposed to hate each other, but instead they are in love. In the scene above, Juliet, believing she is all alone in the courtyard, wonders why she and Romeo can’t be together. If a name is what is keeping the two of them apart, then the answer is simple, change your name.

In the Bible, a person’s name was more than just an identifier, but a description of who that person was. A name is a person’s identity, it’s who they are, it defines them and often we find God changing people’s names. People like Abraham, Jacob, Paul and Peter are just a few examples of ones who had their names changed and with it their identities. Some God changes, others change it after having an encounter with Him.

Transformation is a name change. The love and grace of God changes who we are. When we by faith receive the love and grace of God, God gives us a new identity, a new name. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  In Jesus, God gives a new sense of who we are. Like Romeo and Juliet, we are kept apart, but if we are willing to “doff thy name” and receive Christ, then we can be brought together. Romeo must be willing to give up the Montague name to be with Juliet, so we must be willing to give up ourselves to be with God. When we do, we are given a new name, a new identity. We who were “sinners” are now “saints”. We who were “lost” are now “found”. We who were “broken” are now “whole”.

What “name” are you walking around with? Addict? Drunk? Failure? Unwanted? Feel free to fill in the ____________.   What do you feel defines you? Juliet’s words are true and powerful, “ And for that name which is no part of thee.” That name does not have to define you any longer. Right here, right now, your name can change. The invitation is open and Jesus is offering you to “Take all myself.”

You already are

The heartbreaking thing about Genesis 3, is that Adam and Eve are desperately trying to achieve something that they already have been given. They tried to become “like” God when God had already made them in His “image and likeness.” Unfortunately, we are still doing the same thing, because we are still falling for this same lie. In the last post, we talked about how we try to achieve our identities. All of us in some way or another are trying to earn some sense of self.  We are desperately looking for ways to become something we already are.

We seek to be loved, fiercely trying to earn it from others.  When in fact we already are loved by God. Probably the most painful, is that many are trying to earn their worth. They are trying to prove that they matter and their life is worth something. They seek meaning and purpose, but they are told by a world that they have to earn it through their performance and contribution. So, until they “do” something that matters then they don’t matter.

But what happens if we embrace the fact that we already matter?  We are already worth something. God has shown by the very fact that He sent His Son to die for us that we matter. Jesus’ life is how much we are worth.  If we start from a place of worth then it changes things. When I fail at something, or just come up short, my worth is no longer on the line. I am free of the painful pressure I and others place on me. I can fail and try again.

You are already loved and already worth so much. God says in 1 John 4:9, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” How much pressure are you placing on yourself? How hard are you trying to prove to yourself, your family and to the world that you matter?  Hear me, YOU ALREADY DO  and this should set you free. If you get nothing else from this please get this, God loves you and you matter to Him. You don’t have to earn it, you just receive it. You don’t have to prove to God that you matter, you already do!

May this change the way you view the rest of your life.

Received not Achieved

Genesis 3 is the worst moment in human history because up until then life was perfect. Things were the way they were supposed to be, but unfortunately things do not stay that way. Soon the serpent slithers into this pristine picture to ruin it all and he convinces our first parents that they are not “like” the God who made them in His “image and likeness.” He attacks their very identity and with it their sense of worth. Hurt, they reach out to take what they believe was withheld from them.

What Adam and Eve are led to believe is that true identity is achieved and they believe they have to earn it. We still believe that we have to earn our identities. Adam and Eve believe that when they take that fruit they will finally find what they are looking for and they will achieve their goal of  becoming “like” God.  However, when God created them He said that they were already made in His “likeness.” He had already given them what they were looking for.

Our true identity is received not achieved, He gives it to us.  God tells us who we are; there is no need to earn it. We don’t have to kill ourselves trying to become someone. In the first place we are image bearers of God, we are like mirrors created to reflect Him and His nature. Like God is loving, kind, and compassionate, so we to have a capacity for these things. God is relational, and we also can live in relationships with others. Our God is a creator and so we are creators as well. We can create art, music, and stories. While limited, we have a capacity to think and understand the natural things around us. Disciplines like science, philosophy and theology allow us to explore the world God made ultimately leading us to a deeper understanding of Him.

Though the brokenness that Adam and Eve unleashed into our world has tarnished and stained that image, through Jesus it can be restored.  In a letter to a church in Ephesus, Paul uses the phrase “in Christ” or its equivalent 9 times in the first chapter, using it over 200 times in the whole letter. It is his way of telling us about who we are now. In Christ we are chosen, in Christ we are adopted, in Christ we are included. This is your identity. You didn’t achieve that, you received it. It was given to you. This is who you are right now and if you have never given your life to Christ, it is who you can be.

Right now, you may not feel like that. You may feel defined by failures, mistakes and your brokenness. But in Christ you are made new. In Christ those things no longer define who you are.  May you embrace by faith your new identity. May you stop trying to achieve your identity through other means, but simply receive it in Christ.

Who am I?

Who are you? If we were to sit across from each other over lunch or coffee and I asked you that question what would you say? It’s a powerful question. It’s a question about how you view yourself? It’s a question about your identity.

We are all having an identity crisis. Much of our lives are spent trying to figure out just who we are. We falsely believe that this is a childhood endeavor but it’s really a lifelong obsession. We have been doing it since the beginning. It’s primal and it’s basic.

So, if I was to ask you who you are, what would you say? I’m a husband, father and pastor. Those give you a glimpse into how I see myself.  However, those are not the only things that define me. Those are good things, but I often find myself feeling defined by my failures, mistakes and brokenness. How about you?

We often feel defined by what we own. We live in a culture where people define themselves by their cars, houses, technology and other items that we buy for ourselves. We become people who “can afford” these things and therefore that is who we are.  We define ourselves by what we do and how well we do them. School, careers and accomplishments become where we hang our identities. We define ourselves by what others think about us. The opinion of another carries weight and if someone, or a certain someone, has a negative view of us it sends us into crisis mode. We can also become defined by our longings. Even our hopes for the future, while good things, can become something that gives us our sense of self. We will be somebody when we achieve ___________. You fill it in. Sadly, some become defined by what they have suffered or are suffering through. They find their identity as a victim. While it is tragic and sad that people suffer at the hands of others, that does not have to define us. We don’t have to be defined by what someone did to us or by what we have done to ourselves.

The good news is that identities can change. Whoever you are today does not have to be who you are tomorrow. We are all in the midst of an identity crisis. Take a few moments to reflect on these questions: Who are you? What do you feel defines you?

Money and Time

Before I drove my current car, a 2001 Honda Accord, I drove a black 1997 F-150 extended cab truck.  I really liked that truck.  It was nice having a truck.  I’d like to have one again, so I was messing around online the other day looking at trucks.  Since it’s a total dream, I just went big and found that for just $500/month I could have a brand-new truck.

Now the easy thing to say is “I can’t afford that,” but I’ve come to realize that when it comes to money, it’s not about what I can afford; it’s about where I choose to spend my money.  Honestly, saying I can’t afford it is just something to say instead of saying I choose not to spend my money there. For example, if we cancelled our cable/internet/phone service, stopped paying extra on our mortgage every month, and stopped our monthly charitable giving, we’d have $525 that could be put toward a truck payment. So why not do that?  Because the truck isn’t as important as those other things.  I could afford a new truck, but I’d have to sacrifice some other things.  It’s not that I can’t afford a new truck; it’s that I choose to spend my money elsewhere.

TL;DR – “I can’t afford that” REALLY MEANS “I have decided that other things are more important to me so I spend my money on them.”

We can use the exact same logic to talk about a word that I have grown to hate: busy.  One could make an argument that time is the most valuable resource available to us because when it’s gone, it’s gone; you don’t get it back.  So in the interest of time I’ll skip straight to the TL;DR.

“I’m too busy to do that” REALLY MEANS “I have decided that other things are more important to me so I spend my time on them.” Think about that the next time you hear yourself say you’re “too busy” to do something.

Q & A

A couple weeks ago, I asked on social media for people to give some reasons that they don’t read the Bible on a regular basis.  The number 1 answer was that when they read they have questions.  I completely understand that because I have questions too.  There is some really confusing stuff in the Bible, so yes, reading it will give you questions.

But it will also give you answers. Many times I have heard people ask questions about the Bible that are answered in the Bible.  For example, I have heard people say, “I would really like to know how God parted the Red Sea for Israel to walk through.  I mean, I know He’s God and all but I wish we knew how He did it.”  We do know, “the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).

Or take for example the Christmas song, “Mary, Did You Know?” YES! She knew! In Luke 1, an angel visits Mary and tells her among other things that her son “will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32).

Yes, when you read the Bible you will have questions, but you’ll also find answers.  So read it because either way, whether you are finding answers or asking questions, you are reading God’s word and accordingly you are getting to know Him better.

I recently came across these words pertaining to reading the Bible, and they are a good way to end this post.

Bonaventure, a thirteenth-century Franciscan theologian, wrote, “The outcome of the fruit of reading Holy Scripture is by no means negligible: it is fullness of eternal happiness.  There are the books which tell us of eternal life, which were written, not only that we might believe, but also that we might have everlasting life.  The purpose of the Scriptures, which come to us from God, is to lead us to the fullness of the truth.  In order to achieve this, we must study holy Scripture carefully, and teach it and listen to it in the same way.”