Not a Worry-Wart

As we continue to look at the life of Christ, one thing has stood out to me – in other words, slammed me on the forehead with a 2-by-4 – about His life in contrast to my life.

Christ’s life had a lot of stressful things but zero worry. My life has relatively small stressful things but A LOT of worry.

I’ve always been a worry-wart. I hate anything dangerous – roller-coasters, roller-skating, rolling down a hill, basically anything that involves rolling (or really anything that involves moving quickly). Basically, I’m super boring (ask my wife). Why? Because I am so easily stressed and worry about everything.

Recently, I had one of my “freak out” moments when I realized how many projects I have going on, how fast some are coming up, and how crazy my life will be from now until Christmas Day. I immediately sent gifs to my wife expressing my exhaustion and stress (this is actually a very good response to stress – look up funny “tired” gifs. You will not be disappointed!).

But when I look at the life of Christ, I am amazed at how calm, cool, and collected He always was.

Mark 4:35 – 5:43

Take this one passage for instance. Christ has so many potentially stressful moments…and yet He did not freak out! He did not worry!

  • On a small boat in a crazy storm with water pouring in, the disciples are running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Meanwhile, Christ is sleeping. When He wakes up, He calmly calms the whole storm.
  • He gets off the boat and is met with a crazy deranged demoniac who runs up to Him – this guy couldn’t be bound with chains and is seriously freaky. But Jesus calmly addresses him and casts out a whole LEGION of demons from him! In fact, Jesus was so powerfully calm, that He FREAKS OUT the townspeople who ask Him to leave.
  • When He gets back to the other side, He goes to heal a sick girl. He finds out she dies but does not stress. And He asks the father not to freak out either. Instead, He walks into her room and raises her from the dead – even death itself doesn’t worry Him!

Of course, Christ does show emotion – anger and concern. But He never strays into sinful stress and worry. He is calm – why? Because He is the Son of God of course! And He is in the hands of His Father, who He trusts. He calls us all to live like Him in Matthew 6:25-34.

“Tomorrow’s got its own issues – don’t sweat about it! You’ve got enough to deal with today – or rather, your Father will care for it all today too!”

Such a life! Such peace! Such calm! Oh, how I long to obey these commands and live like my Savior! Not so stressed but so, so surrendered to God’s will and care.

Well, He’s told us how to live like this. Not only in Matthew 6…

Psalm 37

This is a great Psalm. Unlike Matthew 6, which is about stressful stuff, this Psalm is about something even more stressful – enemies who are prospering while you suffer. If we can live calm in the face of that, then we can live calm in the face of work projects and other daily issues.

What does the Psalmist call us to do. He says “fret not” and gives commands to do instead:

  • Trust in the Lord (vs. 3) – that’s a simple one.
  • Do good (vs. 3) – not so simple. Stress and worry often stop us from doing the things we should do, thus complicating the issue. Instead, keep doing the good you know to do.
  • Delight in God (vs. 4) – even when there’s nothing to delight in at work, home, or school.
  • Commit your way to God (vs. 5) – I love this one. The word means “roll off” to the Lord. What a beautiful picture! Stressed? Roll that onto God – He can handle it!
  • Be still before God and wait patiently (vs. 7) – not easy for a worrier!

And what will God do for such people? He WILL ACT (vs. 5-6). The wicked won’t last (vs. 2). Trust Him – He’s got this!

Felix Felicis

I’ve been listening to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and it’s at my favorite part – Harry drinks the famous “felix felicis” potion that makes someone immensely lucky for a few hours. Harry describes feeling a sense of calm and confidence, like nothing could harm or touch him. Wow, I want that potion! But alas, I did not get an OWL in the subject!

But that is exactly the feeling Christ demonstrated – a godly confidence and calm. And Christ calls us to that same mindset.

So freak out thou not, as my professor used to say. God is in-control. We can live with calm and confidence.

God of Storms

Weather is a funny thing. It makes dumb smalltalk but boy howdy, does it change things. Even the most powerful person on earth can’t do anything about the weather. The President planned a big 4th of July celebration – yet even he could not hold off the rain.

That’s what makes Psalm 29 so glorious – it’s a whole Psalm about a thunderstorm rolling into ancient Judea, starting in the cedar-full Lebanon with its tall mountains and rolling down to the wilderness. And all along the way, it splinters trees, scares deer into giving birth, shakes mountains. But it’s not just the storm – the Psalmist says it is the “voice of God” doing this.

What’s more is that it’s not just this one local thunderstorm. God was even over “the Flood,” writes the Psalmist – arguably the biggest storm ever to shake this world!

God is sovereign over storms.

You know what human figure was also sovereign over storms? Who calmed storms? Who walked on the water of a raging sea?

Jesus. He is God – His power over storms just proves that all the more.

So why should we be afraid of storms – whether literal or figurative – in our lives? God was sovereign over the Flood. God was sovereign over the worst storm of His Son’s death where His powerful wrath was poured out on Christ and not on us. He does not storm against us any longer – we are forgiven.

We now get to sit back, watch the storm, and say, “Glory!”

I hear the thunder rolling in;

It takes from sea and dumps on land. 

Its blasting mouth makes cedars thin

And shakes so hard the mount can’t stand.

It flashes fire and sends out wind;

It rips down south and drenches sand,

Instilling fear in deer and men –

All shock and awe its voice demands.

This the same pow’r from way back when,

When Noah’s Flood o’er all dry land

Had raged and rose as rain descends.

And sinners drowned by sovereign hand.

Now every time it storms again,

We think upon a King so grand – 

A King who’s just, can’t look on sin.

A King who does all that He planned.

When thunder rolls, His voice within

Sits o’er the jagged lightning bands.

His voice breaks forth; the trees it rends;

And we cry out as it commands,

“All glory to this King!” We bend

And bow like angels at Your hand.

You’re holy – yet to us You send

Your strength, Your peace, Our God so grand.

Emotion-Controller

Stop crying. Stop being angry. Stop being jealous. Stop being depressed. Just stop it!

Easier said than done. It is very, VERY hard to control our emotions as human beings. In fact, I daresay it’s impossible…for us to do. Certainly, there are biological factors involved. But beyond that, the Fall has crushed, bent, broken, and twisted many things so that we are a mess of convoluted emotions and desires that we can never untie.

So how do we “defeat” our emotions? There are certainly emotions that we should not express in certain scenarios, as the Bible commands – to not be “angry,” to not be “bitter,” to not be unkind, just to name a few from the “put offs” in Ephesians 4. It tells us to “put off” actions – sure, no problem. I can work on controlling the words I say and not stealing and certainly not murdering, etc. But change my emotions? Change my anger? Change my bitterness and envy? Er, that’s gonna be a problem, Paul.

Are emotions okay? Is it okay to feel emotions, to get emotional, to express them even to God?

Well, one quick glance at the book of Psalms screams YES! But beyond that, a look at the life of Christ reveals that God not only took on our human body but also our human emotions.

Emotional Jesus

Here’s a few examples from my study of John:

  1. In John 10:1-18, Jesus describes Himself as a “good” Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. Indeed, He contrasts Himself with hired help who do not care for the sheep. In contrast, Jesus cares for us His people – not just a tolerating us, putting up with us, thinks we’re halfway decent. No, He CARES – that’s an emotional word!
  2. In John 11, Jesus’ emotions come to the forefront. Obviously, He weeps (vs. 35). Short verse but incredible – the God of the Universe WEEPS! Sheds tears. Not because there was dust in His eye – He WEEPS out of sorrow over the death of Lazarus and what it caused His friends and people. My friend of another religion would be appalled at this – how could the transcendent God become a man who WEEPS? He would see it as an insult to God – I would see it as His glory!
  3. Another emotion in this chapter is ANGER. We don’t think of that, but two different times, John writes that Jesus was “deeply moved” (vs. 33, 38), once upon seeing Mary come to Him with mourners and then again at the tomb. This word is not a light one – it is a deep emotion. Indeed, as the ESV footnote puts it, “was indignant.” In other words, Jesus was mad! Mad at the people for crying?? How insensitive! No, I do not think it was that at all. It says in verse 33 He was also “greatly troubled.” Certainly, Jesus does not love it when we do not believe. But I think Jesus was also just angry at the fact that DEATH, that nasty old cockroach, was wreaking havoc on His friends. That’s why, after getting angry again, He tells them to take away that stone over the tomb so He can resurrect Lazarus!

That’s just three emotions. I could go on and study it further (I think I shall as I continue to read John).

So Jesus was emotional. And yet we know He did not sin (2 Cor. 5:21). So obviously, it’s possible to be emotional and not sin. It IS possible for someone to control emotions – but only in the power of Jesus!

In fact, Jesus promises to renew His people’s emotions and give them “new hearts” in the New Covenant (See Jeremiah 31). The work of sanctification is a work of changing desires, changing emotions. It’s a complete change of who we are, from our actions to emotions to our very being, our hearts!

So are you feeling emotional? Are you struggling to control them? Look to Jesus, who perfectly took on our emotions and yet never sinned. Look to the One who cares for you with deep emotion and hates sin and death. Look to Him for help in controlling your emotions – He’s the only One who can!

Most Gracious Truth-Teller

We are going to encounter more and more difficult conversations as Christians these days with those who do not know Jesus.

What do you say when your coworker says they’re transitioning genders? When your cousin says they are gay? Or when a colleague passionately insists that Jesus is pro-gay? When a friend doubting the faith points out the historical and present inconsistencies in the way Christians live – alleged racism, sexism, and abuse? When the man in the seat next to you on the flight gives you several scientific proofs that destroy the Bible?

Hard conversations about Jesus and His truth are coming – are we ready for them? Or will we be blindsided?

FULL

I think a key to know how to answer hard questions about Jesus is to look at how Jesus Himself answered hard questions about Himself.

One of my favorite verses about Jesus is John 1:14:

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

That’s exactly what we need for these hard conversations – the perfect amount of grace and truth. And the “perfect amount” is not a balance between the two, but an overwhelming supply of both at the same time!

These aren’t contradictory – one should naturally lead to the other. Truth tells us about a God of wrath who poured it out on His Son rather than on us – a gracious God! Therefore, we show grace. If we show grace, our grace has to be based on truth about the world, otherwise it’s just nonsense.

But how do we know how to do these both in conversation?

An Example

Thankfully, John doesn’t just make this statement and leave it there – he gives us many examples in his Gospel, as well as many more in the other three.

But my “favorite” one has to be John 4 – Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well.

GRACE: “Give me a drink.” A simple request. But one that in itself is full of grace because Jews, especially men, were not supposed to talk to Samaritans, especially women!

WOMAN: “What-what!?”

TRUTH/GRACE: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The truth is that He is the ultimate source of water – the grace is that He offers it to her if she just asks.

WOMAN: “Huh??”

GRACE: “I have water that will never make you thirsty again!”

WOMAN: “Give me!”

HARD TRUTH: “Call your husband…”

WOMAN: “Er…”

HARD TRUTH: “Oh that’s right, you’ve had five and the one you’re with now isn’t even your husband.” Ouch!!

WOMAN: Change the subject! “You Jews worship in Jerusalem, but we Samaritans on Mount Gerizim!” This is a hard subject-change. She is trying to get the subject off of herself. This was a touchy issue between Samaritans and Jews to this day. It had both political, ethnic, and religious connotations. It would be similar to how an unsaved person might try to outflank you in conversation by throwing out scientific “disproofs” of the Bible or mentioning a horrid politician that Christians support or talking about how Christians supported slavery.

But notice what Jesus does here…He doesn’t ignore the question. He could’ve said, “That’s a moot point here – back to talking about your personal life!” No, He answers her question firmly and truthfully…

TRUTH: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

And yet then “spins” it back to talking about grace –

GRACE: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” In other words, this issue doesn’t matter terribly because God just wants our inside worship!

WOMAN: “When the Messiah comes…”

TRUTH: “I am he.”

What a beautiful conversation! What a combo of truth and grace without sacrificing one or the other. Study this conversation, as well as His with Nicodemus in 3, the crowds in 6, and his debates with the religious rulers in the Synoptics for more counsel from our Christ about difficult conversations.

Jesus is so gracious. Jesus is the Truth. Let us share His truth with His grace this week in every conversation!

The Most Interesting Person

What is the most interesting thing you saw this week? What caught your attention? What took your breath away? What captivated your mind and you just couldn’t get over it?

The Netflix show you’ve been binging? The start of college football and that first game? That riveting book you can’t put down?

Maybe you’re more introspective than that and you’d say – the sunset, this biography, this in-depth article.

But I bet (if you’re like me) you did not think of this – Jesus.

Bored with God

You “see” Jesus every week. You interact with the Gospel every day. It’s old news. It’s nothing new.

We’d never say that…but when pressed, our fleshly minds would admit to thinking that way, even if subconsciously. We know we’re thinking like that when we’re so excited to get home to watch another episode but so unmotivated to open the Word. When we’re latched-onto the screen at the game but doodling through the sermon.

We’ve lost our sense of what is truly interesting. We’ve been so over-interested, over-excited, over-indulged in spectacle that we can’t see the greatest spectacle of all.

That was Tony Reinke’s point in his new book, Competing Spectacles. In our digital age full of screens and sensuality, we’ve lost our interest for what is truly interesting. He submits that the greatest spectacle of all time is the story of redemption.

Jesus is the most interesting person of all time. Yes, He is the wisest, but He is also the most riveting, most enlightening, most jaw-dropping. Any serious study of His life (without half-reading it over yawns and cereal) would have to admit that, just simply in the things He does and says.

But even more than His life, His death and resurrection provide the most interesting event in history. And our calendars prove it, even if our interest levels don’t. The biggest days of the year are Christmas and Easter still (okay, well, maybe Black Friday and the First Day of School nowadays).

God Made Man

When was the last time you marveled at the fact that God became a man? I admit, it had been a while for me. But when I was challenged at how ridiculous that sounded – God to have to go to sleep, get hungry and thirsty, yawn, eat, and feel sick and weak – I realized the wonder of it. God became a man! That sentence, if any, deserves an exclamation mark, even if you’ve read it a million times.

Jesus is God. Jesus is man. Jesus died for you.

If you skipped over those three sentences because you know them already, reread them. Embrace them. Drink them deeply. And say it aloud. How ridiculous you sound – God becoming a man! How glorious for you and me you sound – God became a man for us!

Jesus is more interesting, more compelling, more exciting than any Netflix show, football game, book, sunset, YouTube video, webcomic, board game, etc., etc.

He is the most interesting of all.

Do you believe that? Do you live like it?

The Wisest Man Who Ever Lived

Who is the wisest man who ever lived?

This is a kid Sunday-School type question. Easy answer, right? “Solomon.” Duh! 1 Kings 4:30 and 10:23 certainly say he was wiser than any other king or “wise guy” on earth at that time.

But wait, have we been getting this easy answer wrong?

The answer is actually: “Jesus Christ.”

As mentioned before, I’ve been reading a couple books on the life and sayings of Jesus, including two by Jared C. Wilson (one of my favorites) – Your Jesus Is Too Safe and The Story-Telling God (focusing on His parables). And one of His attributes has really jumped out at me.

Jesus is a very wise person!

We often don’t think of Jesus this way. Sure, He was “good” and “holy” and “super nice” and “sometimes angry” – all attributes that would pop up if we asked any old Sunday School classroom.

But Jesus the wise man? Not top of our lists.

But not only was He wise – He was the wisest man of all time! Yes, wiser and smarter than any inventor, any scientist, any philosopher, any supposed “genius” of our time and before. Yes, wiser than Solomon! Indeed, in Matthew 12:42, Jesus calls Himself “greater than Solomon.”

Men, that would be very prideful if you tried to tell your wife that. She would probably slap you and remind you that women are always right.

But Jesus could say that – because He was God! I think we sometimes forget this KEY TRUTH to Christianity, what makes us so incredibly different from all other religions – we believe God became a man! Do we believe that God knows all things? Is God wise? Of course! Then Jesus, Himself God, is wise. Jesus, Himself fully man, is the wisest man.

Then why don’t we think of this about Jesus? Because we probably have spent more time in awe of His miracles (and rightfully so!) than in awe of His conversations and speeches. Think about Sunday Class lessons again – do we have a lot of lessons to kids on the Sermon on the Mount or on Jesus’ conversations with Pharisees and Sadduccees. Probs not. Do we have lessons on the feeding of the 5,000 or walking on water or raising Lazarus? Of course!

It’s of course not a problem to talk about Jesus as powerful – He certainly was (and is). But He is also very wise – yes, the wisest! And we see that so clearly in His speeches.

How so? Consider these categories:

  1. Jesus’ Conversations with Would-Be Followers – probably the best examples of this are found in John. Consider how He talks with His first disciples in John 1 (and tells Nathanael He saw him under a fig tree!). Consider how He reasons with Nicodemus in John 3. Then in one of my favorite stories of Jesus, how He talks with the woman at the well in John 4. Consider the words He uses in just those two chapters – 3 and 4. His conversation with Nicodemus is very different from the one with the woman, but in both He reveals Himself as the Messiah and One who cares about saving people. But unlike us, He knows just which questions to ask which, just which Scriptures and truths to tell which, and just how to reveal Himself to them – even what mental pictures to use (being born again, water in a well, etc.). Compare this to our “wisdom” – I stumble over my words just in an ordinary conversation on the phone with a telemarketer, much less with someone I am trying to share the Gospel with! I’m reading an excellent book called Meet the Skeptic that addresses how to talk to unbelievers and it’s so helpful. But I have no doubt that I’ll forget many ideas and make mistakes next time I talk with my unsaved friends – I’m an awkward conversation-starter, continuer, and ender. We all are. But not Jesus!
  2. Jesus’ Conversations with Adversaries – Jesus talks with and confronts the Pharisees, Sadducees, and other enemies in the second portions of most of the Gospels (when He is in Jerusalem close to being arrested). Consider just one chapter – Mark 12. Here, Jesus expertly deflects the Herodians’ trap of who to pay taxes to, then deflates the Sadducees’ theology on the resurrection, and then stumps everyone with a question about the true identity of Messiah. Compare this wisdom in conversation with our apologetic conversations with people of other religions (or no religion at all). We hem and haw and stutter, trying to think of all our research. Jesus is calm, cool, and collected and gives the perfect answer every time, leaving His enemies with jaws on the ground.
  3. Jesus’ Parables. I could go on and on here and recommend Wilson’s book above for more. But Jesus looks at an audience of somewhat-uneducated, “backwater” Galileans and instead of waxing eloquent about deep theology (which He is capable of doing and does in certain contexts), He tells them stories that they could all understand know – well, that is, if they had “ears to hear.” Ironically, it seems like more uneducated fishermen “got” these stories, simple and straightforward as they were, than the religious elites with all their pompous knowledge. He used word-pictures from daily life – farming, animals, parenting, losing something, shepherding, etc.

And we haven’t even looked at His major speeches, like the Olivet Discourse, the Sermon on the Mount/Plain, and His Last Supper Discourse. Every speech He makes, it seems people are awed by His authority and wisdom. “No one ever spoke like this!” they’d say (John 7:46). Indeed, no one ever has.

And when I look at my feeble attempts at wisdom in my words and so many “innocent” stammering and down-right wicked gossiping or lying, I’m amazed at a man who never was stumped, who never backed down from the truth, who knew just what to say (or not say) in every situation, who could talk with a religious elite one day and a Samaritan woman the next.

Jesus is the wisest man who ever lived. And boy howdy, do I need wisdom!

That’s why I’m glad He’s my Savior, my Rescuer, my Restorer, and my Friend. And He promises to give me His wisdom if I ask (James 1:5).

Mark & Jesus’ Divinity

I’ve had interesting conversations of late with a friend of another religion who claimed that Jesus never claimed to be God. That later Christians corrupted His teaching and made Him into God, when He would’ve claimed no such thing.

I’ve picked back up a study of Mark recently, and as part of that, I wanted to examine the book to see if that claim holds any weight.

Discounting “later” books like the Gospel of John, where Jesus’ divinity is more clear, we want to see if the “red letters” of what Jesus said in what is likely the earliest Gospel made Him out to be something other than God. Something even other than just the Messiah. Someone divine and equal with God.

Well, I’m only two chapters in, but I think the case has already been made from this Gospel that Jesus did in fact claim to be God and made it rather obvious. Here’s my evidence:

  1. Verse one calls Jesus the “Son of God.” That sounds divine to me, but some would object by saying that we could all call ourselves “sons of God” in one sense. Okay, so let’s keep going…
  2. Verse 3 quotes a prophecy about John the Baptist where he is “preparing the way of the Lord” – then goes on to describe John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus Himself. Not explicit yet, but becoming clearer.
  3. Verse 7-8 has John describing Jesus as someone much “worthier” and “mightier” than he and one who baptizes “with the Holy Spirit.” Could a mere man baptize with the Holy Spirit? Still not obvious because Jesus hasn’t spoken yet? Let’s keep going…
  4. Verse 11 has a voice from Heaven claiming Jesus as His Son.
  5. Verse 24 has a demon affirming Jesus is the “Holy One of God.” That sounds very divine. But Jesus rebukes him and tells him to be quiet. Does this mean Jesus is rejecting such a title? On the contrary. This is the first example of the “Messianic secret,” where Jesus keeps secret His identity for a time in order to not attract opposition before the time of His crucifixion.
  6. Verse 41-42, Jesus touches a leper and instead of being contaminated Himself, He contaminates the leper with cleanliness. This was an important part of the OT Law – cleanliness – and Jesus has demonstrated that He is the ultimate cleanser.
  7. Finally, we get to chapter 2 to what I think is the most obvious thus far. Jesus is in a crowded place and four men lower a paralytic guy through the roof to see Jesus. What does Jesus do? “Son, your sins are forgiven” (2:5). The scribes are rightly offended – “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they wonder in a huff. Exactly – only God can forgive sins. Jesus reads their thoughts, but instead of rejecting such a label, He demonstrates that He has “authority on earth to forgive sins” by healing the paralytic. In other words, He claimed to be God Himself.

The rest of Mark contains other passages that make it more obvious. But here’s just a sampling in the first two chapters that proves that Jesus claimed to be divine from the earliest account of His life.

A different sort of blog today, but one I hope is helpful for those wrestling with tough questions like this either in your own mind or in a conversation with a friend.

Have no doubt. Jesus claimed to be God. And He proved it. And because He is God, He has power to forgive sins and give you hope and save your soul.