It took me most of my adolescence to truly meet Jesus—bad decisions, misdirection, lies and chaos followed me through high school and college. It wasn’t until the end of college that I could say I truly wanted to know Jesus. During this time I read Philip Yancey’s excellent book The Jesus I Never Knew. I’ll never forget reading about what he describes as the “flannel board Jesus.” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 85). Somehow, I’d missed actually seeing the true character of Jesus for the first twenty-one years of my life. I only saw the flannel board Jesus, packaged neatly for Sunday school—one dimensional and flat. What kind of hope is there in a story without a hero?
Looking back, I think I would have admitted that this version of Jesus wasn’t someone I really wanted to know or spend time with—and definitely not follow or obey. A flannel board Jesus is boring. A flannel board Jesus is weak. There’s no hope with this type of character. No hero to be found. But then I read these words I’ll never forget: “Two words one could never think of applying to the Jesus of the Gospels: boring and predictable. How is it then that the church has tamed such a character—has, in Dorothy Sayers’ words, ‘very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified Him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies.’” (Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, 23)
With those words the flannel board was beginning to fade, and I was starting to see the Lion of the Gospels. Jesus is not weak. Jesus is not predictable. Jesus is not tame. Jesus is not boring. Jesus is Aslan, the powerful and kind lion in the Chronicles of Narnia books. That was someone I wanted to know. The hero of the story was beginning to take shape.
As I began this journey to put away the flannel board Jesus and know the real Jesus, I still struggled to understand which parts of me and my personality were acceptable. As a Christian, was I allowed strength and femininity? Was I allowed to feel bold and gentle? I was trapped by these thoughts—I was too much and never enough. The world with its misconceptions, and often other Christians, dictated how I should act and what I should feel. Always too much. Always never enough. Since all expectations contradicted each other, I was at a loss.
It was when I discovered these powerful words by Dorothy Sayers, in her book Are Women Human?, that I started to finally feel free. Accepted. Wanted. She said,
“Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.” (Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?, 68).
As I read these words, my confusion began to dissipate, and I started to see clearly for the first time. Here was my hero. The Jesus Sayers describes, the real Jesus of the Gospels, pulled at all my misconceptions about myself, my world, and Jesus himself. Sayers’ words simultaneously did two very powerful things for me: First, I’m not the only woman to feel this dichotomy between who I am and who the world tells me I should be. And second, here is a man I want to know, here is the Jesus who accepts me, frees me, and puts my fears and insecurities to rest. I can trust this man.
Whoever you are, no matter how you grew up, what you’ve experienced, what kind of hope you’re longing for, or situation you need fixed—I believe we are all looking for hope. The longer I’m alive and the more people I begin to truly know, I’m realizing every one of us has experienced sadness, longing, and loneliness. Even if it’s hidden and no one else knows—not one of us is exempt. We long for hope.
And because we know Jesus,—because we know the hero, and much more importantly, because he knows us!—we are gifted the very hope for which we search. This is the hope promised in God’s Word: that God keeps His promises, that we are not alone. And that we can find our hope in the Scriptures through Jesus. I love theses verses in Hebrews, “We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us.” (Hebrews 6:18-20, MSG)
Maybe you’re like me, always feeling too much and not enough, or maybe you’ve always understood your place in the world. Maybe you grew up knowing Jesus as a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional hero, or maybe you’re longing to put away the Sunday School flannel board and meet the lion, Jesus. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19, NIV) Our souls are anchored. Our hearts are secure. No matter the storm, we are tethered to the very Hope that sets us free. We have Jesus, we have the Lion, we have the Hero. All is not lost.
What steals joy, impedes spiritual growth, ruins relationships, neutralizes leadership, and wreaks havoc on societies and nations? Throughout history, the word vice has been used to describe sinful habits of mind, heart, and body that reveal a lack of character development and characterize a life without God. How do we escape these vices? In the writings of both ancient and modern philosophers, as well as theologians throughout church history, we learn that escaping the enticement of vice means growing in the empowerment of virtue.
What is virtue and how is it formed in our lives, our children, and our society? Virtue is often defined as moral excellence or moral character placed in service of others. Virtue is not only understood as the character ingredients of a well-lived life, but the glue that held communities together and caused them to thrive. The Greeks, notably Plato and Aristotle, created much of our virtue vocabulary. But we must not miss that in His most famous sermon, Jesus embraced a virtue ethic pointing to the right heart condition that is required for living the truly good life. As an apprentice of Jesus, it is not surprising the Apostle Peter emphasized the importance of virtue formation as a vital component of spiritual formation and gospel-centered living. In his second epistle, Peter writes, “make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue.” Peter wants us to grasp a vital truth. While gospel grace is opposed to meritorious earning, it is not opposed to the disciplined effort required for virtue formation. Virtue is not a product of birth. It is not a function of personality. It is not a gift bestowed on a privileged few. Virtue formation is learnable, a habit of the heart developed over time in a life of graceful discipline.
Jesus invites us to a life of yoked apprenticeship where we learn from Jesus how to live our lives like He would if He were us. A vital aspect of this apprenticeship is increasing virtue formation. The New Testament writers make a strong case that the local church is called and empowered to be a virtuous community. But are we becoming a more virtuous people?
Vices & Virtues is an eight-week message series where we will be exploring what virtue is and how it is formed in our lives. We will examine the broader landscape of Scripture, considering how to escape the allure of vices and how to grow in the divine vibrancy of virtue.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]During our year-long exploration of the Gospel of Matthew, I have often thought of a memorable dialogue in C.S. Lewis’ classic literary work, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the imaginative land of Narnia, Mr. and Mrs. Beaver prepare Susan for the upcoming meeting with Aslan, the Christ figure. Lewis writes,
“Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” … “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “…Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
These words, written by C.S. Lewis in the 20th century, describing Jesus, could have also been penned by the Gospel writer Matthew in the first century.
For twenty-eight chapters, a central thread of Jesus’ kingship has been woven tightly into the fabric of Matthew’s inspired eyewitness account of Jesus’ 30-year sojourn on a sin-ravaged earth. From the opening chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, we have seen how Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnational fulfilment of the Messianic Davidic King foretold in the Old Testament. He is Immanuel, God with us, who has come to rescue us from sin and death. Jesus is not safe, but He is good, for He brings to us forgiveness of sin and a new creation life: a radically changed life and a reordering of our heart loves, lived out in faithful vocational stewardship in the context of a radically new community called the local church.
The Gospel writer Matthew presents a compelling case for Jesus as King, both in His sinless humanity, as well as His Trinitarian deity. Jesus’ kingship was manifested through His supernatural power, healing of the sick, calming of the storm, and the ultimate miracle of His bodily resurrection from the dead. More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew displays Jesus’ kingship through the brilliance of His teaching on the truly good life and how it is experienced in His easy yoke of apprenticeship. Here we encountered the paradoxical topography of the kingdom Jesus is ushering into our lives and our world. When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, we lose our life, but in losing our life, we find it. When we put on Jesus’ yoke, we find true freedom not slavery.
Matthew points us to Jesus’ transforming path of discipleship in the Great Invitation. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(Mt. 11:28-30) Jesus’ yoke fits us. In Jesus’ yoke, we learn to live our lives like Jesus would if He were us. In Jesus’ yoke, we embrace both His precepts and practices as we experience transformation and the life we truly long to live. Matthew also reminds us that it is Jesus’ yoke of apprenticeship that makes it possible for us to live into the Great Commandment, to love God rightly, and to love our neighbor rightly. It is in Jesus’ yoke that we, His church, can fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all the nations.
Throughout our journey in the Gospel of Matthew, we have seen Jesus heading step by step to the cross in faithful obedience to His Heavenly Father. On His way to the cross, where He became an atoning sacrifice for us, King Jesus revealed that His plan for redeeming a lost world centers around His church. In Matthew’s Gospel, we are reminded that the local church as God designed it is the hope of the world. Jesus said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”(Mt. 16:18)
Matthew builds to a grand crescendo with the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. In each successive movement toward the cross of Calvary, he reminds us that Jesus’ impending death is not a tragic accident, but a triumphant plan orchestrated by a sovereign Trinitarian God. Carrying our sin on His shoulders, Jesus, the sin-bearing Son of God, was cursed and abandoned by God the Father so that we would never have to be cursed or abandoned by God. The Apostle Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”(Romans 5:8, NIV) Jesus’ bodily resurrection is vindication of what was accomplished at the cross: the forgiveness of our sin and our reconciliation with God.
The resurrection of Jesus affirms the goodness of the everyday material world we live in and work in. The resurrected body of Jesus that cooked breakfast and ate with His disciples demonstrates that there is significant continuity between the present world and the new creation world to come. The empty tomb declares all of life matters; the school work we do, the customers we serve, the companies we run, the things we fix – they all matter. The resurrection is the hope that our deep longings for significance will be fully satisfied. It fulfills our longing for a love that never fails, a life that never ends, and work that truly matters.
Matthew ends his Gospel account of King Jesus similarly to how he began his writing. The risen Jesus is Immanuel, the God who is with us and will never leave us. Because of who King Jesus is and what He has done, there is nothing more important than following Him wholeheartedly in all of life. Jesus is not safe, but He is the King. He is worthy of our greatest thought, our most wholehearted devotion, our best sacrifice.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vcex_feature_box style=”left-image-right-content” heading=”HEAR MORE” image=”7388″]You can listen to any of our sermons on the Gospel of Matthew by visiting our SERMONS resources. Look for Sermons beginning December 2015 – A King for ALL People in the SERIES ARCHIVES.[/vcex_feature_box][vcex_button url=”/sermons” style=”outline” align=”right” font_family=”Merriweather Sans”]SERMONS[/vcex_button][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][/vc_column][/vc_row]
One of my more humorous professors in seminary said, in regard to his own marriage, that he had never considered divorce, but murder – that was another matter. As students, we all got a good laugh, but our professor was making a salient point. Even the best of marriages is an ongoing challenge and requires intentional work. Whether we are single or married, our tendency is to either cynically devalue marriage as a downer or idolize it as the path to ultimate happiness. The Holy Scripture wisely avoids both polarities and instead offers a hopeful realism about marriage.
With the start of a new year, one of my most heartfelt prayers is that our marriages would grow and flourish. So what makes a flourishing marriage? Recently I had the privilege of attending a lecture given by University of Virginia sociology professor, Dr. Brad Wilcox, who is one of the leading researchers on marriage in America. Dr. Wilcox has done extensive empirical research of marriage across diverse incomes, educational levels, and ethnicities. The results have been recently published in his book, Soul Mates.
Research points to the importance of the religious component of marriage. While there are many factors that contribute to a deepening and fulfilling marriage, such as economic stability, wise financial management, and effective interpersonal communication skills, Dr. Wilcox points to two other factors that make a huge difference. Can you guess what they are? The first factor is couples that regularly attend worship together. The second factor is couples that pray together.
Dr. Wilcox asserts that if these two factors are in place, marriage satisfaction and family health rise and divorce rates plummet. I know many marriages in our church family are struggling and in need of a fresh dose of encouragement and hope. If you are married, may I encourage you to renew your commitment to regularly pray together and make church attendance a higher priority? I am confident both of these spiritual disciplines will foster your intimacy with Christ, as well as with each other. If your marriage is in a difficult place or you sense a marital tune-up is in order, please take the step to seek out professional help. Our pastoral staff is eager to refer you to one of many excellent professional Christian counselors in our city.
In a cultural moment where marriage is being redefined and increasingly questioned, may we be a local church where marriages truly flourish. This may be our most compelling gospel witness to a skeptical, yet watching, world.
“I have hidden my word in your heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11)
I have a strained relationship with Scripture memory. The first time I ever memorized Scripture was at church camp, because memorizing Scripture meant candy. Memorizing enough Scripture meant a full-size Snickers bar, the holy grail of candy. So I memorized John 1, Psalm 23, a few others, but not for holy reasons. Once there were no longer Snickers on the line, unsurprisingly my motivation to memorize Scripture died.
Later in life, when I was studying to be a pastor in college, I was told that Christians should memorize Scripture. Jesus, after all, memorized Scripture, which is true and important. At both of the weakest moments of Jesus’ life, He quoted Scripture. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, every response Jesus gave to Satan was quoted from Deuteronomy. He quoted Scripture as His defense against temptation. And when Jesus was hanging on the cross, close to death, He cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He was quoting Psalm 22.
These are compelling reasons to memorize Scripture, but I must say, they failed to compel me. Scripture memory just became a guilty part of my Christian life. I never did it, so I felt guilty.
Until a few years ago. I am not sure what changed internally in me, to drive me, to motivate me to memorize Scripture, but I know what changed. I had a system.
I came across Timmy Brister’s method of memorizing Scripture – “memory moleskine.” Three key insights changed everything for me as I embarked on a new rhythm of Scripture memory.
First, I always had my notebook in my pocket. It’s small, can be carried around with me, and was a constant reminder to open my notebook and read Scripture. To dwell on it not just for a few moments in the morning, but throughout the day.
Second, Brister encouraged me to read the Scripture out loud. That helped me memorize the words more quickly, but it was also a different way of encountering Scripture. It slowed me down, and opened my eyes to the text in a new way.
Finally, I began to focus on exact words, precise phrases. My devotional life was enriched because reading a passage once will never allow a depth of understanding, or allow the passage to work its way into your heart. A cursory reading of the Bible will always lead to fruit, but Scripture memory leads to a depth of experience with what God is saying to you. It becomes more real. Scripture memory was no longer an activity to be accomplished to get candy or as a religious duty. It was God’s way of dealing with me, speaking to me, encouraging me and leading me.
I won’t pretend that a short blog post is going to make you a Scripture memory master – BUT – as someone who has been at this intentionally for three years now, I have noticed one significant change. The words I speak to myself are different than what they used to be. When I am discouraged, I may still say to myself, “Everything is falling apart!” But another word rises up in my heart: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, He will save the crushed in Spirit.” There is increasingly a different Word at the center of my life now. It is why I memorize Scripture now — without the guilt and without the bribe.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]If there is anything that has been validated in this past election season, it is how deeply divided we are as a nation. Our differences are not primarily centered in economic or foreign policy matters, as important as they may be, but rather embedded in the fundamentally diverging ways we see reality. At almost every level of society, a progressive secularity is clashing with a conservative religiosity. In his recently released book, Confident Pluralism, St. Louis University law professor John Inazu captures well our fundamental societal differences. He writes,
“We lack agreement about the purpose of our country, the nature of the common good, and the meaning of human flourishing.” (p. 15)
Christian cultural observer Os Guinness points out how our deep differences present a serious challenge to the American experiment. “The challenge of living with deep differences is calling into question not only freedom and justice but America’s very identity—and this is a time when living with our deepest differences has become one of the world’s greatest issues, one that cries out for new and urgent solutions on a wider scale.” (The Case For Civility, p. 5)
As American citizens, it is increasingly evident that there are deep differences among us. What does this mean for all of us? What does it mean particularly for those who are followers of Jesus? How might we wisely navigate the turbulent cultural waters and politically charged rhetoric of our cultural moment? Let me suggest a few thoughts for your prayerful consideration.
First, I believe wise spiritual discernment is needed. The evil one is at work perpetuating a fierce spiritual battle in our world. This invisible war deceives, divides, and destroys, heinously wreaking havoc on individuals, institutions, and nations. Local churches are not immune to the evil one’s fury. We must guard against spiritual deception, foster unity, love one another, and hold fast to biblical orthodoxy. Even if it is costly, the church must avoid cultural accommodation and maintain its prophetic witness.
Second, we need to renew our gospel witness. The gospel has the power to transform human hearts, foster societal flourishing, and shape cultures. The good news of the gospel is what can bring true hope to our needy city, divided nation, and world. With a humble spirit, let us proclaim the gospel boldly to our friends, classmates, and coworkers.
Third, we are called to love our neighbors who are fellow image-bearers of God, even though many see the world very differently. Our commitment to seek the flourishing of others, particularly the most vulnerable in our city and our society, has never been more important. Let’s enthusiastically embrace common grace for the common good.
Fourth, we need to exemplify civility in both our language and behavior. Civility does not require agreement, advocacy, consensus, or suspension of criticism. Civility is not passivity, but it is a posture we assume when we disagree productively with others, respect their sincerity and decency, and refuse to demonize them.
The days in which we live are filled with sizeable challenges, as well as remarkable opportunities. How we deal with others who differ with us may matter more than we realize. For the glory of God and our gospel witness, may we, as apprentices of Jesus, live well in the midst of our deepest differences.
[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]The start of a New Year brings to mind the inevitable marking of time and its indelible mark on each of us. How fast and fleeting time is as it seemingly evaporates into thin air before our bewildered hearts and startled eyes. Enveloped in this limiting and often noisy reality we call time, do we hear the Psalmist’s words exhorting us to number our days that we may live attentive lives? Will we heed Paul’s words calling us to make the most of our time that we may honor Christ in all dimensions of human existence? While an array of seamless stewardships compete for the measured time we have been given, none are more important than the stewardship of our apprenticeship with Jesus. Jesus extends to you and me his grand and grace-filled invitation to come to Him, to be yoked with him and to learn from him how he would live our lives if he were you or me. While we greatly benefit in learning from others, the most important mentor in our lives, at home, at school, and at work, is brilliant Jesus.
As a multisite church family our focus this year will be to press more fully into Jesus’ great invitation. In our extended message series through the Gospel of Matthew, as well as in many of our community groups, we will be considering together what it means to be yoked to King Jesus. We will be exploring how apprenticeship with King Jesus beckons us to increased intimacy, as well as how it informs and empowers our lives, in all of life. No matter where we find ourselves in our journey of faith, Jesus’ great invitation is the transformational pathway for us to truly experience the life we long to live. My heart skips a beat of eager expectation when I think about the year ahead. I hope yours does too.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
If you’re anything like me, you’ve tried your fair share of niche study Bibles. Whether it be The Teenage Study Bible or The Life Application Study Bible or The Archaeological Study Bible with topic specific articles, they can be a great resource in your study of God’s Word while navigating a specific area of interest. So being a young father of two, there’s a question that forever lingers in the back of my mind: What does it really mean to be a man after God’s own heart? This raises more than just the question of personhood, but the question of manhood, and specifically growing in becoming more of a man that loves what God loves and so lives as God calls me — as a man — to live.
Recently, I was able to get my hands on the new ESV Men’s Devotional Bible. I’ve always been drawn to the ESV’s “word for word” philosophy in translation from the original languages while maintaining a readable and beautiful literary structure, and at first, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple and subtle layout. For example, there isn’t a cheesy dad throwing a kid up in the air on the cover that instantly makes you feel guilty that you aren’t throwing kids in the air, which to be fair, isn’t how most study bibles look. Even so, I was skeptical thinking: Don’t tell me I have to throw the pigskin with my neighbors. Don’t tell me I need to get married (even though I am). Don’t tell me to move to the suburbs. Don’t tell me to stay in the city. Just give me Scripture’s understanding of manhood.
So with my skepticism, I started using it. I’ve been using it for about a month now. I have come to see that they mean it when they say in the introduction: “Our goal is to strengthen and transform the hearts of men through the power of the Spirit-inspired Word of God.” I also appreciate how “the devotionals included in the ESV Men’s Study Devotional Bible are not arranged topically or thematically, but rather are tethered closely to the text on which each is based.” The main goal is still guiding men to be thoughtful exegetes of the text first, and it is by that pathway we grow into mature men of faith.
Then to top it off, there are 365 devotionals, new book introductions that are short and sharp, a helpful dictionary of terms, and 14 new articles in the back full of encouraging gospel-centered wisdom on work (which is written by our very own Senior Pastor, Tom Nelson), identity, leadership, calling, doubt, and more. This isn’t a Bible that just helps men in the minority of their devotional lives, but also helps in their majority of their work lives. So if you’re a guy following Jesus and you want to grow in your walk with Jesus, the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible might be a good investment to work through this next year. I know I will keep using it.
One more thing: If you wanted a better review of this study bible and to see a sample devotional, I found Tim Challie’s to be helpful! I know you wish I would have said that earlier. Sorry about that, but really I’m not. Check it out here.