Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Who is this Guy?

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Mark 4:35-41

Jesus is the one that told the disciples to set out for the other side of the lake. Obedience to Him put them right in the middle of a big problem and a dangerous situation. But God does all things for His own reasons. This was a divinely orchestrated teaching moment designed especially for the disciples (many of whom were experienced fisherman and sailors) so that God could begin to open up their understanding to who Jesus really was. So let's put ourselves in their place. Let’s learn their lesson and use it for our good today. Imagine that you are one of these disciples in the midst of the storm with Jesus and let's ask ourselves the same question that the disciples ended up asking themselves. “Who is this Jesus?”

We see first that Jesus is unmistakably human for He is sleeping (ESV Study Bible). Scripture speaks plainly that God doesn't sleep (Isaiah 40:28Psalm 121:4). Yet here we find Jesus, in the midst of a great storm as water floods in the boat all around Him sound asleep. However, the disciples needed no reminder that Jesus was human; they knew that full well. What they needed to know was what stands out most in this encounter: Jesus does something which only God could do (The New Bible Commentary by IVP). Only the Creator God has the power to command the wind and the waves. Yet, we find Jesus doing exactly this. So who then is this Jesus?

Scripture tells us that He is not only human, but He is also God the Son and the Creator of the heavens and the earth.
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created… all things have been created through him and for him. (Colossians 1:15-16)
Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. (John 1:3)
In his commentary on this passage, Matthew Henry rightly notes that had the disciples known the answer to their own question, they would have feared the storm less. They feared the wind and the waves more than they should have because they feared Jesus less than they should have. If they had known who Jesus really was, then they would have feared the storm much less and Jesus much more. It is easy though when the problems of this world are clamoring all around us and the lives which we have carefully constructed are crashing down upon us to focus exclusively on the storm and to think that it is ultimate reality... but it is not. No matter what your storm is, it is not ultimate reality. The most pertinent fact in the whole world to whatever problem you are facing is this: God loved you so much that He sent His Son to take on flesh to suffer and die in your place so that your sin could be atoned for and forgiven. God has accepted you in grace. Respond to Him in belief. If you will (or if you have), then He has promised your ultimate destination is heaven. He is in control of your journey. Each storm is allowed by Him to draw you nearer to Him and to conform you more into the image of His Son. If God is for you, then who can be against you? (Romans 8:31). No one!

So learn a lesson from the disciples today. Don't attack God with accusations and unbelief like they did Jesus (see vs. 38). Implore Him for help, but from a place of faith. If He has given His son for you, how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give you all things that you need? (Romans 8:32). As your storm rages all around you, remind yourself who Jesus is. Remind yourself that no matter how big, loud, or painful your storm is, Jesus is bigger, He is more real, your destiny is in His hands, and He has already proven His love for you. So ask for help, but do so in faith.

For further reading...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Moth Eaten Heart

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21

"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." For the longest time when I read that closing line I only saw half the point. I saw the more obvious half. The passage aims to convince us to spend our time and energy building spiritual wealth instead of physical wealth- wealth that will be there to greet us in heaven instead of wealth we must leave behind us as we pass through the portal of death. It reminds us that earthly treasure can be stolen (by thieves) or destroyed (as by moths or rust). It stands to reason that if I set my heart on earthly goods and they are stolen or destroyed, then my heart will be grieved and I will have suffered a great loss. This is the obvious half of Jesus' point. 

What I only just realized the other day is that there is another implication here that I have missed all along. If my heart is with my treasure and the treasure is stolen, then my heart is stolen also. If my heart is with my treasure when it is eaten up and destroyed by moths or rust, then my heart likewise has been eaten up and destroyed. When we set our hearts on the things of this world, we run the risk not only of losing our treasured possessions but of losing our very hearts. I am speaking of course not of the organ pumping blood in your chest but of that part of you that goes to the very core of who you are. When you choose to treasure, love, and put your hopes in the things of this world you become corrupt in your very nature. Riches, the approval of men, fame, sex, and power- these things (and all the others that our world has to offer) have a way of eating away at a person's soul just like moths or rust eat away at a fine garment or a precious metal. Little by little, what we set our heart on changes us. We serve the things which we love most, and when we bend the knee to the gods of this world, they corrupt and destroy who God intended us to be: worshipers of Him alone.

If the threat of suffering such great loss isn't enough to motivate you, then consider this. The Bible reveals to us that this world is not our home. We are merely pilgrims passing through on our way to eternity. The great heroes of the faith are described as understanding this well. 
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16)
In the same vane I Peter 2:11 says, 
"Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul."
So imagine for example a family who lives in destitute poverty. Their house is in shambles. It does not keep them safe from criminals nor does it keep them warm in the winter. Year round they struggle to survive, scrimping and saving so that one week out of the year they can take an extravagant vacation. They fly off to some exotic location and are waited on hand and foot by the best attendants money can buy. For seven days they live in the lap of luxury only to return home and live in poverty again for another 358 days until the next vacation.

Doubtless there are those in our world that do choose to live their lives this way. There are certainly those who order their spiritual lives like this. We choose to live in luxury while on this journey toward eternity, spending all our time and energy on fleeting pleasures that we can enjoy while on the trip, only to step out into eternity in destitute poverty. Choose the better way. Heed the Lord's advice. Spend your time, money, and energy wisely storing up treasure in heaven and in so doing protect your own heart.

For further reading...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Exodus 3:13-14

I'm a new parent, but I'm smart enough to know that although mine and my wife's lives now revolve around our new daughter, she is not the center of everyone else's world. And yet, here I am beginning a blog by writing about her. Why? Because her name has import for your life. 

My wife and I chose to name our daughter Hallie. No doubt this will be mispronounced as either Allie or Hayley her whole life. She may indeed grow up hating our name choice for this reason. Yet, still I love the name. It is a shortened form of of the word "hallelujah," which some consider to be the highest form of verbal praise we can give to God. It struck me this week that many of us don't know much about this powerful word, so it seemed a fitting time to briefly share some insights.

Hallelujah literally means "praise the lord." Not that fancy right. But the "jah" part is very special because it is the first part of the name that God revealed to us as His proper name: Yahweh. (I know it's weird but the "j" and the "y" are sort of interchangeable.) Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? At one point in the story Moses asks God who to say has sent him. God's reply? Tell them "(Yahweh) I am who I am...I am has sent me." Now Yahweh has a range of possible meanings. It is normally translated as "I am who I am" but could also mean "I will be what I will be." It conveys a number of truths to us about God. First, it declares authoritatively that God exists. He is real, and is not dependent on our belief to exist. Second, it implies a sense of independence. God is not dependent on us for anything (Acts 17:22-34). He is not seeking our approval. He will be who He will be. 

The Israelites understood this proper name for God to be very holy and treated it as such. They applied the third of the ten commandments to the name Yahweh (Exodus 20:7), so they were careful not to misuse this name. They treated it as a holy thing, set apart and special. As a result they often did not refer to God as Yahweh but by the more generic Hebrew word for lord. Often even in Scripture they didn't use the term Yahweh, but when they did it carried special potency. Even still when they would come across the name "Yahweh" when they were reading the Bible out loud they would not say Yahweh but would say the more generic term for lord instead. Many modern translations distinguish this use by signaling the specific instances of the proper name Yahweh in the Bible by putting the letters for LORD in all caps or small caps.

All of this made the term hallelujah that much more precious and holy a thing to say. It included part of the name of God. To say hallelujah was to say "praise to yah(weh)." It is mine and my wife's earnest prayer that Yahweh be praised for the birth and health of our daughter, but also that her life would be a sacrifice of praise to God (Romans 12:1).

Regardless of what you think of mine and my wife's choice of a name for our daughter, in what ways does this precious praise term challenge your everyday life? Do you know and celebrate that God is real and does not depend on you in any way? Are you careful to treat His name carefully and approach Him with the reverence and awe He deserves? Is your life an offering of praise to God? Today, take a moment to praise God. Praise Him for who He is. Praise Him for your life. Praise Him for making Himself known.

After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. 
Revelation 19:1-2

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Jesus the Robber?

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.”
Mark 3:22-30

In Romans 1:18-19 Paul tells us that what can be known about God is plain to us by His creation (and now by his revelation through Jesus and the Bible) but we have a tendency to "suppress the truth" about God. We willingly reject Him, because He doesn't conform to what we want Him to be. This is exactly what we find the teachers of the law doing in this passage. Jesus has been working miracles that clearly show His divine nature. He has regularly healed the sick and even now He is casting out demons, but they are set on rejecting Him. So they justify their rejection by claiming that Jesus is possessed by the Devil. More specifically they claim that it is the Devil in Jesus that is driving demons out of others.

Jesus responds with a simple parable. Can a house divided against itself stand? Certainly, many of us have experienced this ourselves. When spouses begin to make war with one another, more often than not, their marriage fails. When parents and children consistently tear one another down, the family falls apart. So too Jesus says, "Why would Satan attack his own strongholds?" Wouldn't it be great if Satan were to turn against his own kingdom and suddenly begin to set free all the people he has enslaved and deceived? But that isn't what is happening. In fact, Jesus seems to say that it is an absurd idea.

Then Jesus offers a true explanation of His ministry. His power is from the Lord, yet the works which He is working now (namely casting out demons) is not ultimately what He has come to do. It is simply the necessary prelude and preparation for His true ministry. His true ministry is to reclaim from the power of Satan all of creation along with those people in it who are willing to follow Him. This creation is currently under the control of Satan (Matthew 4:8-11 and I John 5:19) because humanity chose sin over obedience to God on that day in the Garden of Eden and every day since. We have all bowed the knee in service to the enemy. Since we have been given dominion over creation (Genesis 1:28-29) and we gave dominion of ourselves to the Devil (John 8:34 and Romans 6:16), He now has many strongholds in the world. So in preparation for His great reclamation and redemption of His creation, Jesus is first "binding the strong man." He is systematically showing His superiority over Satan and is breaking down his strongholds on the earth.

What parts of your life does the Devil still have dominion over? Is your heart a heart divided against itself? I know this pain. Rest assured that Jesus will set you free if you are willing. Certainly none of us experiences complete perfection right after salvation. Once we give our hearts to the Lord, He begins the slow process of working through all of the sin in them. Slowly tearing down stronghold after stronghold in our hearts. Conforming us more and more into the image of Christ, and setting us free from the power of sin a little more each day. But sometimes we stall this process out ourselves. We turn back to sin and begin to cling to it again. Work with the Lord today. Expose the sin and the strongholds in your heart to the Great Healer and Redeemer. Ask Him to bind the "strong man" in the darkest corners of your life.

For further reading...

  • Matthew 4:8-11 and I John 5:19- The whole world is under Satan's control right now, but one day we know Jesus will return and then the kingdom of God will come in power! 
  • Romans 1:18-32- We willfully reject God.
  • Romans 6- A whole passage on slavery to sin and slavery to righteousness.