Category Archives: life in Christ

Wondering whether I’ll ever really follow Jesus

On the menu tonight we have some honest musings from a seeking heart.

Lately I’m being brought back to face the question of whether I will truly follow the Lord Jesus with my whole life. My discipleship is so fragmented, at least it seems to me, that you might not even call me a disciple if you were to know me.

Traditionally we have this view of the gospels that says Jesus was going along in life, doing his thing, then when he called the twelve to himself they immediately forsook all and followed him. Well, yes and no. I’m thinking mainly of Peter in this instance, but there is evidence from the story that not only Peter but all the disciples were “prone to wander” from time to time. At least once in Peter’s case it seems he re-considered his committment to follow the Rabbi and went back to his nets; yet the Lord pursued him. Upon seeing his net break after letting it down for one more catch at Jesus’ insistence, Peter was beside himself with both a desire to follow this incredible man and the haunting feeling that he most certainly did not have what it would take.

Then of course there was the night of Jesus’ betrayal when Peter followed “from a distance” and denied even knowing the Lord when put on a trial of his own by a servant girl. Brokenhearted and disillusioned, Peter saw no recourse after his master’s death but to go back to fishing. As the story goes, the resurrected Lord found him again on the shores of Galilee, once more with the call to follow him.

So that makes not once, not twice, but three times when Peter balked at the notion of following Jesus “all the way.” The calling and recalling of Jesus is a prominent theme in Peter’s life.

Did I say Peter’s life? I meant my own, actually. It’s like I hear this inaudible voice pounding in my head, echoing through the chambers of my heart-challenging me, plauging me, haunting me, constantly.

Follow me.”

“I tried Lord. I couldn’t do it.”

Follow me.”

“I’m afraid. I don’t have what it takes.”

Follow me.”

“It’ll cost too much. I know it will.”

Follow. Me.”

I hate it, honestly. There are times I can’t stand it. But deep down I can’t deny it’s the one thing I want more than anything else in life: To know God through Christ… to follow in the way of Jesus.

Will I, though, really? To tell you the truth, I’ve been a Christian for twelve years now and that question still remains largely unanswered.

If you would like to help me in this venture then may I be so bold as to ask that you do not pray for me. Don’t encourage me, either. Don’t pat me on the head and tell me it’s ok because God loves me. The best thing you can do for me is to follow Jesus yourself. Show me that it is possible. Show me there’s a better way.


What my job teaches me about the wheat and the tares

Today I was yanking weeds on the job (I’m a landscaper) and it made me think of Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13). Two things strike me about this parable:

First, I’ve heard this scripture taken out of context so many times it isn’t funny. Usually I hear it in reference to the church, with somebody trying to justify the “mixed multitude” of saints and sinners in a given congregation as fulfilling what Jesus spoke in this passage. However, the Lord himself was clear that the “field” in his stories was representing the world, not his kingdom.

Second, the tendency of those who serve the Lord is to want to rip the tares out of the ground upon first sight. Many a Christian leader out there just can’t wait to get his hands on a wolf, or so it would seem. But our Shepherd is not up for this. His command is to leave them alone; let both grow together until the end of the age when the righteous Judge will do the dividing.

Today while cleaning out that customer’s bed I accidently pulled up a lily along with the weed I was trying to rid her landscape of. This is a very real possibility when pastors, teachers, and otherwise well-intentioned leaders try to do the Lord’s work of dividing the tares from the wheat. We’re just not very good at it. I’ve yet to meet the minister who constantly harps upon false teaching, watching out for wolves, ect., who doesn’t invariably pull up a few good plants along with the tares he may succeed in rooting out.   

What’s the answer, then? I say let the Lord deal with those who need dealing. Perhaps there are a few hypothetical situations in the church which would call for discipline, but I dare say those situations are fewer and farther between than most of us will typically allow.

When it comes to rooting out the tares, save it for the Chief Landscaper. 🙂


True religion

Religion gets a lot of bad press these days. Not that I would disagree, either-it’s just that sometimes we need to define the term before we lambast it. Religion as most people refer to it is self-effort; man trying to make his way to God or be like God. Lots of rules and regulations; church hierarchies, systems, ect. In this vein I would agree: religion does not serve us very well.

But James, in his letter to dispersed Jewish believers, speaks of something he calls “true religion.” True religion, it turns out, has nothing to do with belief systems and ritualistic devotion to a certain form or code of law; rather, true religion is all about “visiting orphans and widows in their affliction, and keeping yourself unstained from the world.”

A fairly simple, yet workable, definition. I do believe James was on to something.

Anyway, that was just my preface. This verse of scripture has come back to my heart time and again in the past three or four months, and tonight was one of those nights. My wife and I took our kids to visit my “mammaw.” In the course of our visit I was able to help her move some things around and lift some heavy objects which I’m glad she won’t be trying to move herself. It was a simple act, really, not worth mentioning otherwise, but all of the sudden in the midst of performing it I realized how alive I was to God.  I’m not kidding you, there was a sense of the Lord so immediate and so real it was just like breathing Him in to know He was near.

It was only a passing thought, but it made me curious as to how much time we Christians spend trying to “feel” God’s presence via worship services, devotional activities, and a whole slew of other methods by which we try to “get” it. In that moment I saw the vanity and frivolity of so many such exercises, all so self-centered and bound up with our human “doing” and “trying” to be rather than simply being sons and daughters of God. It’s becoming increasingly evident to me that to “find” the Lord you simply spend time going to and being where He is. The places that come immediately to mind are the church (probably not what you’re thinking, though), the Spirit (in your spirit), the poor (see Matthew 25), and in my case tonight, the orphan and the widow. Just by serving my mammaw in that simple way I became conscious-undeniably conscious-of an absolutely splendid oneness with God.

What about you? Have you ever had an experience like this? In what practical ways is God alive and real to you?


My son, a tornado, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Last night I had another moment with my son I thought I’d share with you.

It was late. Josh was having a hard time sleeping. Nightmares from the dinosaur movie he’d watched earlier in the day woke him up, I think. Mom and his sisters were already out for the night; while sitting at the table I heard his little footsteps coming down the stairs.

“Dad, I still can’t sleep,” he said, almost crying. So I brought him to the table and we began looking at pictures online (the kids always enjoy that, for some reason).

At some point we came to a picture someone had posted from the recent storms that went through our area. The picture showed a man standing with a building in the background, completely destroyed by a tornado. Josh noted that the building was broken down and asked me what happened; I explained about the powerful wind of a tornado and the damage it can cause.

Very simply he remarked, “But our house didn’t get broken down by a tornado.”

I replied, “No, and we’re grateful for that. But many people’s homes did get broken down. So let’s be sure to think of them and pray for them.”

His answer surprised me. You see, my wife and I don’t drill our kids with Bible lessons and generally we only speak of God and Jesus in casual, or should I say normal ways, just as they/he come(s) up in normal, everyday conversation. Beyond that, they have gone to some kids classes and been present at a number of meetings where adults were singing and sharing about the Lord (albeit in a very informal fashion), but my point is we haven’t gone to great lengths to “teach” them in any kind of way other than living before them what we hope are lives of love and grace.

So when Josh responded to my comment the way he did of his own initiative, I was genuinely surprised. More than that, I was delighted. Even more than that, it brought tears to my eyes. After I told him about people’s homes being destroyed he said, “But God…” He paused, then continued, “and other people can come and help them build their houses back again.”

It may not sound like much, but something about the heart and the way in which he said those words just made me cry. I was touched in a way I haven’t been touched in a while. Then today, quite curiously, I was reading a book which contained this quote by Fyodor Dostoyevsky:

The soul is healed by being with children.

I couldn’t agree more. Those of you who have children probably know what I’m talking about. Most days it’s a tough row to hoe being a parent, and you’d better believe my wife and I have our fair share of frustrations and failures in dealing with three small kids, but they are truly precious. In moments like this when I glimpse something eternal in my children, something which burns right through the fog of doubt and uncertainty I am tempted to have over the meaninglessness of life-especially when I hear stories of other families who, for instance, were all taken away in a moment when a tornado ripped mercilessly through their neighborhood-I’m reminded of a greater and more enduring reality than that which my five senses alone will allow. Such a reminder brings me comfort, gives me hope, and sets my life back on course.

The “how” of it all may often remain a mystery to me, but I choose to believe, indeed I must believe, that in the end, all things will have worked together… for good.


What kind of life is God pleased with?

This is a re-post from my other blog, Reconstructing the First Century Story. I thought it might be beneficial to people, so I figured I would bring it over here in order to reach a wider audience. (As it turns out, even fewer people are interested in New Testament history than are interested in the themes I write about at this site… alas! 😉 )  Either way, I hope you enjoy it!

“He will be great” (Luke 1:32).

That’s what the angel said to Mary about Jesus before he was born. And in every respect it turned out to be true. His greatness was not like that of the Roman or Greek conception; his was the greatness of a servant.

Have we ever really stopped to consider that?

Think about it this way: Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan river in A.D. 28 when he was about 33 or 34 years old. It was here the heavens were opened, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and the voice of God was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16,17).

Notice, as of that moment in time Jesus had not yet healed a single person, he had not raised the dead, he had not made the deaf to hear, he had not said and done unprecedented things all throughout the region of Galilee and beyond. For all we know, all Jesus had done from his youth until that time was live and work as a carpenter in Nazareth, attend the synagogue each week and Jewish festivals each year, and just be human.

And with that normal life, His Father was well pleased.

The greatness of Jesus was not just all the miracles we read about or the unparalleled teachings or anything at all spectacular that He did. His greatness was primarily found in those thirty-three silent years, where he simply lived a normal human life in fellowship with His Father… deity and humanity co-habiting as one.

This is the kind of life which causes God to smile: a normal human life lived in fellowship with the Divine. So you and I may relieve ourselves this very moment of the pressure to be something “great” according to this world or religion’s standards. God just wants normal people doing normal things in oneness with Himself. That’s the goal of the gospel. That’s the heart of it all. That is what God has brought and is bringing us to “in Christ.”


Watching my son, seeing the Lord

With utmost confidence I can say that my wife and kids have been the greatest teachers in my life when it comes to knowing God. Watching our kids grow up I can see the Lord so clearly just by being with them and observing the way they are. 

For instance, the other day I was with my son in his room. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my son absolutely loves Thomas the Train. In fact, it would be safe to say he’s a Thomas fanatic. Anyway, he often asks me to play trains with him. The other night was one of those times.

Josh (my son) received a new set from my brother and his wife for Christmas. It’s the biggest Thomas set we own to date. So when Josh told me he wanted to take it apart and put it back together all by himself, I was a little hesitant. The fact of the matter is I was afraid I’d have to do it myself if he wasn’t able to figure it out!

However, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Josh took it all apart, laid the tracks and pieces in their respective piles, and began to rebuild. I merely sat to the side and watched. Now, unless you’re a dad or have ever been a dad you may not understand this, but I was absolutely delighted as I watched my boy work. Piece by piece he put that set back together-thinking it through, correcting his mistakes, and changing this piece for that. There was even a point at which I thought he’d messed up the design and would have to go back and fix it, but come to find out (as I did at the end) he was right all along! I was impressed, to say the least.

Anyway, I can’t adequately describe the joy I had watching my son build that track. To see his creativity, to share in his discovery, and to express my pride and delight at his building in such a way that brought a smile to his face when he was finished gave me an awesome insight into the Lord. I could sense the mutual joy between Father and Son as they counseled and created our universe, taking delight in one another as they labored together.  I sensed the joy they share in everyday life-creating, molding, shaping, touching lives, and doing all that they do. It’s indescribable, really. But I got a taste of it in that moment watching my four-year old do his thing, as the student, shall we say, became the teacher. 🙂

I’d be interested to hear any similar insights or experiences you might have. It doesn’t have to be a father-and-son thing, either, just some way in which you saw the beauty of the Lord through a relationship, a happening, or whatever. Here’s your chance to chime right in.


Worship in the New Testament

With all the talk in Christian circles about worship, worship services, experiencing God through worship, and so on, you’d think the New Testament was full of such sentiment, too, right?

Guess again.

The idea that humanity was created to worship God, or that one day when we die we’ll all go to heaven and have one big worship party around the throne for endless ages is nowhere to be found in scripture. Even in the story of creation, where you might (rightly) assume we’d be given some view of God’s original intention for mankind, we find no such element. Strange, is it not? We do find some mention of eating and drinking, of walking, of bearing God’s image and exercising authority, but not a single word about worship. Nowhere does God say, “Adam, you are a worm of the dust and I am Almighty God. I have created you to worship me for who I am.”

And what about the New Testament? We Christians believe that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And though Jesus’ disciples were slow to grasp the significance of who He was, there were flashes of light here and there which helped them to see into the mystery surrounding this unconventional Rabbi in whose footsteps they were following.

So did they spend their days prostrated at his feet? Singing praises and chanting hallelujah as they swayed from side to side to the heavenly music? Actually, no. In all the gospels we only find one or two instances where it says “they worshipped him.” And in each of those moments their worship was a spontaneous response to some clear, heaven-sent revelation to their hearts concerning Christ.

Looking at my own life and relationship with the Lord, I find it to be very similar to this pattern. In all honesty I can think of only a few times when true, spontaneous worship has risen from my spirit unto the Lord. And each time it was in response to some sighting I’d just received of Christ.

For instance, I can take you back to the very moment and the spot on the bed where I was sitting in the room of a friend at college when I first said the word “hallelujah” in true and living response to a revelation of the Lord. It was during a time of fellowship as I sat listening to some brothers share about their experience of God. As one of them spoke it was like a light turned on inside my spirit-some connection was made-and I saw the Lord in a way I’d never seen Him before. Instantly, without thought, from hidden depths within me, worship arose and came out of my mouth in that word which I’d used rhetorically countless times before. 

This is not to say I was never sincere in my attempts to “worship” God, or “press in” to His presence in all those church services from the past. I was, actually. But so much work remained to be done in me (and still does) in the way of what the writer to the Hebrews calls “dividing between soul and spirit.” I had no idea that the majority of my thoughts and feelings of connecting with God in those moments was taking place mostly in the realm of my soul, and therefore was very natural and not spiritual. Unfortunately, this is what so much of what passes for “worship” across the Christian world today seems to be based upon: A highly orchestrated emotional experience (or, for you thinkers out there, an intellectual experience) masquerading as fellowship with the living God.

The soul is an incredible thing, don’t get me wrong. Our minds are God-given. The intellect, the emotions, the will-all are wonderful in their proper place. But they are there to express the life of God residing in our spirit, not to be the source of our living themselves. This is where we all know so very little compared with what we ought to know. This, in fact, makes up a great deal of the Christian quest: learning to live by the life of God in our spirit rather than the natural life we each possess in ourselves. And what a long and arduous quest it is! But well worth the effort, if you ask me. I was never fully convinced I was connecting with God in those vaunted times of “worship” anyway, to tell you the truth. I strained and strived and tried my best, but deep down I knew I was really just practicing at faking it.

🙂

I hope what I’m trying to say with this post has come across clearly enough. Dividing between soul and spirit is not a topic that gets much airplay in the evangelical world today. I would love to open up a conversation among anyone out there who has anything to say in relation to the thoughts I’ve shared here.