Galilee Verses The Desert

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lordand who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither and whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:1-3 NIV)

So, this is the first post since our return from Israel.

Of course. all of our travels filled my mind with many sorts of thoughts and contemplations.

Here’s something that rattled through my brain as we spent half a day on a tour bus driving south From Tiberius to the Dead Sea:


The region of Galilee was marked by rushing water, green hillsides and plentiful plant life.

The Negev Desert was bleak, barren and foreboding.

When we spent three days in Galilee, we got to see all sorts of spots where Jesus carried out his ministry. In fact, there we so many sites related to Jesus’ ministry, we couldn’t see them all.

In Galilee, people were healed and lives were changed. The ministry impact was undeniable.

But, Biblically and historically speaking, when it came to the desert, rather than being a place of ministry, it was much more an area marked by difficulty and struggle.

It was in the desert that Jesus was tempted (unsuccessfully) by Satan.

It was in the desert that David hid out from the rampaging Saul.

And it was the in the desert that the children of Israel wandered for forty long. painstaking years.

(And of course, the desert was the location of Masada, where in 74 A.D. some 900 Jews committed suicide rather than be taken captive by Roman soldiers)

Yes, it seemed to me the desert had much more in common with death and despair than it did with any joy, healing or redemption.

When we arrived at our Dead Sea destination, we found that it was simply a small cluster of high rise hotels that served as a sort of “Palm Springs” for Israelites.

People came there to find comfort and ease, and to disconnect from real life. (which sometimes it’s nice to do)

But as far as our tour went, finding any sites where Jesus ministered was out of the question.

Truth be told, staying in the desert one night was enough. It was fun to bob in the Dead Sea and to enjoy a nice hotel, but we weren’t going to come in contact with any remnants of Jesus’ ministry there.

This contrast between a lush region like Galilee, and a bone dry region such as the Negev Desert made me think about how we live our lives.

Are we in close proximity to where Jesus is moving and working?

Or have we placed ourselves out in the desert, far away from the things related to the abundant life?

When it comes to our Christian life, are we seeking a comfortable faith, or a faith that challenges us?

Are we, as Psalm 1 describes, like a tree planted by a flowing stream, producing God-pleasing fruit?

Or are we far from Him and His Spirit, living more for selfish pursuits?

Truth be told, it is God’s desire to redeem and restore us from our desert existence.

Isaiah 35:1-4 says this:

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” (NIV)

Galilee was full of life. The desert spoke of death.

Life with God provides life. Life without God is like living in a desert.

Which will we choose?

Just some thoughts as our tour bus rambled down an Israeli highway.


What’s Worse than Pride? Try False Humility

“They are proud in humility; proud in that they are not proud.” ~ Robert Burton

Being around a prideful person is challenging enough. Listening to someone brag, boast and endlessly promote themselves can be exhausting.

But for me, there is an even more difficult soul for people to endure.

A person who projects a false humility.

Such an individual is egregious because they put a lot of energy into shrouding their pride.

I would have to agree with this sentiment shared by Brandon Mull:

“False humility is more insulting than open pride!”

It can be even scarier if such a person is in a role of leadership.

What makes dealing with such a person so hard is the fact that they work really hard at making themselves impervious to criticism or correction.

I mean, how can you disagree with such a humble, yet high-minded person?

A big problem with false humility is this:

“False humility is often a false front we employ to gain power over others.” (François de La Rochefoucauld)

Throughout scripture we are called on to pursue humility.

But it must be a true humility. Not thinking more of ourselves. Not thinking too low of ourselves. Simply thinking realistically about ourselves.

A few years ago I came across this list and saved it:

Fifteen Signs of False Humility:

1. Uses Religious Terms to Justify Cruel or Questionable Behavior. But a humble person refuses to use spiritual-sounding words as a smokescreen for sin.

2. Preoccupied with Self. But a humble person is as actively interested in others as in himself.

3. Listens to Others Only in Order to Speak into their Life. But a humble person listens to others with loving interest and with an expectation to learn and grow.

4. Admits Small Sins but Ignores Major Sins (Image Control). But a humble person admits sin and also receives an honest rebuke no matter how lowly the source.

5. Inability to Laugh at One’s Self When Others Do the Joking. But a humble person sees the humor in his own paradox of sin and sanctification. He can laugh at his own expense, because he knows that his worth is based not on impressing people but rather in the reality of being loved by God.

6. Publicizes Her Own Sacrifices to Impress Others. But a humble person avoids broadcasting her sacrificial labor.

7. Uses Himself as the Standard for Others’ Performance. But a humble person looks at the life of Jesus as the example, and points people to him.

8. Affects a Humble Tone of Voice While Saying Proud Things. But a humble person doesn’t need to affect his tone of voice to sound mealy-mouthed in order to convince others that he is humble.

9. Believes that Eschewing Money or Fame is the Same Thing as Being Humble. But a humble person understands that pride comes from the heart, not from possessions.

10. Professes Love for God and Neighbor but Acts in a Cruel Manner. But a humble person is consistent between what she says and what she does.

11. Delights in Debate rather than in Dialogue. But a humble person sees conversation as a two-way street with much to learn, not as a battle to win or lose.

12. Is Easily Offended. But a humble person is quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

13. Believes that Asceticism Leads to Holiness. But a humble person recognizes that sin comes from the heart, not from pleasure.

14. Loves to Impose His Opinion on Others as Truth. But a humble person acts charitably to all, thinks the best of others, and avoids presenting his opinion on a disputable matter as ultimate Truth.

15. Enjoys Judging Other People. But a humble person hands judgment over to God and instead busies herself with loving her neighbor and serving God.

Considering the list above, it seems that, even though we might call it false humility, there is actually no humility in it at all.

It’s just another form of pride.

People who operate in false humility take on the “appearance” and perform the actions characteristic of a humble person but do not believe in being humble as a heart conditioned decision.

As a result, false humility is characteristically selfish and it strives at self-preservation.

As followers of Christ, we are called to humility.

But may it be a humility that reflects the words of C.S. Lewis:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.


When a “Right” is Cancelled out by a “Wrong”

“I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining why I’m right!” – Unknown

It’s not just enough to be right.

We must act right as well.

And even before that, our attitudes must be right, too.

The Pharisees tried so hard to be right, they actually added new (and unbiblical) rules to God’s commands.

But rather then draw closer to God, they just got filled with more pride.

They poured their energy into the most minute details of piety, but missed the big picture of God’s heart.

They may have been (on paper) right, but Jesus called them out as hypocrites.

Matthew 23 is an stinging display of Jesus’ absolute rebuke of the Pharisee’s so-called righteousness.

In one rebuke, Jesus said to them:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24 ESV)

And here’s another zinger:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27-28 ESV)

Here’s what’s really sad: the Pharisees seemed so convinced of their rightness, it appears Jesus words of correction didn’t sink in. They just got madder at Him.

Coming back to us, I think it’s important to realize that our feelings about being right have to be encased in proper attitudes and actions.

If not, we will likely never get heard, and we may even push people away.

Sometimes the problem is we have a tendency to think we are always right. Which is an obvious lack of humility. No one has the corner on being right every time. We all have blind spots.

There is something within most people that rejects the idea of one person having all the correct answers. For some reason, a know-it-all wears people out

Always being right can be wrong. It can turn people against you, stifle conversations and ideas, and make people want to avoid you altogether.

A few questions for processing the problem of “wrong rightness”:

  • How many times have we lost ground gained because we didn’t present ourselves or our ideas with patience, grace and understanding?
  • How many times have we felt right about something, but failed to listen to the input of others?
  • How many times have we felt right about something, but when someone disagreed we resorted to disappointment and anger?
  • How many times do our feelings of being right tend to make us feel less about others who don’t see things our way?

David Stuart and Todd Nordstrom, in an article titles Why Always Being Right Can Be Wrong wrote:

You know it all, you do it all, you win it all. If that’s your attitude, you probably don’t stop to say thank you—or even realize how much others contribute to your big wins. And this, by far, is the worst know-it-all pitfall you can fall prey to. If you don’t stop to say thank you to others, you’re not only rude, but you’re also undermining productivity, happiness, cooperation, and innovation on your team.

Christian counselor and author Emerson Eggerichs writes about how the way we carry ourselves is just as important about feeling right about something.

He wrote an article called, You Can Be Right, But Wrong at the Top of your Voice. In it, Eggerichs makes this point:

“The right tone of voice and the right expression on your face is crucial to effective communication. I have talked with many wives who would like to tell their husbands, “Please turn down the volume. And, please, more than anything else realize how I feel when you speak to me harshly or look at me with an angry glare. Few things hurt me so badly. More than anything, I want to talk things through with you, but when you scowl and growl, like I’ve done something wrong or really dumb, I want to shut down or just scream.”

When Jesus preached his well-known Sermon on the Mount, He seemed to be going after the problem of trying to be right at the exclusion of proper attitudes and actions.

Over and over, no matter the topic He put on the table, he seemed to be asking: “How’s your heart?”

To be fully right, is to integrate our values and ideas and opinions with our how  well we interact with others.

Otherwise, we risk the danger of being right, but cancelling it out with our wrongs.

This Is What Dependence Looks Like

gogglesThe other morning I went to the gym for a swim.

When I got there, I realized I was missing a key item from my gym bag: my goggles.

Which in my mind caused a bit of anxiety.

I did not start using swim goggles until about 8 years ago.

I swam for years without them and didn’t really feel the need for them.

But when I started using them I really enjoyed the benefits.

Better vision and no red eyes after a swim session.

So, when I forgot my goggles, I soon found out how much I needed them and missed them.

I went ahead with my swim, but it was completely uncomfortable.

Every time I opened my eyes I could feel the burn of chlorine.

All this discomfort affected my stroke, meaning I got a less than stellar workout.

When I was done, I promised myself to never forget my goggles again!

I started thinking about all the things I depend upon when I come to the gym:

  • I need the right shoes to run
  • I often need a band-aid to keep blisters at bay
  • I demand light and breathable clothing

If I don’t have these things, I’m a wreck!

It got me thinking about that word: dependence

It’s a word that is highly connected to the activity of living as a Christian.

We are called to rely and depend on God.

How’s this for a picturesque description of the person who trusts God and the person who does not?:

Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:5-9 ESV)

Yet, I’ll be honest: in those time when I move from God-dependence to self-dependence, I don’t always feel like I did when I forgot my goggles.

I certainly don’t feel such desperation.

Which is tragic!

It shows that I still am very much comfortable with my hands on the steering wheel of my life.

What I need to do is return to the words of Jesus:

“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 17:4-5 ESV)

The vine always supplies the needs of the branches.

It’s never the other way around.

Yet, I can often be tempted to live like I don’t need God’s protection and provision.

Sometimes I need his direction. Other times I need His discipline.

But that’s the key word: need

Dependence says, “I need you, Lord!”

The truth we must embrace is that God is much better at providing for us that we are.

He always knows what’s best for us.

He always knows what we truly need.

And He has never has a shortage of provisions.

Chuck Smith offered these thoughts about the importance of dependence (and the foolishness of presumption) in the life of the Christian:

Dependence on God is not something we muster in emergencies; it is the realization that apart from His will we cannot presume even our next breath. Dependence sees God as being everything; presumption sees Him merely as a resource for dealing with crises. Dependence is an expression of faith; presumption is an act of pride (2 Chronicles 25:19; 26:16). Dependence is confidence in God; presumption trusts the arm of flesh. Dependence surrenders the need to control everything; presumption attempts to seize God’s throne.

If only I could sense my need for God and His provision the way I felt when I forgot my goggles.



Fickle Fandom

This past Sunday was Super Bowl 52.

Patriots vs. the Eagles.

And, as you likely know, the Eagles claimed the Lombardi trophy.

(Cue Eagles fans going into a city-destroying frenzy.)

In Super Bowls 48 and 49, the team representing the great Northwest was the Seattle Seahawks.

aaron seahawksAnd up here in the Northwest corner of our county, it was absolutely crazy.

People flew Seahawks flags, wore Seahawks gear and plastered their cars with Seahawks decals. Everyone was giddy to be known as a “12.”

At our Sunday morning worship, there was a buzz in the lobby on game day. People were so pumped for the big game. They came dressed in jerseys and hats.

How fun it was to ride the coattails of a winner!

But after those two Super Bowl appearances, the Seahawks gradually floated back down to earth. In fact, this past season they didn’t even make the playoffs.

And with the Seahawk’s downward glide, fan enthusiasm waned as well. Yes, there are still a few flags, t-shirts and decals out there. But nothing like when the Hawks were on top of the world.

When Jesus carried out his earthly ministry, He too experienced adoration that turned into indifference.

There were times when the people cheered for Jesus…yet not too long after they abandoned Him.

John chapter 6 provides a perfect example of this switch for worship to “What have you done for me lately?”

As the chapter opens, Jesus performs an incredible miracle: He feeds thousands of people using a few fishes and some loaves of bread.

No wonder the people loved Jesus! Who doesn’t like a free lunch?

Having had their stomachs filled for free, the people began to follow Jesus and the disciples.

And then, Jesus started speaking to them about something even more important than physical food (which only satisfies the body for so long).

He began to talk about the fact that, spiritually speaking, He Himself was the Bread of Life.

Here’s what he said to get the people’s minds clicking:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27 ESV)

And then, to further illustrate what He was talking about, Jesus said this:

 I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:48-51 (ESV)

When Jesus said this, two things happened: the masses got a bit confused, and the religious leaders (the Pharisees) got mad.

But Jesus only continued in his teaching:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread[c] the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58 ESV)

How’s that for doubling down?

So, why the confusion? Well, some people thought Jesus was introducing some kind of weird cult rooted in cannibalism.

Rather than hearing things metaphorically, they took them literally.

Which is too bad, because Jesus’ point was incredible!

He would soon offer up His own body as a sacrifice for sins, and anyone who “partook” of what He had done would experience the life abundant and the life everlasting!

But, this misunderstanding of Jesus message resulted in thinning crowds.

Verse 66 says: After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 

Jesus fan base was fading. He drew a crowd for bread, but couldn’t keep them around for eternal life.

Finally, Jesus turned to his 12 disciples and asked them, “How about you? Do you want to leave as well?

Peter spoke for the group and shared some of the wisest words ever uttered:

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69 ESV)

Truth be told, even the disciples struggled with some of Jesus’ teachings.

But rather than turn away, they stuck with Him.

They kept asking questions, figuring He had a solid answer for those things they couldn’t understand.

Sometimes we may feel the pull to disengage from Jesus and go it on our own.

Maybe we have too many questions.

Maybe we’ve suffered injustice.

Maybe we’ve faced a lot of pain, whether physical or emotional

But think about it. Where would we go? Would we really find life? Would we really engage more truth?

Being a disciple isn’t always easy. But difficulty isn’t a reason to let go of the very thing that can get you through.

Mankind seems to often suffer from fickleness.

But when it comes to Jesus, there is no better alternative to turn to.

He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.






The “Inside-Outness” of Transformation

Here’s one working definition I have for the church:

The church is the supernatural uniting of diverse people for the purpose of bringing about spiritual maturity and accomplishing God’s mission.

Put another way, God brings us, the church, together with all our uniqueness, and through the INSTRUCTION OF HIS WORD and the POWER OF HIS SPIRIT, combined with the POSITIVE FRICTION OF TRUE FELLOWSHIP, we can expect to experience growth and transformation.

For some of us that may sound exhilarating, while for some of us that may sound intimidating!

I know there have been times when I didn’t really feel like being transformed by God!

But that is precisely why the church exists: to change us from the inside out.

Here’s how it plays out:

God transforms our negative and destructive beliefs into life-giving beliefs about Him

Part of how this begins is realizing that to be a Christian is to view who’s in charge of my life from a brand new perspective.

Romans 12:2 describes this as the renewing of our mind.

Then, out of our transformed thoughts, God can transform our emotions

Where we once had feelings of angst, anger, discord, hopelessness, meaninglessness, malice or fear…

In their place, God can infuse us with emotions ruled by things like peace, purpose, compassion and courage.

Also flowing out of transformed beliefs and thoughts and emotions are transformed actions.

When it comes to being a Christian, our actions are rooted in obedience.

  • Because we can know God
  • Because we believe in God
  • Because we trust God

We can begin obeying God, knowing that whatever He asks of us is for our good.

Perhaps another way to look at all this is to simply say: transformation begins in the mind, works its way down into our hearts, and then, ultimately, finds itself revealing itself in our actions.

That’s because transformation is an inside-out proposition.

We can’t just try to slap external Christian actions onto our life.

God’s desire is that we begin on the inside.

In the Grip of Hope

JamesWhen our 2 1/2 year old grandson Jude comes over to our house, he usually has one activity on his mind: playing trains.

Thus, when Jude hangs with us, we have a lot of Thomas the Tank Engine cars and track spread all about the house.

And we have three battery-powered engines that Jude assigns to each of us. He gets the shiny black engine named Diesel. Sara gets the sky blue Thomas. And I get bright orange James. That’s James on the right.

Last week Jude came over to the house, once again with his head full of plans for playing trains, but it just so happened I was going to be home later that night due to a conference.

Sara told him that there may be a chance I would come home before he had to leave, so he picked up James and held him in his grip the entire night. That glimmer of hope was all he needed.

In fact, Jude was so determined to have James at the ready when I arrived, he tried to take him into his bath.

When I did come in through the front door, Jude, who had been settling down with Sara on the couch, hopped up, ran to me, handed me James, and declared, “Here you go!”

How’s that for perseverance! 

All evening long he made sure that, no matter what time I came home, I would have my train.

This little scene reminded me of the fact that a significant part of the Christian life is the presence and practice of hope.

We are a people who look ahead to the arrival of future events:

  • The return of Christ
  • The eradication of sin
  • The escape from our earthly bodies which suffer from disease and aging
  • The glory of heaven
  • Here’s a big one: finally being shown how all the crazy and confusing situations we endured actually worked together for good (check out Romans 8:28)

The challenging part about hope is that we long for something we can’t yet see.

Paul, seeking to encourage believers, wrote about the Christian’s hope in the book of Romans:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25 ESV)

Hope leans hard on patience. Without patience, we really can’t call it hope. It’s more like desperate angst.

In hope, we fix our gaze on Jesus and His promises. In turn, we will seek to tune out any distractions that would keep us from an attitude of perseverance.

That’s kind of what Paul was saying when he wrote of his unwavering commitment to all that God had in store for him:

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have laid hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul’s sense of hope was so strong forgot the things of the past and fully put his focus (to the point of pressing and straining) toward what he viewed to be a prize: God’s call on his life through Jesus.

Of hope, R.C. Sproul said:

Hope is called the anchor of the soul (Hebrews 6:19), because it gives stability to the Christian life. But hope is not simply a ‘wish’ (I wish that such-and-such would take place); rather, it is that which latches on to the certainty of the promises of the future that God has made.

Simply put, a mindset of hopefulness will typically give fruit to the actions of patience and perseverance. In other words, right thinking produces helpful behavior.

Jude clung to a train with the confident hope that I would make it home in time to play with him.

The Christian clings with confidence to the promises of the Word. And the evidence of the hope shows up in how the live.

We might use another word for this thing called hope: faith.

The writer of Hebrews wrote of faith and hope being intertwined:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

That’s what makes it challenging, isn’t it? We can’t quite see the very thing we’re looking to embrace.

Here’s a final thought regarding hope: some people look toward the future with more hope on their minds than others.

For some life has dished out it’s fair (or unfair?) share of pain and disappointments.

In these cases, the hope of a better future is always close at hand.

Quadriplegic Joni Eareckson Tada, certainly one who anticipates better things in the life to come, offered this reflection on the value and power of hope:

“The best we can hope for in this life is a knothole peek at the shining realities ahead. Yet a glimpse is enough. It’s enough to convince our hearts that whatever sufferings and sorrows currently assail us aren’t worthy of comparison to that which waits over the horizon.”  

Criticizing God’s Work

It’s been said that God works in mysterious ways.

It can also be said that God works in a multitude of ways.

It seems God is not into one-size-fits-all or paint-by numbers approach to how He impacts lives.

It’s not hard to see that God expresses Himself through a variety of people and ministry.

Sometimes, though, we are tempted to turn up our nose or speak ill of a work God is invested in.

Rather than cheer, we complain.

Rather that support, we deride.


Often times it’s because they aren’t doing it like we are doing it.

Which, when you boil it down, seems a bit narrow and prideful.

Now, there are of course some so-called “ministries” that are so far off-base biblically that we ought not feel any pressure to support or endorse them.

If the doctrine is out-of-whack, or the practice doesn’t match up with the Word. we have reason to step back.

But, with that said, one passage of scripture drives home the point that we had best be wary of bagging on any work that God might be doing.

It comes from Philippians 1, and the context for this passage is that Paul had been imprisoned for sharing Jesus.

Some people felt bad for Paul, but others spoke ill of him, claiming that God  had put Paul on the ministry sidelines to humble him.

With this in mind, look at what Paul wrote to the Philippian church:

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14 ESV)

Isn’t it amazing that Paul could see how God might work even though He was in jail?

He had the presence of mind to realize that the reason he was in jail (preaching Christ) was actually creating Gospel inroads among his captors, and at the same time encouraging others to speak more boldly of the message of Jesus.

But what about those people who couldn’t see what God was up to? You know, the ones who wanted to speak badly of Paul?

Paul’s response to them is refreshingly jarring:

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Philippians 1:15-18 ESV)

From a human perspective, Paul had plenty of reasons to be angry with those who dared to try and give him a black eye. As he wrote, their motive was envy and rivalry.

They weren’t cooperating with Paul…they were competing with him!

And yet Paul looks at them and says, “I rejoice!”

Why? Because the gospel was still being proclaimed.

This doesn’t mean he was endorsing the ill-motives of those who spoke badly of him.

It just means that the gospel’s advance was more important to him.

It makes me wonder: am I a ministry cooperator…or a ministry competitor?

Ministry cooperators will be people marked by joy.

Ministry competitors often display attitudes of angst.

Ministry cooperators are driven by the Spirit.

Ministry competitors may be drawing more from the flesh.

In life, we sometimes attempt to make ourselves feel superior by pushing others down,

But that’s probably not something that comes from the Lord.

For Jesus said this:

The greatest among you shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:11-12 ESV)

The issue that plagued the hearts of Paul’s rivals can bedevil anyone of us.

We will start to see the seeds of envy and rivalry giving birth to disdain for, and disappointment in, other people’s work for God.

Instead of getting better, we will grow bitter.

That’s the time when we need a fresh infusion of the fruit of the Spirit, so we might gain a refreshed perspective on the mysterious and varied ways of God.

Like Little Children

For many, Christianity has become the grinding out of general doctrinal laws from collections of biblical facts. But childlike wonder and awe have died. The scenery and poetry and music of the majesty of God have dried up like a forgotten peach at the back of the refrigerator. ~ John Piper

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. ~ Jesus in Matthew 18:3

Yesterday I carted grandson Jude from my office to our house, as his mom and dad were busy with youth group.

I drive the same route each day, about 5 minutes travel time. I’ve driven it enough that I mentally tune out the surroundings, as my goal is simply to get home.

Yet, on this trip home I learned something of great importance: between the church and my house, three houses still had Christmas lights up in the second week of January.

Without Jude behind me in his car seat, I would have never realized that.

But, once he called out “Christmas lights!” and started counting, I found myself looking for them too.

Simply being in the presence of a child helped me start thinking like a child!

Jesus made a bold statement about what it took to be able to gain access into God’s kingdom. He said a person must change and become like a child.

But what does that mean?

I think at the core of Jesus’ teaching is the fact that kids have a natural inclination to trust. (Sometimes that innocent willingness to trust can scare us as parents!)

Without trust in God, no one gains a relationship with Him. Over and over the Bible declares that the only way know God is by exercising faith in Him. In fact Hebrews 11:6 declares:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek. (ESV)

Sadly, as we become adults, we become less trusting. In the place of trust we put things like fear and cynicism.

Another aspect of child-likeness is an attitude of dependence.

Kids understand that they need mom and dad to take care of them. How often has a child run away, only to return home by nightfall because of a growling stomach?

But as we age, we tend to revel in our independence. We long for a time in our life when no one will tell us what to do. In fact, the last thing we want to be is dependent!

The Bible tells in Matthew chapter 6 that if we seek first God’s kingdom, everything else will fall into proper order. But our independence often has us doing things our own way, under our own power…and then (maybe) asking God to bless our puny efforts.

Simply put, not very childlike!

Another aspect of child-likeness is curiosity. Kids naturally want to know more about the world around them. So they look under rocks, poke their fingers in places (some not too safe) and ask a lot of questions.

We might say that kids have their antennae up, always soaking in whatever information they can find.

Curiosity serves the follower of Jesus well, because there is so much to learn about Jesus!

Much to our detriment , the adult years can become mundane because we begin to think we’ve seen it all. “Been there, done that” keeps us from pursuing new adventures and experiencing new discoveries.

Finally, children can amaze us with their sincerity.

All though we are all sinners, by both nature and practice, most kids haven’t been beat down by the world.

This lack of scars, whether physical, relational or emotional keeps their hearts buoyant and their minds hopeful.

When the Bible uses the word sincere, it literally means “without wax.”

See, in the times of the Bible, some merchants would try to sell broken pottery by waxing the pieces together. (All it took was a good heat wave to reveal their deception.)

It’s amazing to me how a child can hear the message of the Gospel and accept it freely, whereas an adult will weigh the good news against all the idols that exist in their life, and up wrestling with the decision of trusting God for salvation.

That’s because a child’s heart is typically sincere.

With all this in mind, David’s words in Psalm 131 take on fresh meaning:

Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

David was saying that, in his life, he was operating from the mindset of a child.

Not like a baby who screams for milk, or an adult who worries about paying for the milk.

Just a child who trusts God will supply the milk.

Sometimes it’s good to spend some time around kids to be reminded what types of attitudes help us draw closer to the kingdom.




“The Bible says that our real problem is that every one of us is building our identity on something besides Jesus.” ~ Tim Keller

Lately I’ve seen a slew of television commercials promoting genetic testing.

The idea is that you send a company some spit, and they send you back a report describing your ethnic roots.

It’s pretty amazing to think that we live in a day and age where we can garner such detailed information from saliva.

And these genetic tests are selling like hotcakes. People eagerly desire to know where they come from. Which is cool.

But I would venture to say that even more important than knowing our genetic identity is knowing our spiritual identity.

Sadly, for many of us our sense of spiritual identity is all but lost. Which explains why many of us venture through life a bit aimlessly.

Here are a few thoughts about who we are and where we come from:

  1. We were CREATED

We didn’t make ourselves. No, we were made outside of ourselves. By God.

Current culture loves to talk about how mankind is just another outgrowth of evolution, and that we are no more important than an amoeba.

But the Bible disagrees with that sentiment. It says that, in comparison to all other creatures, we were made uniquely:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

This means that mankind carries certain attributes that can only found in God. Things like the ability to love, understand justice or possess a conscience.

2. We were created for a PURPOSE

Simply put, God designed human beings to live in fellowship with Him.

Of course, that all blew apart when Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God in the Garden.

Yet, God is not one to be foiled.

The Bible is essentially God’s story of his plan of restoring His relationship with humanity.

Bottom line, we exist to know, love, serve and worship God. And no other creature in the universe can do so like mankind.

Now, when we respond to God in faith, placing our trust in Christ, our identity expands.

New titles are added to our identification.

From God’s perspective we are beloved by Him and adopted by Him.

Essentially, we become family.

And, from the perspective of spiritual position before God, everything changes.

  • We go from condemned to forgiven.
  • We go from a being wreck to restored.
  • We go from guilty to justified.
  • We go from spiritually dead because of sin to spiritually alive because of Jesus
  • We go from a hostile relationship with God to one marked by peace

I like how the apostle Paul communicated how our identity transforms because of our relationship with Jesus in Romans 5:1-5

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

How’s that for a list of benefits?

The bottom line is this: our identity in Christ ought to change the way we think and live.

But first we must understand our Christian identity, then embrace it.

Until that happens, we are in danger of possessing an identity grounded in God, but not living as if it were true.

That was the story behind Disney’s movie, The Lion King, wasn’t it?

Young Simba was heir to the throne, but a combination of fear and shame (along with a bit of laziness) kept him from living his destiny.

It wasn’t until old Rafiki whacked him in the head a couple of times that Simba remembered who he was and started living like it again.

Here’s one last quote to stir some thinking about who we are before God:

“Whenever a person says to me: “My problem is that I do not love the Lord enough”, I usually respond: “No… your problem is that you don’t know how much the Lord loves you.” ~ Selwyn Hughes

That’s our identity in Christ…utterly loved by Jesus.

The question is, do we live like that?