Innocent Suffering?

Read Isaiah 53:7-9.

There are a couple of problems when we begin to apply this text to our lives. First of all, though Christ was completely innocent in his suffering at the cross, not one of us is completely innocent in any situation. We all have motives and attitudes and desires that do not honor God. And second, it is rare today that someone in our culture would suffer for the sins of someone else. We live in a society (though imperfect in many ways) promises to defend the innocent until he is proven to be guilty.

With all of that said, Christians around the world suffer every day. If you would like to read more about the persecuted church (which we have a hard time relating to in our incredible ethnocentric world), click of the the web site for the Voice of the Matyrs and sign up for their weekly update. This is a small way that you can pray for Christians around the world who are seriously suffering simply for their faith in Jesus Christ. They, more than us, can relate to the innocent suffering of Christ.

The truth of God’s Word penetrates even our hearts, however. Jesus told His disciples, “If they hated me, they will hate you.” How is your relationship with the world? While we want to be salt and light (and have a good reputation with unbelievers), do we look so much like the ungodly world in our values and practices that we will never have any conflict with the world? This should cause us to pause and reflect if we are truly following in the footsteps of Christ. As 1 Peter 2:21-25 tells us (read this passage also) where Peter quotes from Isaish 53:9, we should suffer for Christ because we are doing what he called us to do, not because we are living just like the world.

What do you think?

Doing What You Were Made To Do

As I sit around with our college students this weekend at Lake Granbury, I am reminded of a couple of things that God taught me a long time ago but are easy to forget. First, God is in the business of equipping every person in the church for the work of the ministry. Sometimes, those of us in vocational ministry begin to think that the church would not be able to function if we didn’t do every ministry in the church. But we are missing the clear teaching of the apostle Paul in Romans 12:3-8 when he says that we are not to think too highly of ourselves, but are to recognize that we are all members of one body that have been gifted differently to accomplish the will of God in the church. This is an amazing fact that should challenge us to be thankful for the different giftings of every person in the church. They are gifted for a ministry in the church that I will never be able to accomplish.

Second, the Lord God of the universe has designed me as an individual to do something specific in the church. This is so encouraging and so challenging at the same time. Each of us has been gifted and designed by God to do one thing. Is the reason that so many people burn out and get discouraged in their ministry in the church because they are functioning in an area that they are not gifted for and not passionate about. Therefore, the question we must all answer is: what is the one thing that God has designed me to do in His church?

Of anything in my life, I want to be passionate about the church of Jesus. I want to wake up in the morning and go to bed at night excited about what God is doing in and through my life. Idealistic, some will say. Too young to know any different, others will say.

I will say – just hopeful that something better is possible.

Our Supreme Savior

Read Isaiah 53:4-6.

I love lots of people in my life. I could testify this morning to all the wonderful people that God has put in my path that have influenced my life for the better. But if you were to really peg me on who I would lay down my own life for, and I was to be brutally honest…I could probably count those people on one hand. It’s not that I don’t truly love others, its just that I truly love myself too much. And for most of you, I bet it is no different.

It is in this context of the selfish human condition that we must read about the sacrifice of Christ. The three verses in the middle of Isaiah’s servant song (4-6) seem like they could have been written by the prophet standing at the foot of the cross. Even though I believe in the divine authorship of Scripture wholeheartedly, it is still amazing to see the prophet write about the suffering of the Messiah 700 years before it actually happened. This short paragraph tells us why so many missed Him in the first coming (and why so many still miss Him today). We just thought He was too punished to be the Anointed One of God. Why would God allow an innocent man to suffer so greatly?

But here Isaiah removes the mystery. Jesus was pierced by the nails, crushed by the abuse of the Roman guards, chastened by the mockers, and beaten with whips. Why? Verse 6 is the key. We are like sheep wondering in the wilderness, hopelessly lost, thinking that we know best for our life and our future. God decided He would redeem humanity by placing the punishment for our sins on the shoulders of Jesus. He would make man right by crushing the Messiah.

And it is here that we return to my opening point. Thank God that He wasn’t depending on me to lay down my life for the redemption of the world – we would still be waiting. Thank God that Jesus was willing to give up everything not just for his friends, but for his enemies. That is the kind of love that changes life. It definitely has transformed mine. May you find the peace that only comes in trusting this supreme Savior.

Famous Before Who?

Read Isaiah 53:1-3.

American Idol has me thinking a lot lately about what we value in people. Last night, Bo Bice was on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and in case you didn’t know, he is weird. I was watching him, thinking how we cheer and idolize those who can stand on a stage and sing songs they didn’t even write. We have become a society that makes celebrities out of the strangest group of people. No one stands up and cheers for the righteous teenager or the student who makes godly choices. We cheer stupid things like performance ability. What’s up with that?

In this passage in Isaiah, we are reminded that the Messiah Himself was despised and rejected by men. Isn’t it amazing, as John says in John 1:11, that the very people that Jesus created did not receive Him? For all of us who struggle with the constant approval of the crowd, there is a powerful challenge here about what audience we are playing for. The text is clear that the Messiah was only living for one audience: His Father in heaven. Why is this so hard for us to do today?

If we are going to be Christ-followers, we must be willing to lay down our approval-addictions and live the radically God-centered life. There are so few people (much less teenagers) who are willing to do what Jesus did: obey the will of God for their lives at the sake of the American Idol vote count (read popularity). May we recognize that the things that God cheers for are not what our culture cheers for. “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

To all those who are despised and rejected for following Christ, I am cheering for you.

Dads and Kids

It is really overwhelming how much having children changes your life. I remember just two years ago how Barie and I were satisfied to just spend our money on our own stuff and spend all our free time on our own hobbies. How times have changed. I think children are God’s way of really showing you how selfish you are. I know that I am amazed at how many times I get home from work and want to do “my thing.” What’s up with that? I guess the selfish sin nature still drives us more than we know. Selfishness is really apparent when I’m tired and dry spiritually. No wonder so many dads are losers in the area of giving to their kids. They have never gotten over themselves, and even if they have, they are so tired from working too many hours that they have nothing to give their families.

Being in student ministry has given me an interesting and unique perspective on the place of dads in the lives of their kids. I can now guess with startling accuracy when I meet a student whether or not they have a father who is engaged. By “engaged” I don’t mean just there, but actually a part of the kid’s life. How do I know? Well, the symptoms are everywhere, but the most obvious is the need for love and attention they seek from everyone else. As we get close to Father’s Day 2005, I am reminded every day by my students about the importance of being a godly man who loves and cares for my sons.

May each of you fathers drive to be the man you would be proud if your sons become.

The Silent Defense

Read Isaiah 52:13-15.

This passage describes the suffering of the Messiah hundreds of years before he was actually born. The text explains the horrific disfigurement that Jesus would embrace on his path to redeeming humanity. When we reflect on this text, what can we learn for our lives?

First, we need to remember the tremendous suffering of our Lord on our behalf was according to the Scriptures. It is a powerful reminder to us that it was God’s will for the Lord Jesus to suffer. While man is responsible for the death and torture of Christ because of his evil desires and destructive nature, it was ultimately the providential plan of God that Christ would embrace the cross for the salvation of the world. If there is redemption for humanity in the suffering of Christ, is there redemptive power in our suffering? What do you think?

Second, verse 15 makes the powerful point that the intense suffering of the Messiah will shut the mouths of the kings of the world. When we are mistreated, our first tendency is to lash out in hateful spite toward those who have hurt us. However, the example of our Lord is to respond in peace and kindness, even when treated unjustly. How difficult this is for all of us who feel like we should defend ourselves in every situation! Can each of us follow the example of Christ and allow God to vindicate our lives? The challenge of course, is that God’s vindication may not even come in this life. Jesus was dead before God vindicated his life. Are you willing to wait for God’s vindication or are you constantly taking justice into your own hands?

Reading the Bible

I’m a reader by nature. I really enjoy nothing more than sitting down with a good book and getting away from the worries and concerns of real life. The scary thing is that for people like me reading lots of books can become an idol that gets in the way of actually reading the Word. Isn’t it funny how the enemy can even deceive you into thinking that reading a lot of books about the Bible is close enough to reading the Bible?

Not so. The text has to be read and absorbed in its context. Our cookie cutter approach to reading the text is devastating to our biblical literacy. We would never sit down with John Grisham and start reading in chapter 3, paragraph 2, sentence 4. If we did that, we would most likely not understand the characters very well that the author had been developing. We would not understand the references to earlier parts of the story that we had not read. And we would definitely not catch the subtle clues that were pointing us toward the resolution of the story. How, then, do we expect to read the Bible this way? I use to say that the problem with believers in our churches was their lack of application of the text. I have always said that people know that David killed Goliath, but they don’t know what difference that makes in their lives. This is still true, but the real tragedy is that not that people are missing the application, but that they are really missing the meaning. The David and Goliath narrative sits in the middle of a long narrative about the life of David (and even larger than that, the narrative about the kingdom of Israel and the throne). What is the author of 1 and 2 Samuel doing with the David and Goliath story and how does this effect our interpretation of it?

We have got to begin to read whole books at a time if we are going to begin to understand what God is saying to us through the plot structure of the Scripture. For readers of lots of things other than the Bible, this will be a difficult task. Let’s get busy reading God’s Word and less busy reading about it.

The Highest View of God

I think that A.W. Tozer said it best in his book The Knowledge of the Holy when he wrote that the church of Jesus Christ will never rise above its view of God. This is because the fuel that burns the fires in mens’ souls for the spread of the gospel around the globe is the unrivaled supremacy and value of God. Idolatry is not bowing down to some golden statue or saying words of praise to a wooden pole. No, idolatry is the common action of the heart to value something other than God as supreme. Whenever we exalt something higher than God in our lives, we are committing the ultimate sin – loving supremely that which is not supremely lovely. If the church is to catch a passion for evangelism, discipleship, and missions, it must begin with a recapturing of the doctrine of God.

How is it that the mysterious body of Christ has forgotten to teach the wonderful attributes and nature of God? What else do we have to offer a world ravaged by sin other than the person of God? And yet, week after week, the supreme value of man is preached from our pulpits. Apparently, God did everything because of our amazing value to Him. How have we allowed the pure gospel of God to be corrupted by the selfish, man-centered consumerism of this age? God redeemed humanity for the praise of His own glory, to demonstrate to all ages the surpassing greatness of his grace and mercy. Let us again as the church of Christ rise to the call to proclaim the wonder of the doctrine of God. We cannot afford to get this one wrong.

The Priceless Wife…

The writer of Proverbs comments that there is no value comparison for a wife that fears the Lord. She is to be more treasured than any jewels that can be found on the earth. She could be the climactic element of the MasterCard commercial: engagment ring, $1000; wedding, $5000; honeymoon, $3000; wife of noble character: priceless. The wife who fears the Lord is one who cares for the needs of her family above her own. She is a servant above all things, selflessly giving without calling for others to satisfy her needs. She is a woman of honor, constantly bringing praise to her home and her family because of the way she treats the people around her. She is hospitable, always opening her home and her table to take care of the travelor. She will go out of her way to speak words of kindness to someone who is hurting because she is gifted with compassion and mercy of God. She invests all her energy in her children, never balking at the commitment that it takes to raise up young men and women of God. She is a helper to her spouse, always giving of herself to assist him and enoucrage him and challenge him. She is intimate with the Lord God and faithful to her family. She is amazing and rare.

I am married to a priceless wife … her name is Barie.