Monthly Archives: December 2007

Which “Jesus?”

Borrowing from my pastor’s sermon this week for this post.  You can check out his blog at:

Almost the entire world knows about “Jesus,” but we don’t all know the same “Jesus.”  I was in Lagos, Nigeria, earlier this year, and I was eating alone in the hotel restaurant.  My waitress noticed that I was reading my Bible, and she struck up a conversation.  In between waiting tables on a slow night, she continued to return to mine to talk to me about different scriptures.  I was really impressed at her ability to remember and direct me to certain passages.  Before I left, she said that she would like to bring me some books to read if I was going to be at the hotel for another day or so.

Appreciative of her willingness to share resources, I arranged to meet her back in the restaurant the next evening.  When we met again, she gave me a four-inch stack of Watchtower magazines and other resources defending the Jehovah’s Witness faith. 

I was so disappointed.  I thought I had met someone on the other side of the world who shared my faith and who was a skilled teacher of its truths.  Unfortunately, though she claimed to know “Jesus,” he wasn’t the Savior Jesus from the Bible.

I think there are probably four main possibilities for who we believe Jesus to be.  The first you may hear commonly referred to as “Jesus!” or “Jesus Christ!” or even “Jesus H. Christ!” though “Christ” is actually His title (it means, “the Messiah”) and though He didn’t have a middle name.  Those who know this Jesus don’t really know Him at all.  They use His name as an expletive or a derision.  To them, Jesus is nothing more than a pop icon and fair game as the object of ridicule and condescension.

While I find it terribly sad, I also find it interesting.  Have you ever noticed that we don’t swear using the names of other gods or spiritual leaders?  I wonder why the name of Jesus is so popular?  Could it be that there is no need to deride the names of other gods or spiritual leaders, since they have no legitimate authority or power? 

The second possibility is that we believe Jesus to be a good man, maybe even a great man or a prophet.  People who hold this view of Jesus admire His example and His teachings, but they don’t believe that He is God.  They may even study His words and imitate His life, but they do not call Him Savior.  They keep Jesus in their heads, but they won’t allow Him access to their hearts.

The third possibility is that we believe Jesus to be just what His name means: Savior.  Anyone who believes that Jesus is Savior is a Christian and will one day join all the other Christians in heaven.  This is a correct view of Jesus; it’s just not sufficient.

The fourth possibility is that we believe Jesus to be not only our Savior but also Immanuel.  Isaiah 7:14 tells us:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

You might think it strange that the prophecy says His name was to be Immanuel when He ended up with the name Jesus, but Mathew 1:21-23 makes it clear that Jesus was to have both names.  While Jesus is His called name, Immanuel describes another aspect of His person. 

“Immanuel” means “God with us.”  So, not only is Jesus “Savior,” but He is also “God with us.”  The reason knowing Jesus merely as Savior is not sufficient is because He wants so much more in our lives.  Jesus doesn’t just want to be the one we call on when we are in trouble.  He doesn’t want to simply be a ticket to heaven or “fire insurance.”  He wants to be an integral part of our lives.  He wants to be our companion, our friend, our Lord. 

He wants us to talk with Him and consult Him and share our experiences with Him, but He won’t force Himself on us.  We’ve got to invite Him into all the different parts of our lives.  We’ve got to take the initiative to open up to Him about work and home.  We’ve got to ask for His counsel as we struggle with problems and relationships. 

Jesus came into the world to save us in order to restore us into relationship with God.  If we treat Him just as “Savior” and only call on Him when we need help, we’re like an estranged relative who apologized for the terrible thing he did but never called or came over for dinner afterward.  Every once in a while, he calls to ask for money, but other than that, you never hear from him.  God wants more than that.  He wants us to have a deep, abiding relationship with Him.

It’s Christmas, and this is as good a time to ask as any.  Which “Jesus” have you been living with this past year?



Filed under Religion, Spirituality

On Our Level

A pastor I like to listen to (Gayle Erwin) tells a story about visiting the children’s ministry area in his church.  When he first walked in, the kids didn’t pay any attention to him.  Just another one of those giants running around the building.  But then he got down on the floor, and they began to crawl all over him!

What made the difference?  When he was standing up, the children couldn’t relate to him.  But when he got down on the floor, he was a lot more like one of them.  In that moment, Pastor Gayle had one of those inspirations that had to come directly from the Holy Spirit. 

Didn’t God do the same thing with us?  Leaving the glory of heaven, Jesus came to earth as a baby, complete with snotty nose and dirty diapers, fully dependent upon a mother and father for His care.   He lived a human life with skin on and experienced pain, hunger and temptation.  He laughed; He cried; He made friends and enemies; He participated in common, everyday events.  For thirty years (as far as we know), He did no healings or miracles or transfigurations – just lived an ordinary, human life.

Jesus was exercising one of the four principles of building relationships: Commonality (the other three are Consideration, Consistency and Communication – more on those another time).  Commonality builds bridges between people based on what they have in common, and it increases trust, because people like people who are like them.  Turns out, that’s how we like our gods, too. 

For all of time, mankind has tried to make his gods more like himself (think of the Greek gods or Vishnu’s ten avatars).  Many stories have been told and written about gods who act like men in their quarreling, selfishness and philandering.  I suspect those stories were created and passed along to help people understand an invisible god(s) and to relate to him (her/them/it) more.  If we can just make god more like us…a little more sinful, maybe…then we can understand him.  Then we can trust him.

But in Jesus, we have a God who made Himself more like us without taking on our sinful nature.  He created Commonality by becoming one of us.  If effect, He got down on the floor with us so that we could see Him at eye level.  He got our attention by meeting us where we were at, and then He encouraged us to follow Him to a higher level.  And the Bible tells us that He experienced every kind of temptation that we experience.   That’s Commonality.  It’s a lot easier to trust what someone says when you know that he has been where you’re at.

This Christmas season, let’s all take some time to think about what an awesome God we have.  Getting down on our level was an incredible act of humility…and an incredible act of love.  It showed God’s wisdom and just how well He knows our hearts.  It testified that He was (and is) willing to go to incredible lengths to earn our trust.

And if you’re feeling brave, pay a visit to the three-year-olds in children’s ministry this weekend.  A few minutes on the floor with them might give you a whole new perspective on what Christmas is all about.


Filed under Christmas, Relationships, Religion, Spirituality

Sand in the Hand

Ever made a fist around a handful of sand? The tighter you squeeze, the more sand pours out the sides. Many things in life are like that. The more we try to control our teenagers, the more they rebel. The more we try to control our employees, the more passive-aggressive they become. The more we try to control our lives, the more God allows them to run out of control.

Our plans are the sand in the hand. It’s not that God wants our lives to be in chaos. It’s that oftentimes, the only way we trust Him with our sand is when we see how little we can do in our own power to hold it. Scripture is full of tight-fisted sand grabbers:

  • Abraham thought Hagar might help him become the “father of many nations,” and she did, but those nations have been in a bloody family feud with the Israelites ever since.
  • Jacob scammed his way to blessings and birthright, but he met his match when Laban played matchmaker for his eldest daughter.
  • Moses wanted to be the leader of his people, but vigilante justice got him forty years of practice leading sheep in the desert.
  • Peter was ready to die for Jesus and brought his sword to prove it, but Jesus wanted him to live and die to self instead.
  • Saul of Tarsus wanted to serve God with all his heart on the road to Damascus, but God had a different road for him to follow.

So often, we try to accomplish God’s purposes in ways God never intended. We get tired of waiting for Him to do His will, so we take over. But instead of speeding things up, this often just slows them down.

About eleven years ago, I had an unusual experience. A woman I had never met told me she had a word from God for me. She said that God had heard my prayers and that He would put me into full-time ministry. I was absolutely amazed (and a little freaked out), because I had been praying this prayer since becoming a Christian a few months before, but I hadn’t shared it with anyone.

Unfortunately, God never told me when or how He would bring this Word to pass. As a result, I’ve spent years in the laboratory of my life trying my hand at alchemy. I’ve wasted a lot of money, worry and time struggling to turn my raw materials into gold, but most of my efforts have only led to dearly-purchased pyrite.

Today, I’m in full-time ministry. It took a lot longer than I expected, and it doesn’t look anything like what I had in mind. It came about despite my best efforts, not because of them. But it has taught me a lesson worth more than its weight in gold: Hold your plans loosely, and let God do with them what He will.

Until He can get our fingers pried off our sand, there’s not much He can do with it but watch as our tight grip forces it to spill out the sides. But if we will trust Him with our plans of sand, and if we can keep our palm open so that He can use what He wants…then, we’ll not only be able to hold much more, but God will turn that sand into gold.

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”
(Proverbs 19:21)

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Filed under Religion, Spiritual Growth, Spirituality

Power Trip

Twenty-four college students participated in a simulation conducted by Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo of Stanford University in 1971. The students were randomly divided into “prisoners” and “guards” and asked to play out the roles in a replicated prison built in the basement of the Psychology Department.

The study was planned for two weeks but had to be ended after just six days because of the impact it was having on the students’ psyche. In a very short period of time, the “guards” became sadistic, and the “prisoners” gave in to despair. Even Dr. Zimbardo admitted that he lost objectivity as he was sucked into his role of prison superintendent.

The “guards” were told only that they could do whatever was necessary (within limits) to maintain law and order and to ensure compliance from the prisoners. From those few instructions, the “guards”:

  • subjected the “prisoners” to late night count sessions, where “prisoners” were woken up and forced to identify themselves by their prison numbers, sometimes for hours at a time.
  • forced “prisoners” to do frequent pushups while a “guard” either put his foot on their backs or had another “prisoner” sit on them.
  • stripped the “prisoners” naked in order to harass and intimidate them.
  • required “prisoners” to clean out toilet bowls with their bare hands.
  • made “prisoners” urinate or defecate into a bucket in their cell, occasionally not allowing them to empty their buckets.

The “prisoners” staged a rebellion, but it was put down when the “guards” sprayed all the “prisoners” with fire extinguishers, forced their way into the cells, stripped the “prisoners” naked and sequestered the leaders into solitary confinement cells.

The “guards” then set about to break the solidarity of the “prisoners” by creating a “privilege” cell and allowing some of the prisoners to receive advantages over the others, such as clothes, toothbrushes and special foods (the other prisoners were forced to fast during this time). After a half-day of privilege, some of the “good prisoners” were moved into the cells of the “bad prisoners” and vice-versa. As a result, “prisoners” began to distrust each other, thinking that the ones from the privilege cell were now informants for the “guards.”

Less than 36 hours into the experiment, one “prisoner” (#8612) fell into uncontrollable sobbing and rage and had to be released. Over the next days, he was followed by four others, who so suffered from emotional distress that they couldn’t continue with the experiment. Another “prisoner” went on a hunger strike in an attempt to force his release. Yet another developed a rash over his entire body when he was told that his parole request had been turned down.

On the sixth day, the experiment had to be halted, because video footage revealed that “guards” had escalated their abuse of the “prisoners.” In the middle of the night when they thought no one was watching, they were forcing the “prisoners” to strip naked and pretend to perform acts of sodomy on one another.

All this from men who had been selected for the simulation specifically because they had tested normally in all the psychological tests performed before the experiment. How could this happen and happen so quickly?

In a recent interview, Dr. Zimbardo said, “It’s not that we put bad apples in a good barrel. We put good apples in a bad barrel. The barrel corrupts anything that it touches.”

His finding reflects another truth. The barrel does corrupt, but it’s much larger than he thinks. The world is our barrel, and while it may have been created good, it’s fallen under the influence of an evil caretaker. Each of us (the apples) were created by God to be good, but we were born into a corrupted barrel, and we are guilty by association.

You may read the account above and think, “I would never act like those guards.” “I would stand up for what was right.” And maybe you would, but without Christ, it’s more likely that you would act in just the same way. As Lord Acton of Britain once said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The seed of every sin we can imagine is hidden in our hearts. Our only sure defense against depravity is Christ. Without Him, our moral fiber is not nearly as strong as we would like to think. With Him, we get a new barrel. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, He moves us from the bad barrel to the good. But while our spirit has changed barrels, our bodies can’t go there just yet; there’s too much work left to be done.

What causes us problems, and what leads us into sin is that we sometimes forget we’ve been given a new spiritual barrel. Like the prisoners in the study, we lose sight of the fact that we are free, that we don’t have to submit to this barrel’s warden. Living in the old barrel demoralizes us, and we start to play the roles he wants us to play. Because our surroundings seem so real, our freedom seems distant and illusory.

In truth, he has no real power over us – only the power we allow him to convince us he has. At any moment (in every moment), we could have our freedom, but instead, we allow him to harass and intimidate us. We stay voluntarily in a prison of our own sin and low self-image. Though we long to be free, we don’t think it’s possible.

What barrel do you think you are in today? And what impact is it having on your life? If you want to move to Christ’s barrel, it’s as simple as asking Him to move you. And if you’re already in the good barrel, believe it! You are free! The only reason you are still in this prison is to help others escape.


Filed under Religion, self-image, sin, Spirituality

Foul Trouble

The Knights of West Coast Christian College played the Sea Lions of UC Santa Cruz in 1982. Both were small basketball teams, but the Knights got even smaller as injuries caused them to suit up only eight players that night.

Despite lengthy playing times for their players, the Knights were winning by 15 points at the fourth quarter. But whether by strategy or serendipity, the Sea Lions found themselves winning the foul game. Four Knights had fouled out, and the team had to play one short with only four men on the court. Then player number five fouled out. Then number six. And finally number seven.

Unbelievably, the Knights only had one player left on the court! NCAA rules allow a one-man team to play if the team is winning or has a chance to win, so junior guard Mike Lockhart represented the team against the full-strength Sea Lions. (Don’t try this at home, kids!)

By in-bounding the ball off his opponents and playing some incredible defense, Lockhart held off the Sea Lions for the last two minutes of the fourth quarter – the longest two minutes of his life. The Sea Lions tried their best to draw a foul against him but only succeeded in giving him five more points from the free-throw line. When the final buzzer sounded, the Knights won 75-67!

There are about half a dozen different ways I could take this, but let me go this direction…

Consider this story a picture of your Christian walk. Most of the time, you’re going to have your Christian “team” right there with you as you take it to the enemy on his court. But one day, it’s likely that some of them are going to get into foul trouble. They will lose their focus long enough that the enemy will lead them into serious sin, and they’ll find themselves sitting the bench as a result.

As much as this will break your heart for your Christian brothers and sisters, don’t forget that there’s still a game to play. Even if you find yourself the sole (soul) defense against the home team, don’t give up! Don’t get distracted by your fouled-up and out teammates. God can still coach you to a win.

Showing some hustle until the end honors your teammates and your Lord. It shows His strength made perfect in your weakness, so it probably won’t be pretty… but it will be glorious!

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Filed under overcoming obstacles, Religion, Spirituality

Wanted: Male Models

Some years ago, several young male elephants at the Pilanesberg Game Park in South Africa began attacking the park’s herd of endangered white rhinos. Seemingly unprovoked, the elephants threw debris at the rhinos and chased them all over the park. They eventually wore the rhinos out and trampled a tenth of the herd to death.

Though they couldn’t figure out what had brought on the attacks, the park decided that they had no choice but to put the elephants down. Five had been killed when they decided to try another approach.

Twelve years before, the elephants had been transported from Kruger National Park because of overcrowding there. Female elephants and their babies had been moved, but no adult males had come with them. The park managers realized that what had been lacking was the authority and leadership of the adult bull elephants.

After transporting some adult males to Pilanesberg, order was quickly restored. Attacks on the rhinos stopped, and the adolescent male elephants fell into the natural hierarchy under the adults. The younger elephants even began following the older males and modeling their behaviors.

I met with a case worker yesterday who ministers to pregnant mothers and mothers with infant children in an Asian country where I work. She told me that only 10% of the mothers who sought care at the church had husbands who were engaged in the family. The other 90% had abandoned their wives either physically or emotionally or were actively abusing them in some way.

What will happen to those children without positive male role models to follow? Where will the boys learn how to be men? And what kind of men will they learn to be? Will they be able to control their power and their passions? I don’t think so.

God bless single mothers! They are suffering saints, but they aren’t enough. Boys are different, and moms sometimes don’t know what to do with those differences. God created boys wild, and their wildness makes them warriors and heroes, but it also has to be controlled. They must harness the wild beast inside them so that its power is focused in the right direction.

This isn’t just a problem where I work. Our boys the world over need men in their lives. They need to see a man they can respect control the wild beast inside him so that he can provide for a family, commit himself to one woman, make difficult, self-sacrificing decisions. Without positive male role models, adolescent boys become self-serving, destructive forces hurting those around them.

The enemy knows that he can destroy entire families by incapacitating, distracting or separating the men. Look around you, and I bet you can identify at least ten families where the wife and mother is doing all the heavy lifting. This evidence in itself should be enough to prove that Satan has husbands and fathers in his sights.

Pray for a father and husband today. If he is in the home trying to serve the family, I promise you that he is under attack from the enemy. He may never share his struggles with you, but he does have struggles. And you don’t want to find out after he’s already left the herd.

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Filed under family, men, Uncategorized

Yes, No, What’s Your Hurry?

If you’re in the habit of treating God like a vending machine, you’ve probably beat on the glass a few times when the answer to your prayer got stuck in the dispenser. Me, too. I’ve beat the glass, kicked the side and tried to tump the whole thing over (you Texans understand what I’m sayin’ – “How ’bout them Cowboys!“).

Problem is, it’s no use. You can’t tump God. If He’s got ahold of the answer to your prayer, He’s not going to let it go until He’s ready. Doesn’t matter how many coins you put into the slot.

But it might help you to know that God ALWAYS answers prayer. It may not be the answer you were hoping for, but it will be an answer nonetheless. There are just three answers He gives: “Yes,” “No” and “What’s Your Hurry?”

Yes Answers
God gives “yes” answers whenever we ask something that is both in His will and in His time. Sometimes, this even includes parking spaces and lotto numbers, but I wouldn’t count on it. I’ve come to believe that God gives lots of “yes” answers to us early in our walk as a way of building our faith – even for silly stuff. But as we grow in Him, He makes us search Him out more, and this means we will get more…

No Answers
These are tough, but they are easier to accept when you trust the heart of God. If you know that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28), even the “no” answers are blessings. When Garth Brooks “thank(s) God for unanswered prayers,” he’s talking about the “no’s.”

God has a list of reasons why He sometimes says no. They include (but are not limited to):

  • We have sin that we haven’t dealt with.
  • We ask out of bad motives.
  • We don’t even ask.
  • God has something better in mind for us.
  • God has something better in mind for His Kingdom.

When God tells you “no,” you can resist, resent or rejoice. (Hint: Only one of these ever works.)

What’s Your Hurry? Answers
Much of the time, what we confuse for “no” answers are really just “what’s your hurry?” answers. God loves to say “yes” to us, but sometimes it’s just too early. He wants to give us the blessing, but we couldn’t handle it yet. (Think about all the people who have been ruined by fame and fortune because they didn’t have the wisdom to manage it well. Now thank God that you’re not one of them.) When we’ve matured, or when the conditions are right, the blessing will come.

So, ask God for the desires of your heart. And keep asking until you feel you’ve gotten an answer. (Sometimes I think God gives us the “what’s your hurry?” answer just so we’ll keep talking to Him.) God loves us and always wants the best for us, and He’s in a much better position to know what that is.


Filed under prayer, Religion, Spirituality