Five Thoughts, And One More That Wouldn’t Have Made It If I Had An Editor
1. It has become incredibly trendy to portray Jesus primarily as a Jewish rabbi. It seems to be assumed that we can only truly understand Jesus if we dive into His culture and cultural conditioning, as His true and pure message is obscured by our Western way of thinking. While Jesus certainly did minister within a particular cultural context, He did not teach His message in such a way that only that particular culture could understand it. The gospel is transcultural. And Jesus Christ preached it that way. He, the One who has declared the end from the beginning, intentionally spoke with you and me in mind, 200+ years after He physically walked the earth. While the average man off the streets of Nazareth would be practically unable to function in our world today (without a lot of tutoring), the gospel itself is just as clear, relevant, and effective for changing lives as it ever has been. Over-Judaizing Jesus does nothing but obscure the life-giving message that the world desperately needs to hear.
2. We are meant to intensely long for heaven. There’s a young man in the youth group who has a front-row ticket to a concert by his favorite band. I know this because he mentions it almost every time I see him. He lives with great expectation that very soon he will participate in something he’s waited a long time for. Longing for heaven in like that. It’s understanding that even the greatest joy I’ve ever had on this earth is but there merest shadow of what awaits. Heaven is my home. It is my hope. And this allows me to bear much more than I could otherwise. Sickness isn’t so defeating when I see that one day, very soon I will be free of it. I can bear the constant frustrations of wrestling with entangling sin because I know that one day soon there will be no more roller coaster victory-defeat-victory-defeat pattern, the joy of triumph. Persecution, betrayal, loneliness, pain, suffering, grief–it’s not all that bad because one day, very soon it will all end. And not just be taken away. But rather replaced by joy that is so great I could never describe it.
3. It is hard to be biblical while teaching topically. It is so easy to bend texts to make them say what I want them to say; to search for translations that give the nuances I’ve already determined I want to draw out before considering what the text really has to say. It’s incredibly easy to teach an entirely biblical message and do the Bible a great injustice. To do so is to preach my own insight and wisdom, not the Word. And my insight and wisdom has no staying power, no ability to change lives. It is only the Word of God that is sharper than any two-edged sword, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. If I do anything other than bring the Word and nothing but the Word to bear on people’s lives, then I’m failing as a teacher. Illustrations, examples, humor–all is good, but only if it is used to drive home the message.
4. The Lord has been teaching me much about contentment. It is not easy to graduate from Master’s. It’s hard to leave behind the conversations in the dorms and the small groups and the close-knit friendships established by walking with one another in every aspect of life through thick and thin. It is so easy to find joy and happiness in that rather than in the Lord Himself. The church is a very different community than the college. There’s more space in between peoples’ lives. It’s harder to get to know somebody on an intimate level. And that’s hard to get used to. In some ways I don’t want to get used to it. Having seen the transforming power of God displayed through friendships I see the potential in the church for a wise, self-sacrificing, other-sanctifying culture. Because there is a lot of wisdom that exists in the church that does not exist in a college culture where everyone is between the ages of 17 and 23. The difficulty in college is finding wisdom. The difficulty in the church is tapping into that wisdom. My church has just started a men’s discipleship program, and I’m excited to see us taking the step of being intentional in our relationships. The people of God have so much to offer one another.
5. A man I really respect said this about personal devotions: “It’s one thing to give the church’s time to your walk with the Lord. It’s another to give your time to your walk with the Lord.” It is hard to come home after studying at the church and jump into the Word again, this time for myself. While I think there certainly is an overlap between personal devotions and preparation for a sermon or message, it just isn’t the same thing. In order for me to preach passionately, I must have had my heart pierced by the Word, my complacent sinfulness rubbed against the ragged-edged purity of God’s truth. And yet, it is so, so easy to professionalize brokenness and contriteness of spirit. To be in the Word only in the office is to functionally compartmentalize my life. And the heart always follows what you functionally do. If my life outside the pulpit is to be vibrant with the truth of God’s Word, I must be immersing myself within the truth of God’s Word outside the pulpit.
6. I’m outside on my back porch and coyotes just began howling. I hate being alone outside in the dark. And I hate coyotes. I’m now inside where it’s nice and bright and they can’t get me, unless these particular coyotes descended from those half-crazed The Day After Tomorrow wolves.