Jesus Habits #2

We are busy.  There’s rarely enough time in the day to do all of the things we would like to get done.  While life is filled with endless tasks and duties we must attend to, most of the busyness comes from distractions and other non essentials that tie up our time throughout the day.  It’s the curse of living in the information age.  We surf the web, binge watch netflix, keep tabs on the latest news, and follow 1,000 people on social media.  It’s the downside of being so connected.

It’s been said, “if the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.”  Maybe there’s some truth to that.  But is it possible to be busy and have a thriving relationship with God at the same time?

Jesus was a busy guy too.  People were always clamoring to speak with him, hear from him, be healed by him, or question him.  I imagine the three years he spent in public ministry were a whirlwind.  How did he handle all of that pressure?  Mark’s gospel gives us a clue as to how Jesus went about his business.

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

Mark 1:35

I wish we could have gotten more information from Mark.  I would like to know a great deal more about Jesus devotional life, but a couple of things jump out at me from this brief description.

First off, Jesus got up very early.  I’m sure he was tired, but he was disciplined enough and passionate enough to invest the first part of his day in prayer.  Secondly, he left the house to find a solitary place.  Jesus needed to be by himself with no distractions.  He was focused.  He didn’t pray on the go, or in his spare time.  He carved out time, got away from it all, and removed the opportunity for distractions.  Lastly, he was gone so long the disciples had to go out searching for him.  In other words, there were places to go and people to see, but Jesus had somehow lost himself in time spent with his Father in heaven.  Jesus attitude seems to be “everything else can wait for this.”

The habits of Jesus reveal the secret to maintaining a busy lifestyle while thriving in a relationship with God:  get up early, block out distractions, lose yourself in what is most important.  Be like Jesus.

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Jesus Habits pt. 1

He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.

Luke 4:16

Jesus went to church. It was his custom.

Sometimes I wonder why he bothered? It couldn’t have been all that entertaining. No live band. No high tech media systems. I’m sure the preacher went way too long, and didn’t have much use for clever metaphors and stories. After all, this wasn’t the big mega synagogue in Jerusalem, this was a dingy, old synagogue in Nazareth, a small town 64 miles to the North.

But a church isn’t all about the building and the “stuff”, it’s about the people, right? I’m sure Jesus made it a custom to worship at the synagogue for the sense of community.  Let’s talk about the people for a moment. These were the people he grew up with. They helped raise him. They knew his parents Joseph and Mary. I’m sure it came as a surprise to Jesus when they tried to kill him (read on in Luke 4). I’ve preached a lot of bad sermons in my career, but no one has ever tried to kill me afterwards.

He didn’t go to church to meet girls. I’m pretty sure he was committed to single hood.

He didn’t go for the free childcare.

He didn’t go for the free coffee.

What was the reason?  “It was his custom.” It appears Jesus was committed to attending church.  I guess it makes sense.  Jesus said he would build the church (Mt. 16:18). Paul said Jesus is the head of the church (Col. 1:18). The body of Christ is the church (1 Cor. 12:27).

How important is church in the life of a Christian? If we are to take our cues from Jesus, the answer to that question is rather obvious.

Wednesday was my day

This past week at Westside Church, I was teaching through Paul’s prayer in his letter to the Colossians.  One of the key themes Paul was praying into the life of the Colossian church was endurance.  He knew better than anyone the Christian life is no walk in the park.  It comes with challenges, persecutions, and requires a great deal of perseverance on our part.  God sustains us.  God gives us his grace, but it is on us to endure.  I was inspired by a story I heard this week from Pastor Simeon Obayo.  He’s a personal friend and the pastor of Kakamega Pefa church in Kenya.  He recently gave his testimony to a group of Pastors:

“When I was 7 years old my mother sent me to school.  She could not afford a uniform so I went to school without one.  All I had was a torn shirt and a pair of ripped shorts that showed my bare buttocks to the whole world.  Every Wednesday we stood for inspection.  Wednesday was my day!  It was the day I was caned in front of the whole class for not having a uniform.  Week after week I was caned, but I came to school anyway.  I learned to take it like a man!   I would pull my shoulders back and refuse to cry, so they caned me harder.  When I came home with welts on my back my mother could only hug me and pray for me.  We had no other choice.

I now look back on those days as the days when the Lord put strength in my soul to endure the trials of life and never give up.  That is the reason I am what I am today.  No one ever had faith in me, but I never gave up.  No one ever helped me, so I helped myself.  I showed up and refused to go away, so they gave me jobs.  I went places without money and I learned that God always makes a way.  I was a poor boy who never had shoes until he was 19, but today I am a pastor and a Bishop over many Churches.  Faith for me was something that made me persevere and dare to do the impossible, a gift from God that has given me courage through my entire life”.

What an amazing story!  Hopefully this puts the struggles you are facing in perspective.  And for those of you who are in the midst of a trial, here is the prayer Paul would pray for you.

Be strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience…

-Colossians 1:11

Holding it together

Today I’m reading from Colossians 1. I came across a simple phrase in verse 17 that has made a big impression upon me, “in Him [Jesus] all things hold together.” Have you ever experienced a season in life when you felt as if everything was falling apart? Professionally, relationally, financially everything that could go wrong did go wrong. Maybe you are in the midst of one of those seasons right now. You can hardly catch your breath before something else comes along and drags you back down under the water again. How do you hold yourself together when everything seems to be falling apart?

A few months ago we finished packing up all the Christmas decorations preparing them for another year of storage. Perhaps the most meaningful decoration of them all is the ceramic nativity scene we have. We’re trying to preserve it, so that it stays with us every Christmas and provides that nostalgia every time the kids pull it out of the box. This has proved challenging as we have four kids in the house. My son Judah thinks the Holy family is an action figure set. Needless to say, every year, before putting the nativity scene away, we need to perform super glue surgery. After twelve years of intense action, virtually every head, limb, and accessory is held together with super glue.

Our little nativity scene is a great allegory for life. Let’s face it, stuff happens. Life can often leave us broken and bruised and whether we’ve been the cause of our own pain, or someone else is responsible, we could really use some super glue surgery from time to time. It’s during those times that you want to crack open your Bible to Colossians 1 and speak these six words over your life – “In Him all things hold together!”

In Colossians 1:16, the previous verse, Paul says, “all things have been created through him [Jesus] and for him.” Have you ever thought of yourself as being created for Jesus? You are of inestimable worth to Jesus Christ. He paid the ultimate price by dying a bloody death on the cross in order to redeem your life. The next time you catch yourself thinking that your life is beyond repair, your marriage is impossible, or your future hopeless, remember that you are a treasure to Jesus Christ. It’s his desire to present you as pure, spotless, and unblemished before God the Father. And so, there’s my metaphor for the day “Super-glue Jesus.” It’s in his best interests to present you before God in one piece. I hope this inspires you!

Why believe in Resurrection pt. 3

Reason # 3: You don’t make this kind of thing up

Some have suggested that the resurrection narratives in the gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John must have been developed long after the events themselves. They say the two main evidences for the resurrection, the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses, were fabricated stories that were passed on by well intentioned, yet naïve individuals. Could that be true?

First off, the earliest accounts of the empty tomb and the eyewitnesses to the resurrected Jesus are not found in the gospels. The apostle Paul in his various letters to early Christian churches is the first to make mention of these proofs. One of the most compelling texts is found in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Most scholars agree that Paul is quoting a popular Christian liturgy that was developed some time before the writing of this letter. He says it was “passed on” to him. The letter to the Corinthians was written sometime around 52-55AD, around 20 years after the death of Jesus. In reality, this saying could very likely have developed within 5 years of Jesus death, but no later than 20 years. That’s a profound thought considering within this liturgy Paul mentions Jesus death, burial, the empty tomb and many eyewitnesses who could easily be asked to verify the information. To be honest, the argument that the resurrection story was fabricated at a much later date doesn’t hold water. There are simply too many people, contemporary to the date and time it happened, who could expose the whole story as a lie.

This presents another conundrum if we are looking to disprove the resurrection. Why would Paul claim the empty tomb is evidence if there wasn’t an empty tomb? Think about it. The Jewish leaders were incensed over the spread of Christianity. They were willing to hunt down and kill the early church leaders. If they could put the rumors of Jesus’ resurrection to rest by producing a corpse, wouldn’t they have been quick to do so? If the tomb where Jesus was buried really contained his body, there is no way Christianity could have experienced the growth it did in the very city where these events were said to have transpired – Jerusalem.

What about the eyewitnesses? If the story were a fabrication, then why would Matthew, who was writing his gospel to an intended Jewish audience, claim that the first eyewitnesses to see the resurrected Jesus were women (Mt. 28:1-10)? Each gospel tells us the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection were women. A woman’s low social status within the Jewish culture meant their testimony was not admissible evidence in court. If the gospel writers were merely fabricating a story, why would they include these details? It could only have undermined the credibility of their testimony. It makes no sense. Unless… well, you get the point. It’s true!

Why believe in Resurrection pt. 2

Reason #2 The behavior of Jesus disciples defies logic.

Let’s be honest, the disciples weren’t the “A-team” by any stretch of the imagination. They were a rag tag group of fisherman, tax collectors, and zealots. There wasn’t a man among them who could be considered a courageous person. In fact, when Jesus was arrested in the garden of Gethsemane, they all turned tail and ran. Peter attempted to defend Jesus for a moment, but only because he had anticipated Jesus would miraculously smite all of his captors; when it became clear this was not his intention, he ran away too. The scriptures say that all but John and a few of the women were absent at the time of Jesus crucifixion. John was a teenager who didn’t know any better. The women wouldn’t be seen as a threat and were able to be present without fear of harm.

Peter, who would become the leader of the Christian movement, takes his cowardice a step further. He wasn’t even willing to be associated with Jesus for fear of embarrassment. When asked by a servant girl if he was a follower of Jesus, he denied it. He denied Jesus three times while he was on trial before the Sanhedrim. As Jesus was beat up and spit on, Peter was a spectator from a safe distance.

Imagine the bewilderment of the Jewish leaders when these very disciples show up in Jerusalem, just 45 days after Jesus death, and start preaching and proclaiming boldly that he rose from the dead. Not only were they preaching salvation in Jesus name, but they were backing it up with the authority of miracles. A man born blind, who was easily recognized by the people, was claiming that the Jesus had healed him through Peter’s prayer. The Jewish leaders threaten them and tell them to shut up about Jesus, but their boldness only grows and their influence with it (Acts 4:17-20). What accounts for this boldness? What transformed a rag tag group of scared little boys into spiritual dynamos who turned the entire world upside down? What explains the fact that these twelve men who hid in fear of their lives once Jesus was arrested, subsequently, defied death in order to preach the gospel? Did they do it for money? They weren’t rich. Did they do it for fame? They certainly didn’t live glamorous lives. Did they do it for fun? Only if you define getting crucified upside down, fun. What explains their sudden boldness?

The real question to answer here is what would you do if you witnessed a man defy death, hell and the grave and appear before you with nail scarred hands? How would you view death if you saw him ascend into heaven promising “I’m going to prepare a place for you”? Would you become a radical? Would you turn the world upside down telling everyone what you had seen and heard? Come to think of it, that’s exactly what they did! I’ve yet to come up with an explanation for the explosive growth of Christianity and the boldness of Jesus disciples outside of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Why Believe in Resurrection pt. 1

Many people argue that unless the resurrection can be proved, they cannot put their faith in Christ. I would argue that until the resurrection can be disproved, one is compelled to come up with an explanation for how Christianity emerged in the first century, toppling the Roman empire from within, going on to become the world’s largest religion and showing no signs of slowing down. How do we explain this? I believe the answer lies in the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

But is the resurrection a sustainable belief. I want to explore three reasons why I believe the resurrection to be a reality over the next three weeks’ blog postings.

Reason # 1: Jesus’ death should’ve ended his influence

Think about it. Have you ever heard of Simon of Peraea (4BC), Menahem Ben Judah (70AD), Simon bar Kokhba (135AD), or David Koresh (1990’s)? Ok, maybe you’ve heard of David Koresh. All of these characters claimed to be the messiah. They amassed followers who were convinced that they were in some way anointed by God to establish His kingdom. They all died. Upon their deaths, the movements they had begun died with them. This is how it works in messianic cults – the leader dies and the movement dies along with him/her.

Most of us have seen the Dateline story investigating the person who claims to be the messiah, God, or some form of deity. The claim is they perform miracles, signs and wonders. Usually, they are amassing a small fortune in the process. How do you respond when you hear an outlandish report such as this? “How can people believe this craziness?” “Someone needs to expose this clown and reveal the hoax!” It was no different in Jesus’ time. In fact, this is the primary reason why he was put to death. The Pharisees believed he was a blasphemer who was leading the people astray (Jn. 7:25-52). The Romans chose to execute him in order to crush any possible rebellion he might incite, or other trouble he may cause on account of his bold claims (Jn. 19:1-16). Many theologians believe that Judas betrayed Jesus in order to force his hand and reveal his true identity (Mt. 27:3-5). Whatever the reasons, Jesus was put to death.

In Mark 8:31 Jesus predicts his own death and resurrection. Mark says, “He (Jesus) spoke plainly about this.” Even the Pharisees knew about these predictions. They pleaded with Pilate to place guards at the tomb so that the disciples wouldn’t attempt to steal his body and claim resurrection (Mt. 27:62-66). This presents a major problem for those who would dismiss Jesus as simply a great teacher who made a significant upon the world. Great teachers don’t say crazy things like, “I’m going to die, but after three days God is going to raise me back to life.” Unless, of course, the crazy things they are saying are true.

Jesus never wrote a book, never traveled further than 50 miles from his home, he never held a public office, he was the son of Galilean peasants, yet he claimed to be the Son of God. His followers consisted of 120 ordinary Jewish people whose faith did not fail following his bloody death on the cross. Even David Koresh could boast more followers at the time of his death. No one could’ve predicted what happened following Jesus death. Christ followers multiplied upon the earth. Christianity exploded to over 1,000,000 people just two hundred years later. By the year 391AD, Christianity was proclaimed to be the official religion of the Roman Empire and continued to grow at unprecedented rates. Today there are over 2 billion Christians on the planet and that number is estimated to grow to 3 billion by the middle of this century.

So, how do you explain this? I’m convinced the resurrection gives us the most important clue.

Next week I’ll cover reason # 2: The actions of Jesus disciples defy logic.