Nameless: Centurion in Capernaum

He was a centurion. That’s all we need to know: a Roman invader, part of the occupying force. He commanded 100 men. Is that where he found his identity: in his authority and nationality? He was also generous, perhaps as a political move to placate the local religious leaders or perhaps genuinely desiring to do good. His words and actions suggest the latter.

This powerful, generous person of authority is quite a contrast to the others we’ve studied in the Nameless series. That’s why I find him so interesting.

Luke 7:1-10. Matthew 8:5-13.

Continue reading

Blessed Are: Poor in Spirit

Here's our first guest post on seeking the beatitudes in the Old Testament!
I know you're going to be blessed by these thoughts from Rachel Schmoyer.

Recently my church was a host to four homeless families through the Family Promise program. Thirteen churches in our area take turns housing families in the evening and overnight. The day program helps the families find jobs and places to live.

On my way to volunteering at the church one evening, I found myself thinking, “I’m so glad I know how to handle money so that I’m not homeless like these people.”

The Holy Spirit convicted me right away. Was it really because of me that we are not homeless? Continue reading

The Idol of Identity

Occasionally, the Lord leads me to write something I don’t want to write. I wrestle with Him for a while, and then I write it, wincing all the way through. I don’t want to write it because you, my readers, may misunderstand me. You may think I’m harsh or insensitive, and you probably aren’t going to like what I say. Why do I have to be the one to step on toes?!?

But this topic is heavy on my heart and has been for months.

Instead of God, we’re
worshiping ourselves and
we don’t even realize it.

I believe we have subtly replaced Who is at the center of our worship. Instead of God, we’re worshiping ourselves and we don’t even realize it. I’m not talking about idolizing possessions or status, about showing off or competing for the biggest house/car/salary. I’m also not talking about idolizing comfort, about seeking the easy way or avoiding conflict. This idol is far more personal and harder to see.

We idolize our internal “I.” Think I’ll call it Idolatry (notice the capital I?), and I see two ways we’re falling into this sin.

Extensive Self-Examination

Perhaps Socrates’ “know thyself” started it (although the phrase predates him). Our fallback position is to focus on our feelings, our experiences, our needs, while neglecting others. I had an old friend who called this position “navel-gazing.” Take a second to imagine the position of one’s body that’s necessary for navel-gazing. It’s a folding in on oneself, the head lost in the abdomen. And when we stay in that position for too long, we spiral inward…and downward. The more and harder we try to resolve our feelings on our own, the deeper into the mire me tread.

“We become what we think about all day long.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

If I think about my Savior
all day long, I will become
more like Him.

If I’m thinking about myself all day, I’m becoming more and more like myself. I’m not improving, growing, stretching. If I think about my Savior all day long, I will become more like Him, which is always a positive improvement.

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.  –Psalm 63:6

I will consider all your works and mediate on all your mighty deeds.  –Psalm 77:12

How many of David’s psalms are about his problems, his crises, the unfairness of his life? And yet he manages to turn our eyes to worship in every instance. In the New Testament, Paul draws our minds to lofty things, often outside ourselves.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

I’m not talking about chemical depression but that funk into which we drift when we spend too much time, usually alone, thinking about how we feel. How much of our anxiety could we alleviate by simply shifting our focus? (This next part is where I’m treading very lightly. I have close family members in counseling.) Some people are in counseling, talking about themselves and trying to heal, when healing will only come from setting ourselves aside, from ignoring “I.” Sometimes the best thing I can do for me is to forget me for a little while.

What’s the remedy? Serve others. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, tutor an international kid, help with VBS, or if you like animals better, spend a day at the ASPCA. (Keeping it real: I’ve not done a good job of this recently.) We take the step of serving, of lifting our eyes up and off ourselves, and God responds by pulling our focus outward. Then we find your own problems shrink. Not by comparison—“Oh, my life is at least better than theirs.”—but by thinking about someone other than ourselves.

In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  –Philippians 2:3b-4

How do we balance? Self-awareness is good. We can and should know what we’re good at, where we need to improve, what sorts of things trigger our strong emotions. We also need to recognize when we’re spending too much time on our internal status.

Preoccupation With Identity

Maybe it starts in preschool, with Jesus Loves Me. We sing a song that, while true, is clearly more about us than about Jesus.

There are a few worship songs in the rotation now that do the same thing. Pay attention at church this Sunday or on Christian radio. Ask yourself, “Who is really the subject of this song?” Sometimes, it’s us instead of God. I’m concerned.

Who I am is not nearly as important as Who God is.

When we talk about our identity in Christ: child of the King, chosen, valued, etc., we’re not wrong. Peter said,

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession… -1 Peter 2:9a

But our identity has a purpose. Don’t overlook the second half of the verse.

…that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.  –1 Peter 2:9b

Without including our purpose, we will worship ourselves instead of the One Who called us. We will focus on the rewards of Heaven rather than the privilege of being in the presence of God. We will sing praise songs that celebrate us and push our Creator into a supporting role. (I’m kinda hung up on the second half of Bible verses.)

What’s the Remedy? Make it our mission to discover more about Jesus. Get to know Him better by connecting with Him through His Word, nature, worship services, and conversations with other people. Keep the focus on simply knowing Him and enjoying Him.

Also, let’s link our own identities to His, prioritizing Who He is over who we are. As a Christ-follower, our identity is inhabited by Jesus’, so the more we know Him, the more we’ll know ourselves, and the better we’ll understand our place in relation to him. (Hint: It has to do with “confident humility.”)

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?  –Psalm 8:3-4

We must unflinchingly raise the name of Jesus above our own names and identities.

I am who I am so I can
talk about Who Jesus is.

How do we balance? We DO have value. God DOES love us. We ARE His children. We can’t and shouldn’t deny any of it. But God wants us to use these facts as entry points to the life of faith, not end goals.

John the Baptist used questions about his identity to point people to Jesus. In the same way, my “I” stories must be bridges to Him.

“A positive self-identity is not the end goal” and other counter-cultural things we need to tell ourselves in the church today. Because my #identity is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

This was tough to write. I don’t want to be harsh or overly critical. Please, before you jump to any conclusions or feel like I’m judging you, reach out to me in the comments (or privately through Facebook or Twitter). I would love to talk through identity and self-examination some more because this is just one side of the beginning of a conversation, and I am certainly not an expert. Let me hear from you!

My Christmas List

I felt like I was drowning. It was a week before Christmas Eve—early Saturday morning. Our tree wasn’t up, our lights weren’t hung, and only a few gifts were wrapped. Some gifts still weren’t bought (not my usual pattern: I’m an early shopper). I had baked absolutely nothing. I hadn’t even decided what to bake. Because I felt so behind-schedule, I was short with the kids and impatient with their father. I couldn’t even enjoy a Christmas party the night before because I resented all the work it took to bring dishes for the potluck. (Brutal honesty here.)

As I sat down for my quiet time, I wrote, “Christmas is rushing toward us like a tidal wave.” A few minutes later, I opened my Bible to Matthew 11 and sought the next paragraph. (For more on how we do our quiet times, click here.) Do you know the last paragraph in Matthew 11? I literally laughed out loud when I read it.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.  -Matthew 11:28-30

I warped peace and contemplation
into pressure and obligation.

I had warped this season, which is supposed to be about peace and contemplation, into a season of pressure and obligation. I needed the kind of rest that only comes from Jesus.

Three character qualities of Jesus stand out in these verses: gentleness, humility, and restfulness. Go back and read the verses again. Do you see it? Those who tie themselves to him (the yoke) learn from him because of his gentleness and humility, but I believe even those who just happened to come near Jesus when He was on earth experienced these things as well. Isn’t that why people were so attracted to Him?

So I can learn that peaceful kind of attitude?

I don’t have time for that! Didn’t you see how behind schedule I am right now?!?

Deep breath. Let’s go a step further here. As Christ-followers (because Christian means “little Christ”), we have Jesus in us already (John 15). That means His gentleness, humility, and restfulness (among other things) are already part of our spiritual composition, already existing in us even as they continue to mature (re: Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23).

If we are already little Christs…

If the Holy Spirit guides and empowers us (John 16:12-15)…

If our standard for living is Jesus’ example…

Then our lives should, like His, exude these character traits regardless of our circumstances. It should be that anyone around us experiences gentleness, humility, and restfulness just by being in our presence and especially by interaction with us.

I don’t use that word, “should” lightly. I really can’t stand it. But in this instance, I had an obligation to change my attitude. “Should” works.

So I made a list. I checked it twice. It had nothing to do with others being naughty or nice. Actually, I wrote it on my bathroom mirror, and I check it every time I stand in front of the sink. On my wish list and my gifting list, I have three things:

  • Gentleness
  • Humility
  • Restfulness

It’s a simple practice, but it’s working. It keeps me in prayer, keeps me taking a deep breath and resetting my attitude—especially about what’s decorating my house and what’s in my oven.

I want my Christmas
to be about gentleness,
humility, and restfulness.

I want my Christmas to be about gentleness, humility, and restfulness. Saturday morning before my tea got cold, I submitted my holidays to the Lord Jesus, and asked for these three things— not just for myself but as the gift of presence I will give everyone around me.

One small step to exchange pressure and obligation for peace and contemplation at #Christmas. (click to tweet)

What about you? How do you cope with the hectic pattern of the holidays? Share about that below, or share a verse that has helped you manage the season well. Thanks!

The Best Christmas Verses in the Bible

We watched A Charlie Brown Christmas the other night. I love it when Linus walks to center stage, drops his blanket, and recites the Christmas story from Luke 2. Sometimes, I say it along with him.

But this year, as I stood in a special night of worship, singing mostly Christmas carols, a different set of verses unexpectedly rang through my heart:

Christ Jesus…being in very nature God,
Did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
Rather, he made himself nothing
By taking the very nature of a servant,
Being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
He humbled himself
By becoming obedient to death—
Even death on a cross!  -Philippians 2:5b-8

Is this not the essence of Christmas? It’s not Jesus’ coming as a baby that saves us for His glory. It’s His death. It’s not the peacefulness of the manger scene that informs our daily lives. It’s His life-long attitude of humility.

Consider…

Made himself nothing  A stable, some animals, a carpenter, and a teen-aged girl: an out-of-wedlock baby in an out-of-the-way town. On the surface, he’s the opposite of special.

The very nature of a servant  Excluded from the inn, He was equal only to some shepherds.

Made in human likeness  Crying, hungry, wholly dependent on others for every need…yes, He really was a real baby.

Found in appearance as a man  Jesus grew up like any other boy, experiencing all human life has to offer for someone in His station.

He humbled himself  As an adult, He wandered the countryside with no home. He touched the untouchable. He washed His own disciples’ feet.

Obedient to death—even death on a cross  To cap it all off, He willingly underwent the basest and cruelest form of capital punishment when he hung bleeding and naked on a wooden cross.

God’s purpose in Christ’s
presence culminates in
the cross.

Yes, the baby in Bethlehem is already our Savior and Lord, but without “the rest of the story,” we wouldn’t know how to follow Him. These verses encapsulate the events and the purpose of not only His arrival but His life. God’s purpose in Christ’s presence on earth doesn’t culminate in the manger but on the cross.

Don’t stop there, though. We still have a celebration!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place 
and gave him the name that is above every name,
That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
In heaven and on earth and under the earth
And every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
To the glory of God the Father.     -Philippians 2:9-11

He began in the lowest of places: out behind the only inn in a little backwater town, admired by no one but some shepherds. But He ends in the highest place, with everyone—those who love Him and those who don’t—bowing in the greatest show of honor ever conceived.

Now that’s Christmas!

The best passage about #Christmas isn’t found in Matthew or Luke. What could it be? (click to tweet)

Have you ever noticed the Christmas-ness of a passage we don’t usually associate with the holiday? I would really love to hear about it! Please bless us all by sharing below.

Such as These

to such as theseFor a long time, I’ve been puzzled by this idea of us (adults) becoming like little children. Just look at these quotes from Jesus:

“I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”   –Matthew 11:25

“Let the little children come to me…for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”   –Mark 10:14

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”   –Matthew 18:3-4

When I think of little children, my first descriptive term is “innocent”—not a term that describes me well. My past has too many sins attached to it. Of course, I have been declared innocent in the judicial sense because Jesus took my guilt, and I live in that assurance every day, but experientially?  Well, too much has gone in through these eyes and ears; too many bad things have passed out through this mouth and these hands. In many ways, I don’t even want the return of that childlike naiveté because my experiences (the good, the bad, and the ugly) hammered me into the Christ-follower that I have become. So there must be more to this concept of “childlike” than innocence . . .

At least I’m in good company, puzzling over things Jesus said. Nicodemus asked Jesus, “How can someone be born when they are old?” (John 3:4). Like me, he had questions. So I do what Nicodemus did: I take my questions to Jesus. Here’s what I discovered in reading through the Gospels.

Children occupy a low position in society.

Perhaps more in Jesus’ day than in ours, children just weren’t that important. They didn’t sit at the heads of tables. They did the household jobs that adults didn’t want to do. They didn’t interrupt conversations. Remember that old saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”? Maybe it started there in Israel. This is why Jesus’ pointed to a child for a contrasting example when the disciples argued over who was more important (Mark 9:33-37; I just wrote about that from a parenting perspective *here*). This is why He praised those who would make the effort to give a child a cup of water rather than tell the child to get it himself (Matthew 10:42).

When we Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above [our]selves (Philippians 2:3), we position ourselves like children in society. Jesus modeled this attitude when He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-16), and in Luke 22:26, He says, The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Who are “the youngest” but the children?

Children are guileless.

Don’t ask a little kid what he thinks unless you really want to know. They haven’t learned to couch the truth in the “little white lies” that we call kindness. I think (just me here, I can’t confirm this with Scripture) this is one of the reasons Jesus liked children. They liked Him, too. As I was studying to write this post, I came upon this short conflict in the temple just before Jesus’ arrest. Look:

But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple courts, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” they were indignant.

 “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him.

“Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?”  -Matthew 21:15-16

Those kids didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to say things like that in the temple, in front of the priests and teachers! They just spoke truth. (I bet their parents were mortified!)

Confession and repentance are necessary in initiating and maintaining a relationship with Jesus. As adults, we try to excuse, justify, de-emphasize, or just plain ignore our sin. But entering the Kingdom requires brutal honesty on our part: “Yep. I did it even though I knew better.” This one is a real challenge for me to just open my heart up to Jesus like a little kid who runs around naked, completely unaware of the impropriety.

Children act like those they admire.

They play house; they go to work; they sit with a book on their laps and look serious when they can’t actually read. Children pick up the habits and even the speech patterns of their parents.

Paul encouraged the Ephesians, Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children, and walk in the way of love (Ephesians 5:1). As we emulate Jesus in our attitudes and actions, we become more like Him. What begins intentionally evolves into habit…even nature.

Children trust absolutely.

A Father says, “Come on Baby, jump! I’ll catch you.” and the little girl never doubts for a second that He will do it. That kind of confidence isn’t built on logic or experience. It’s built on love. The child who declares, “My dad can whup your dad!” hasn’t considered the size or fighting experience of either father. He just knows his dad is unstoppable. Oswald Chambers said, “The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next” (MUHH 4/30).

And that’s what Jesus asks us to do. Come to Him. Jump—before you have all the answers, before you’ve considered every alternative and repercussion.  This kind of trust says, “I don’t see any possible way for this to work, but I know You, Jesus, are leading me to do it, so here goes!”

little children

To those who embrace humility,

to those who are unflinchingly honest,

to those who emulate Jesus,

to those who flagrantly and unreasonably trust Him…

the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. (click to tweet)

Who’s Humble Now?

Rethinking Peter’s Foot-Washing

Sometimes I think John took special delight in recording Peter’s unique interactions with Jesus.  He gives us so many singular moments which the Holy Spirit now uses to teach us.  It certainly happens here.  Let’s take a look . . .

John 13:1-10.

I’ve heard people point to Peter in the upper room as an example of humility, and on the surface it appears that way. As Jesus makes his way around the room, Peter tucks his feet up under his robe and denies Jesus: “No.   I don’t want you to wash my feet. This is wrong! I should be washing your feet” (My paraphrase of v. 8). But who is Peter…and who are we…to tell Jesus what He should and shouldn’t do?  It may seem humble, but in reality, Peter is trying to boss Jesus around! Continue reading