Above And Beyond

[the backdrop]

Jesus has been teaching all day. He and his disciples have been walking from town to town preaching and healing. They’re dirty, hungry, and they’re feet hurt. To top it all off, Jesus had just heard that John the Baptist, his close friend and cousin, had been brutally beheaded by Herod. He needs some space, but the crowds don’t stop coming.

Matthew 14:13-16

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

Eph 4:25-32

25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Our Christian faith is far more than ethics, but the gospel always has social implications. Our words and actions matter. We don’t do good deeds to earn God’s grace. We do them BECAUSE we have have experienced his grace. When we remember his compassion toward us, our compassion towards others should flow like a river.

Take a look at these two passages again. In Ephesians, Paul gives the ethics. In Matthew, we see Christ living it out in real time. There is no room for apathy or standing on the sidelines.

It’s not enough to just not steal. Paul says not only must the thief stop stealing, he must also work so that he can give to those in need. It’s not enough to not let unwholesome talk come from your mouth. Instead we may say “only what is helpful for building others up.”

Now look at Jesus. Jesus could have simply ignored the crowd or avoided them. That would have been a fairly neutral response, certainly better than yelling at them to get away or harboring bitterness for their incessant pestering. But Jesus went a step further, he had compassion on them. He healed their sick. And then, when in their ignorance they had stayed out too late and were weary and hungry, he again went the extra mile and provided food for them at his own expense. The type of behavior Paul is admonishing the Ephesians to have, is modeled after Jesus’s own behavior.

We must strive to put aside anger, malice, and bitterness, but being neutral toward others is not enough. The Jesus we follow is full of compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. He seeks to give to those in need and build up those he meets. We should remember our own gracious salvation and do likewise.



String Theory and Life

Isaiah 55:6-9

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 John 14:6

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

What is the world made of? My friend Tom is a leading voice in a branch of quantum physics known as String Theory. Among other things, this field of scientific study attempts to answer that huge question about the world and everything in it. Here’s a great way to kill a dinner conversation and make people feel really stupid: Invite Tom over and have him explain his work in String Theory. Your dinner party will leave confused, eyes fully glazed over when it’s all said and done.

Fortunately, Tom is gracious and kind. He knows you and I won’t get it, so he usually just keeps his mouth shut about his work.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. His thoughts, compared to ours, are higher than heaven is to earth. Isaiah is basically saying: “You can possible fathom the greatness, the mystery, the holiness of God.”

But here’s where things get really interesting: Unlike Tom who keeps silent, knowing that people won’t get it–God speaks. He wants us to know him and his ways. And he does not remain far off and inaccessible. In Jesus Christ, we have all the fullness of God (Col 1:9). Jesus is always inviting us to come, taste, and see. Consider his claim and invitation in John 14:6.

 Jesus claims to be THE way, THE truth, and THE life, not A way, A truth, or A life. This is a bold and significant claim. 

Throughout history, prophets from various religions and philosophies have claimed to have found the Way: the way to know God or to reach enlightenment or to live a good life. All of these people (Buddha, Muhammad, Dawkins) are pointing to the Way. Somehow they have found the Way, and now they have been kind of enough to tell others how they too can follow the Way. But Jesus is different. Jesus doesn’t point us to the Way, he doesn’t encourage us to join him in following the Way. No, instead He says that He is the Way. There’s no middle-man. There are no extra hoops to jump through. He is the beginning and the end. He is the Way.



Acts 16:22-40
22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

35 When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: “Release those men.” 36 The jailer told Paul, “The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace.”

Seventy two years ago this past summer, one of the greatest stories of liberation took place. It affected millions of people, involved 6,900 ships, 11,500 airplanes, years of planning, and cost the lives of over 110,000 people.

D- Day, June 6th , 1944 was the turning point of the 20th century and it changed our world. The people of France, and then all of western Europe were liberated from the oppression and slavery of Nazi Germany. The word liberation conjures up images of utter jubilation, euphoria,tears, disbelief, astonishment, change, wonder.

Most of us here at App State have never lived in physical slavery, bondage or under a brutal regime, but all of us need to experience and see the power and beauty of liberation.

This ‘liberation passage’ in Acts is filled with irony. Paul and Silas are wearing chains, but even in their worship we see they are truly free. The jailer is not chained, but he is imprisoned. In the end, we see the jailer and his entire family receive their joyous freedom.

The jailer’s freedom was won through costly sacrifice, unyielding commitment, and exemplary character. We see it first on the cross. We see it now in the lives of those who follow Christ.

As Christ followers our lives will be observed by others. Imagine the impact a thankful life will have on those who are watching you. Will you respond to a bad grade, a sudden breakup, or a difficult roommate like everyone else does, or will people see something different displayed in your life?

Today is a wonderful day to live out our liberation. We are free. Who will we run into today who is still in bondage?




What do you fear? (part 3)

Luke 12:22-34

Do Not Worry

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Your Father is a rich king.  He has a huge storehouse that is full of food. He loves to feed the hungry.  He sees the smallest creature of the world he reaches down and he feeds that creature at just the right time. If he would feed a hungry bird, how much more would he feed his own child, who is patterned in his image?

So why are we still worried? Maybe it’s because we are seeking another kingdom.

It’s easy to make our personal happiness the primary goal in life. When things begin to threaten our happiness, we fear.  Spend a few moments reflecting on the following statements.

“I’ve got great moral values. I believe in telling the truth… But not if I’m going to lose my job over it.”… (because I want to be happy)

“I believe in keeping this standard. But not if I’m going to lose this guy over it.”… (because I want to be happy)

I love to help people.  But not if it costs me the money I was planning on spending on myself.”… (because I want to be happy)

There is really only one thing these statements value: self-centered fulfillment and happiness.  But Jesus says if we seek our own kingdom happiness as our number one priority, it will always elude us.  

This passage leaves us with a good news promise. Jesus says, “little helpless sheep, who are fearful of things that you should not be fearful of, it is your rich father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom. It is a place where people will not steal from you. Where things don’t rot. Where treasures are not destroyed. Seek first this kingdom and all of your deepest needs will be satisfied.



What do you fear? (part 2)

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Let Israel say:
“His love endures forever.”
3 Let the house of Aaron say:
“His love endures forever.”
4 Let those who fear the Lord say:
“His love endures forever.”
5 When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord;
he brought me into a spacious place.
6 The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?
7 The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I look in triumph on my enemies.
8 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in humans.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord
than to trust in princes.

1 JOHN 4:18
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Fear is deeply woven into the fabric of who we are as people living in a fallen world. Fear shames us and makes us feel guilty. Fear turns us into people-pleasers willing to save face at any cost. Fear tightens our grip on the treasures in life we value most. And yet, God’s voice echoes throughout the pages of His living Word: Fear not!

Fear is a healthy response to danger. Masked gunmen, wild dogs, and school bullies all should cause us to flee or fight. When God commands us to ‘Fear Not,’ we aren’t being told to suck it up and throw caution to the wind. Fear in the Bible means to be overwhelmed and controlled by something. God is most interested in what overwhelms and controls our hearts.

When the object of our greatest affections is God Himself, unhealthy fears will melt away. Picture this: Over your life is a throne. Someone sits on it. Who is the person who sits on that throne? Fear of man is when someone other than Jesus sits on that throne.

Meditate on these Scriptures. Allow God’s perfect love to drive out those fears which are sucking away your life right now.










What do you fear?

Psalm 3

Save Me, O My God

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O Lord, how many are my foes!  Many are rising against me;many are saying of my soul,there is no salvation for him in God. Selah But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,my glory, and the lifter of my head.I cried aloud to the Lord,and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of peoplewho have set themselves against me all around.  Arise, O Lord! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.  Salvation belongs to the Lord; your blessing be on your people!

A USA TODAY poll released yesterday finds supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump more motivated by FEAR about the other side claiming the White House than EXCITEMENT about their own candidate prevailing.

Here’s another poll: By the numbers, FEAR NOT is God’s favorite command to his people throughout Scripture. When God says FEAR NOT, He isn’t telling us to just suck it up. It is not a command to throw caution to the wind and be stupid about danger. More often, God is saying, “Something greater should fill and consume your heart right now! Someone greater should overwhelm and control your passions!” To be even more precise, God is usually saying, “You are holding someone or something in awe reserved only for me!” Ultimately, “fear not!” is an invitation to worship.

In Psalm 3, David gives us a clue to combating fear. Stop focusing on yourself. In the midst of battle, David’s focus and reliance is on his shield. You, Lord, are a shield about me! The shield that David is referring to is not one of those little wimpy disks that looks more like pizza. Picture instead a full-body shield which curves around the body. It’s a shield meant not for hand to hand combat, but for following your commander into situations of extreme danger. If you turn and run, the shield won’t protect you. It’s only useful when you’re heading into danger.

Obedience takes us not away from fear, but through and beyond our fear. And what is the first step? We must turn our inward focused eyes (focused on all of our problems and limitations) and turn them outward. Cry out to the Lord and he will answer you. He will sustain you and give you rest, even amidst what might feel like ten thousands enemies around you. Do you know this kind of Lord?