Jesus On The Beach

Easter has come and gone. I was reminded of this no less than ten times yesterday when I heard and saw numerous ads for Mother’s Day. Overnight, the stores have done away with all things bunny-related and have moved on in their push to get us thinking about the next thing.

Not so fast please. The resurrection is pretty much the culmination of everything we wait for as Christians, so where do we go now? Many settle back in and won’t be seen again until sometime in December. The story doesn’t just stop at the resurrection though… there are some amazing things that are about to happen.

Jesus had previously made Himself known at the tomb and to the disciples as they hid together in the room on Easter night. He “breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22). Pentecost is still to follow which will empower them further to go out and witness for Him, but Jesus doesn’t wait 40 days to begin the work. After all, these were his closest friends, his loved ones, and they need help understanding.

So He shows up and speaks “Peace to you!” (John 20:21) because He knows they are in desperate need of it. Thomas doubts, demands to touch the evidence, and Jesus obliges him. It would be crazy to think that they had it all figured out at this point. Their Messiah has risen from the dead, to be sure, but what now?

Soon after, in John chapter 20, we have the story of the disciples returning to their fishing jobs, albeit unsuccessfully. I think they must not have known what to do with themselves, so they returned to what was familiar. Jesus shows up on the shore asking them some questions, and they don’t immediately recognize Him. I almost laugh when I picture Him yelling to them out on the boat, “Do you have anything to eat? No? Try casting the net out on the right side of the boat!” John is the first to yell out, “It’s the Lord!” (v. 7), but Peter, in typical fashion, is the first to act on this news by leaping out of the boat and hurriedly swimming to shore. Once together on shore, none of the disciples dared to ask Him who He was (v. 12), for they knew exactly who He was. They sat on the beach and had a meal together. I imagine this must have been both very comforting and somewhat confusing, but Jesus always has a purpose.

It’s now Simon Peter’s turn. In one of the most touching redemption stories in the Bible, Jesus turns to his beloved disciple and asks him three pointed and specific questions:

“Simon, do you love Me more than these?”

Yes Lord, You know that I love You.

“Feed My lambs.”

“Simon, do you love Me?”

“Yes Lord; You know that I love You.”

“Tend My sheep.”

“Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

Peter was grieved because He said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.”

John 21:15-17

Peter has been redeemed. His sins were paid for on the cross, like everyone else’s, but Jesus is personally coming to him and putting to rest an old wound. Jesus knew his friend needed some special attention, and He freely gave it.

The last verse in the book of John tells us the following:

“And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen.”

John 21:25

How interesting. What an incredible time this must have been! Jesus freely revealed Himself to the disciples, He understood their doubt, their hurts, their physical and spiritual needs.

Easter isn’t the end point, it’s just the beginning. Jesus could have just ascended right into heaven and that would be that… but He came back for 40 days. He returned so that everyone could see He actually was alive. He returned to prepare His disciples for what was to come and to commission them to go out into the world.

He returned to sit on the shore with them once again and have a meal.

Don’t let Easter be an end, but a beginning. The power and truth of what happened doesn’t have to diminish as we move into a new season. The 40 days after the resurrection are a fascinating and beautiful time to see and really soak in just how intentional and personal our Savior really is.

While He walked the earth, Jesus asked us to leave everything and come to Him. He shows us now that this isn’t a one-way street… He is back and He is coming to us. He showed up at the tomb in Mary’s grief. He showed up in the room while Thomas doubted. He showed up on the beach while the disciples fished.

These forty days are a reminder to us that our Savior lives, and that He actually wants to make Himself known to us. He could have just commanded us all to believe and gone away. He knows we are feeble and that we struggle, it’s ok. Pentecost is coming, the great commission is coming, and in order to go out and be disciples, we must first understand the magnitude of what just happened.

Happy post-Easter week, friends. Jesus is back and He’s back to stay. The disciples got another 40 days, but we all get a permanent presence through the Holy Spirit. Don’t live like it didn’t happen. He’s patient and willing to walk by our side through confusion and doubt. He most certainly doesn’t want us to remain there though, there is much work to be done. May the resurrection be true and powerful in our lives!

Equipped

“We still talk of all our struggles in the present tense. We exchange brokenness like it was good news, and comfort each other with still more brokenness. We want to declare each other “enough.” We have treated Christian identity like it was the great afghan of coziness underneath which all of humanity ought to be settling in for a long nap. But what if our identity in Christ is not a blanket? What if, instead of a cozy place to hibernate, what we are being handed in Christ is actually cold steel, intended for a completely different purpose? Your identity in Christ is a weapon, one that will put to death the old man that lives within you (Romans 8:13). We have been baptized in his death, in order to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). If we are not equipped through Christ to fight the sin nature in all of us, it does not matter how thick or cozy the comfort blanket is. Underneath it, the cold hands of sin are still around our necks. That fight cannot be comforted away. We cannot soothe each other into relief from our problems.” https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/your-identity-in-christ-means-war

Mmmm…. blankets. I have an obsession with them. I stockpile them. Have you tried the new weighted blankets advertised on tv? Heaven. I’m a huge fan of a) not being cold, and b) being surrounded by something comforting. This article made me squirmy a bit because it hit me right in my soft spot: comfort. I think we all desire a cozy place to snuggle up and be left alone, and that can easily translate over into our spiritual lives. The status quo is holding steady, we don’t want to really rock the boat, we just want a place to feel wrapped up and secure. Ok, so we are ‘broken’ as they say… but we don’t mind huddling up and just be broken together. I have developed a great aversion to that word – I do not want to sit around and be broken with people. It’s not that I think everyone is ‘whole’, I know we aren’t even close. I just find the concept of celebrating it like it’s our lot in life a bit… backwards.

This analogy really made me think: what if Jesus is offering us something better than to just wrap ourselves up and shut out the world? What if He’s handing us a cold, steely, sword? The further I go into the whole ‘identity’ thing, the more I realize how temporary all of our little “identities” really are. These things aren’t the end game, and counting on them to fulfill us isn’t a good strategy. With good intentions, we sit around piling blankets on one other, but what we really need is to start handing out some weapons.

That kid who feels anxious on the way out the door? Shoes of peace.

The friend who has trouble surrendering everything to Jesus? Belt of truth.

Ourselves, when we feel constantly attacked by the enemy? Shield of faith.

Comfort is fantastic, but not at the expense of our souls. Nobody would ever wrap themselves up in a blanket made of fiberglass, but that’s pretty much what we are doing by ignoring the war at hand. We have to make those ‘cold hands of sin’ unwrap themselves from around our necks and pick up our weapons. Don’t fear the brokenness, but don’t forget the One who came to actually heal it and bind it up for good. (Psalm 147:3)

Narcissistic Meanies


I get all kinds of ideas while walking through Target. Things just jump out at me like you wouldn’t believe. Recently it’s been the vast array of ‘kindness’ merch in their dollar section. Cute mugs and cups, napkins and cups all reminding us to be kinder people. The kindness campaign is out in full force.

“Kindness is free, sprinkle that stuff everywhere.”

“Kind people are my kinda people.”

“Be a kind human.”

It’s all very cute and sweet. We should be kind. It’s like the new commandment of our culture… if you can be anything, be kind. I wonder if it’s because we have actually lost so much of our decency toward one another that we now need this reminder. Is it possible to just wake up and sprinkle kindness around?

Sometimes that is possible. There are days when we can take the high road, smile at ourselves in the mirror and just push through with kindness. How about the other 364 days of the year? I don’t have an endless bucket of kindness confetti to throw around, and when someone hurts me, having ‘be kind’ written on my coffee mug isn’t going to help.

We are surrounded by meanness because we are engrained in a culture that actually encourages us to put ourselves first. I cringe when I imagine the things my kids see and hear and never tell me. Hurtful things. Stinging remarks.

“A culture of meanness has cropped up around us. It’s a meanness that is fueled by narcissism, by a wave of cynicism, and an over-appreciation for snark. Meanness and narcissism hold hands. Meanness says , “What I feel matters most. I have no empathy for you. If you are in the way, I will run you over.” Jennifer Dukes Lee

And all the while, we are filling our heads with stuff like this:

Photo: Instagram, Rachel Jankivich

I love this because author Rachel Jankovich adds her own little notes to these garbage sayings to point out how ridiculous it is to be so self-absorbed. (The purple writing is hers.) People who believe they come first will never be ‘kind’ people, no matter how hard they try to throw that confetti around. Narcissism makes us mean. Becoming your own hero makes you a real pain in the you know what. Treading on the feelings of others to make yourself bigger doesn’t make people want to be around you. This is not kindness.

I learned a fancy phrase awhile back when reading about our kindness-obsessed but actually mean culture: cognitive dissonance. Dissonance is the disharmony between two musical notes that don’t go together. When the human mind does it, it’s trying to make two opposing ideas gel together. Like demanding tolerance but never giving it. Preaching niceness while acting anything but nice. You get the picture. It happens when we believe and accept every thought that passes through our heads… things clash.

The thing is… we can’t just go out into the world and be kind. We are too selfish. It’s who we are. If we could do it, the world wouldn’t look like the dumpster fire that it is. Our nature is to serve ourselves first, even as Christians who want to act differently:

“For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. It is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me nothing good dwells. (Romans 7:15-16)

And when we are basking in Instagram posts and freshly-penned self-help books that tell us to seek out our own happiness first?

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)

Kindness is awesome, but it can’t be our starting point. Kindness is a fruit of the spirit along with some other often overlooked goodies like… patience, self-control and faithfulness. Can you imagine a “self-control” or “faithfulness” campaign taking hold? I somehow feel like that merchandise wouldn’t fly off the shelves as fast: “Sprinkle self-control around like confetti!” “Faithful people are my kind of people!” Hmmm…

How do we combat a culture of meanness and narcissism? Not by trying to be kind, but first chasing after holiness:  “Be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15). “He has saved us and called us to a holy life…” (2 Timothy 1:9). We are called and commanded to first be holy – separated – different than the others. From holiness flows all the rest of the wonderful things, like kindness and goodness and self-control. The fruit is the result, not the cause.

Holiness isn’t perfect living, it comes first by being justified through Christ and then by living obediently for the long haul. It’s a life that puts up boundaries when need be, a life that is anchored to something other than feelings, a life that is steady because Jesus makes it so.

So go out and be kind… spread it around… buy the t-shirt… but campaign for holiness. Without it we are at the mercy of the meanies, and one step away from becoming just like them.

How We Contend

To contend: battlecompeteface offfightracerivalvie

The little book of Jude at the end of the New Testament is easy to overlook. It begins and ends with the promise that we serve a God who keeps us and preserves us (v. 1, 24). The body of the short letter however, is a call to arms. Jude pleads with believers that they must not fall into complacency because a ton of people have come onto the scene promising big things but delivering emptiness.

Jude says these folks are “grumblers and complainers” who go around using flattering words to get what they want (v.16). Sound familiar? Complaining while at the same time using smooth and savvy words to get their way. It’s apparently nothing new to humanity, but we seem to live in a culture that has perfected this little art form.

So how do we “contend” for our faith? Jude tells us we have to build ourselves up in prayer and keep ourselves in the love of God (v. 20). Interestingly, he gives us an instruction for dealing with people who have gone astray: Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear (v. 22-23). 

Sometimes contending means showing mercy and compassion, not knocking someone over the head with the latest how-to book. It doesn’t mean we don’t fight, but we do so with love. Doubt can be effectively chipped away at with steady doses of truth.

I also like the next verse that says sometimes you just have to snatch people out of the fire. It’s not always intellectual or neat. Sometimes people are standing at the precipice needing to be pulled back. 1 Peter 3:15 says that we always need to “Be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”

The way we contend is important… we always need elements of truth mixed with love. I love the verse in 1 Peter because it reminds us that we are to be living with a hope inside us that makes people stop and wonder… “what’s going on there?” If we walk around like the grumblers and complainers, nobody is going to see anything worth having. Gentleness mixed with reverence for what Jesus can do in a person’s heart is a powerful thing.

How do we contend? How do we fight the good fight? With both words and actions, but above all else, with the power of Christ working through us. Sometimes it’s a gentle word to a friend, other times it’s a walk into the fire with them.

“Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6). 



On Studying Well

Something I get asked fairly often is “how do I get to the point where I actually want to spend time in the Word and enjoy it?”

My short answer is probably frustrating and redundant: “by spending more time in the Word.”

As Christians, we know that we are supposed to be familiar with what God says to us. We accept the authority the scriptures, their place in history and their effect on human events. Most of us desire to gain knowledge from our study time, which is good and noble. Why then, do so many of us struggle to even want to dig deeper? We have everything we could possibly need and more at our fingertips… commentaries, books, studies, you name it. Yet we simply don’t make the time. When we do, we often stop at the knowledge part and never move on to much application.

When I was a teen, the big buzzword in our church youth group was the “devo”, short for devotional. We would carve out time every morning to do our devo, journal some verses, and dutifully pray over what we studied. I even had a notebook that was neatly divided into four sections for praise, thanksgiving, confession and requests. It was well-intentioned and helped me build a good foundation for understanding God’s word, but something was still missing.

Years go by and we grow and change, our study and understanding of Jesus and His word hopefully growing and changing with us. There are high points and low points, times when we stubbornly turn our backs on Him and moments when we run straight into His arms. It took years of spiritual rollercoaster-riding for me to finally put into place some practical steps that helped me stay connected and abiding. Realizing this was His will all along, I tasted the freedom and joy it brought and never wanted to go back. Here are some of the “big ideas” that helped me, I hope they can help you too:

  • Just be a branch. In John 15, Jesus gives us a powerful picture of our position in life. We are branches attached to the Vine. It is through constant and consistent abiding in Him that we receive everything we need to be alive and bear fruit. The burden producing fruit isn’t on us, it’s a natural occurrence to our staying connected. Branches don’t disconnect one day and reconnect the next… they simply stay connected and receive what they need. Study the branch and vine relationship!
  • Camp out in the Word. It’s easy to want to follow a chronological reading plan, and they can be useful in giving us a total overview of what the Bible is about. It is important to study the entirety of the Bible for ourselves. Often, He wants to speak a specific word to us and have us meditate on it. If we are bouncing all over the place trying to keep up with a reading plan, we can miss out. When God places a verse on your heart, don’t rush on to the next thing. Cross-reference it, look up commentary about it, journal it, and let it sink in. If it’s too hard to believe at first, that’s ok. Our job is to remain and allow Him to clarify things and change our hearts in the process.
  • Stay Thirsty. Ok, yes I realize this is a slogan from a beer commercial, but when it comes to our spiritual growth, it’s true. No matter the circumstances, we must stay thirsty for more of God. Great times should push us forward just as much as difficult times. Psalm 34:8 tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”  Once we have experienced the joy that comes from abiding, it’s only natural that we will be thirsty for more.
  • Remember Obedience. This part isn’t very fun or cozy feeling, but it must be said. The Bible is clear that life is not always going to go our way. We can’t just go around doing whatever we please and expect God to bless our endeavors. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that a condition for discipleship is denying ourselves and taking up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). Obedience can be a sticking point for us though, if we see it in the wrong light. We don’t obey just to get a reward, we obey because we love Him and cherish His commands. We don’t follow rules out of legalism, we do it because we are in relationship with Jesus and because He has freed us from sin so that we may obey Him. It’s a privilege and a blessing to want to live in accordance with His word. We’ll mess up, we will fall short… but when our hearts are set on following His direction, we say no to the wishy-washy rollercoaster life that gives sin such a foothold over us.

I often think that we make it too hard on ourselves. We feel so overwhelmed by the sheer number of Bible studies and books and seven-step programs out there that we never really get started. We forget that God Himself is our source and He’s all we need. James 1:5 tells us, “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault. How encouraging this should be for us! We can start right where we are at, with our questions and our doubts. We should actually expect Him to illuminate His word and clarify it for us.

We can’t live for very long on the spiritual experiences of others or expect anyone else to do the digging for us. The challenge (and blessing) of getting in the Word for ourselves is that we have to get our hands dirty. We must taste for ourselves that the promises are true. Once that happens, I promise you, you’ll never want to go back to a lukewarm relationship with His word.

Stay thirsty, friends.

The Choice To Start

I wrote the other day about how disappointed I felt in myself for not following through with some things I wanted to do last year. The biggest one for me by far was not making the time to sit down and share with my boys things that I felt would be helpful to them in their walk with Christ. There were a few books that really impacted me, books that deal with this crazy upside down culture and our role as Jesus-followers in it. If you have kids, you know the feeling: I want them to get this! I want them to understand this! If they can just see through all this nonsense to the truth… maybe they won’t fall for the lies… maybe they will be different…

I spend a lot of time floundering around in the sad reality that we live in a world that is basically amusing itself to death, sacrificing everything meaningful for superficial ‘likes’ and virtual approval from total strangers. This isn’t the world I grew up in and it’s hard for me to relate to how deeply this affects them sometimes. The things I struggled with seem like small potatoes compared to what my kids have already seen first-hand. You Tube influencers confound me. Idol-worship of people so completely in love with themselves makes me cringe. The absence of the ability to think for themselves scares me. G.K. Chesterton said, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with news that the grass is green.” We are there, and sometimes I feel like an eighty year old grandmother who can’t adjust to the times. The reality though, is that I am a Jesus-follower and a parent who is charged with discipling two young men in a world turned inside-out. The reality is that God never changes, even when culture does. The truth is, in the past I have let it overwhelm me to the point of inaction. It’s so much easier to just cruise on through the days, dealing with things as they come, but never really being intentional about getting to the heart of it all. What’s that old saying? “The days are long but the years are short.” It’s true. Suddenly I have a high schooler. In a moment he will be out on his own. A minute after that, his brother will follow. What do I want them to hear from me before they go? We spend our time doing the best we can, telling them what not to do, lecturing them on the dangers that lurk behind every corner, but are we giving them something to actually live for?

Proverbs 29:18 says “Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint.”  We have to have a vision from God, something positive and promising to go after, if we are going to really live. Without it, we just run wild without any direction or intent. This explains why “good” kids do really dumb things. Adults too, for that matter.

So this morning, I decided to just get going. I sat down and began a little folder for each of my boys. I don’t really have a well thought out plan, and that’s ok. The problem I encountered last year is that I had so much I wanted to share, I didn’t share anything. I couldn’t organize my thoughts, so I did nothing. Today, I started with this verse and a C.S. Lewis essay called “Men Without Chests” about how head knowledge is no match for the unbridled passions in our belly that override our reason. We need a chest to help the head rule the belly. Strong men know how to keep the fire in the belly from burning down the house. Seemed like something good for young men to hear. I crudely typed out some thoughts, printed them out and stuck it in a folder for each of them. I boldly asked for 20 minutes of their time, which in a world where online games rule the day, is a bigger deal than it may seem. We started. They were mildly interested, and that’s ok. I hope we can build on it.

We put too much pressure on getting things just right before we start anything and we wind up doing nothing. I liken our time today to the first time a person exercises in awhile… kind of a hot mess, but better than nothing. Little moments of faithfulness every day, like exercise or a good daily vitamin, is worth far more than sporadic moments here and there. I have a vision based on God’s promises and that gives me hope that we can grow together in His wisdom. It’s never too late. There will be eye rolls along the way to be sure, there will be dramatic whining and bad attitudes at times, and that’s ok. It won’t be perfect, but with time and faithfulness, I hope that they can have a prophetic vision all their own to keep chasing after.

Free A’s And No Homework!

One of my favorite lines from THE INCREDIBLES movie is “if everyone is special, then nobody is special.” It comes from a villain who is plotting a way to make everyone into superheroes, thus negating the current superheroes’ power and prestige. I tried hard to prove this “everyone gets an A” picture as fake news… but alas, it is not. Where was this when I was crying over my math homework in fifth grade? Obviously, it didn’t exist because we lived in reality where you had to earn your grades. Interesting to note that homework and cupcakes are also banned at this particular school in Arlington, Virginia. Of course they are.

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