Keep Your Focus

CleVs.Bos

Last Friday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals over the Boston Celtics with an embarrassing 40+ point win.  Boston couldn’t do anything, and it looked as if they had just completely given up.  I, along with just about anyone that I heard say anything about the series assumed it was over.  Cleveland, who had won both of the first two games in Boston, was coming home and was going to easily win the next two games to sweep the series and go to the NBA Finals.  There was little doubt, especially since Boston’s star player had been ruled out for the rest of the playoffs due to an injury in the first half of game two.

The problem is that Cleveland seemed to take this for granted as well.  They seemed to just assume they had the series won, and it was going to easily fall to them.  And during the first half of game three on Sunday, that is exactly what seemed to be happening.  The Cavaliers took a commanding 21-pt lead at one point, entering halftime with a 16-point lead.  I actually stopped watching the game at that point, helping out with something else around the house.  I thought the game was over.

That is, until the fourth quarter started and I happened to glance at the game again.  That huge halftime lead had been cut to single digits.  So, I started watching the game again, hoping that the Cavs would hold on and start playing with some purpose again.  But that didn’t happen.  Boston, who looked completely out of the series and ready for the off-season fought back and hit a game-winning three-point shot with .01 seconds left.  LeBron James, who played the entire fourth quarter, went scoreless in it.  If you follow basketball at all, you know that is something that rarely happens. 

So what happened?  How did a team that was dominating the entire playoffs, and especially this series, give up a 21-point lead to allow Boston to steal a game in Cleveland?  It’s a pretty simple explanation, and it is definitely something that we, as Christ followers, can learn a lot from as well.  Continue reading “Keep Your Focus”

Have You Begun to Live?

Every man dies. Not every man really lives

The parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus tells is probably His most well known story.  It is the one that we are most familiar with, and in my opinion it is because we can all relate to it in one way or another.  The story is found recorded in the gospel of Luke, and is actually one story in a collection of three about lost things being found that Luke records in chapter 15.  You can read them here if you are not familiar or just want a refresher.

It’s one of my favorite stories as well.  I relate so much to the story, and it resonates with me.  In fact, we are gearing up for a sermon series based around some themes found throughout the story of the prodigal son.  I can tell the story in detail from memory because it is so familiar to me.  But, just like other passages that we read over and over, we can get something new out of it every time.  And just that happened to me recently.

I was reading through the story as part of my daily devotion time.  It is easy to zone out sometimes when reading such a familiar passage, especially when it is early in the morning.  And I admit that was happening to me this time around.  But then I came to the last few verses, when the older brother was throwing a fit because the younger brother was being celebrated.  The father in the story steps in and explains why they needed to celebrate.  And bam, there it was.  Something stuck out to me a little different than in any other time I have read the story.

I was reading in the NASB translation, which I try to do when I am studying on my own or prepping a message.  I teach out of the NIV usually.  So, I am more familiar with the story in NIV format, and reading in NASB is what caused something to stick out this time. 

Luke 15:31-32 in the NIV reads,

31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

He was dead and is alive again.  That’s the way I have always heard this part of Jesus’ parable.  And that is a significant statement.  Returning to the Father is the only way we have life.  Otherwise, we are dead in our sins.  That is what the story is getting at.  It is also teaching that there is a celebration that happens when anyone gives their life to Jesus through baptism.  But the NASB translation worded things a little differently, and it made the passage come to life in an amazing way for me.

Luke 15:31-32 in the NASB reads,

31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.’”

He was dead and has begun to live.  That paints a little different picture.  The earlier translation makes it seem like the son was alive, died, and began to live again.  But here, in the NASB, there is a picture painted of how things truly are.  Before we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, no matter what we are doing in our lives, how successful we are in worldly standards, what our bank statements show, how our relationships are going, or anything else, we are dead in our sins.  We are the walking dead so to speak.

We are living in the sense that our physical bodies are alive, but we are dead men walking.  Nothing we do matters in the grand scheme of things.  We are searching for life, something to fill the void that we know is there, but for some reason just cannot figure out why it is there.  And then we come to Jesus. 

A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to truly live.

Someone introduces us to Him, and we are open to learning more.  Before we realize it, that void that we have been seeking to fill in our lives starts to disappear, and we don’t really understand what is happening.  We accept Jesus our Lord and Savior of our lives, we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and we truly begin to live.  A relationship with Jesus Christ is the only way to truly live.  That void that we all feel is only filled by God; nothing else that we attempt to fill it with will ever completely fill the void.

This idea of being dead in our sins and finding life in Christ is a common theme in Paul’s writings, so it’s not like the idea is new to me (You can read some of them here, here, and here).  I have often taught about the freedom that is actually found in surrendering to Jesus.  The world around us would think that it would be just the opposite; to follow Jesus would mean becoming more restricted.  But something great happens when your sins are forgiven through the blood of Jesus and we truly begin to live in the freedom that He grants us. 

We have been set free.

That doesn’t give us carte blanche to keep sinning.  God’s grace covers our sin, but we shouldn’t purposely keep sinning just to increase His grace.  That’s not the point of the freedom we find in Christ.  The point is that we are not enslaved by sin anymore.  In our human nature, we are going to mess up from time to time, and sin.  But we are free from the enslavement of sin.  We have been set free.  We, as Christ followers, have truly begun to live!

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From Mountain Tops to Valleys: How are You Spending Time With God

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Recently, I’ve been reading through the gospel of Mark.  The other day, I came to Mark 9 and the story of Jesus’ transfiguration.  You can read it here if you’re not familiar with it.  I absolutely love how you can read a familiar passage over and over again, and still find something new in it each and every time.  There is a reason why the Bible is called the Living Word. 

So, as I read through the passage this time, there were a few different things that jumped off the pages at me.  And none of them were about what takes place on the mountainside, which is usually where we all tend to focus our attention when reading this story.  As Jesus, and the three disciples that are considered to be Jesus’ inner-circle, Peter, James, and John, come down the mountain, they are met with a commotion. 

A crowd had gathered, and since Jesus was up on the mountain, the crowd was asking His disciples to heal their sick.  There was a man that brought his son who was possessed by a spirit, and Jesus’ disciples were unable to heal the boy.  When I’ve read this in the past, I always wondered why the disciples were not able to perform this healing.  They had been given the ability to heal earlier in Jesus’ ministry, but they couldn’t successfully handle this situation.

Jesus’ response in verse 19, which reads, “‘You unbelieving generation,’ Jesus replied, ‘how long shall I stay with you?  How long shall I put up with you?  Bring the boy to me.”’ was something I thought was directed at His disciples. 

But when I read through the passage this time, I realized that it’s actually directed at the crowd, and those that didn’t believe Jesus was who He said He was.  After healing the boy, and when they were away from the crowd, Jesus tells the disciples that this spirit could only be driven out by prayer. 

So while the disciples were not able to heal the boy, it may have actually been because those around the situation didn’t believe that they could do it, not because the disciples didn’t have the ability or the faith to drive out the spirit.

The other things that jumped out of the text at me this time was a parallel that I see from the life of Moses, and a lesson we can learn from it.  There is a time when Moses is up on the mountainside as well, getting the Ten Commandments from God (you can read that story here).  He’s gone for a long time, and the Israelites get restless waiting on him.  In fact, they fear that Moses has been killed by being that close to God.  They turn to Moses’ brother Aaron and convince him to make them a golden calf to worship since they didn’t think Moses was coming back. 

When Moses comes down the mountain, he finds the community of the Israelites in a commotion, worshiping a golden idol instead of worshiping God, who had just brought them out of slavery in Egypt.  And he doesn’t react to well to the situation.  He breaks the tablets that have the Ten Commandments on them, and eventually has to carve them again himself.

But here we have Moses and Jesus, both on a mountainside for an extended period of time.  And when they come down the mountain, they walk into a commotion of unbelief.  I love seeing parallels like that in the over-arching story of the Bible.  But more than that, I love it even more when I can relate to and learn from those moments as well.  And there is a big lesson we can learn from these parallels.

Jesus and Moses had been isolated on a mountainside in the presence of God.  Jesus had three of His disciples with Him, and was visited by Moses and Elijah, while Moses was alone with God, but both were definitely times spent with God with no distractions from the world.  Think about times when we feel closest with God.  Times that we get to spend with God without much distraction from the world.  Whether it be just times that we are just able to really focus on our relationship with God, times that we get out of our normal routine at a retreat, camp, conference, or mission trip, or however we are getting closer to God.  Unfortunately those moments don’t last forever.

There is an ebb and flow to life.  And we don’t always get to stay on the mountain top.  It would be great if we could, but life gets in the way.  When Moses and Jesus were on the mountainside, they had to physically come down.  And when they did, life and commotion was waiting for them.  When we have those mountain top experiences, those times that we are closest to God, it is not going to last.  Not because we don’t want it too, but because attacks always come when we are closest to God. 

In other words, when we are experiencing those mountain top times with God, we should know that eventually the valleys are going to come.  We know this.  We’ve experienced it time and time again, especially if we have been Christ followers for any length of time.  But it is encouraging to actually see Jesus has experienced this Himself.  And how He handled the situation should give us a clue how to handle it ourselves as well.

He grieved the unbelief and the pain that the valley brought.  But He didn’t let it stop Him.  All to often, when we come off the mountain and experience the valley, it can knock us for a loop.  It can completely stall our relationship with God.  We get depressed or we focus too much on the valley.  In other words, we react like Moses and break the tablets.  Jesus didn’t let it knock Him off His path.  He healed the boy through His reliance on God. 

We need to realize something.  Even when we are in the valley, we can still focus on our relationship with God.  We can either focus on everything that is going wrong, and let the junk of this world get us down even more, or we can continue to focus on God.  It’s up to you.  God is always there.  He wants to meet with us.  But do we make the time for Him, especially when it is hard to do so?  When we are in the middle of a mountain top experience, it’s easy to focus on God.  But when we come down from that, and life starts to get in the way again, what do we do?

For far too long in my own life, more than I would actually like to admit, my default was to just roll over and let life get in the way of my time with God.  But that’s not what I want.  And I have worked long and hard in my life not to let that happen anymore.  What about you?  Join me in focusing on God, in the good and the bad times. 

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Not a Joke

April Fool’s Day.  It’s actually one of my favorite days of the year.  I can be a very sarcastic (sometimes too sarcastic) of a person, so a day set aside to pull pranks on each other is just a fun day.  Actually, I haven’t pulled an April Fool’s Day prank in recent history that I can remember.  But it is still fun to watch others try to figure out if you are going to do something or not.  It’s also fun to watch other pranks being pulled (mostly on television or the internet).

As I was trying to figure out what to write this article about this week, it occurred to me that it would run on April 1.  And that made me think of a great analogy with Easter Sunday on its way as well.  From today, Easter is in two weeks and a day.  Before I go any further, I want to extend another invitation to join us at Central Christian Church on April 16.  We would love to have you celebrate Easter with us.

But what about that first Easter morning?  The one that we gather to celebrate every year (and some every day).  Could you imagine something like that happening in today’s society?  An empty tomb.  A claim of a resurrection.  The Son of God in the flesh, living as a human being, killed, buried, and then suddenly appearing again would have most of us looking around for the hidden cameras.  We would just be waiting for someone to come around the corner, yelling “April Fool’s!”  Or if it wasn’t April Fool’s Day, a simple “I got ya!”

But that’s not what happened.  It wasn’t a prank.  It wasn’t a joke.  Jesus was crucified.  He was beaten beyond recognition.  And He died on the cross.  But He did it willingly.  No one forced Him to do it.  He did it of His own free will.  Why?  Because He loves you.  He did it to pay the price for each and every one of us because we could never cover the debt of our own sin sufficiently.  Only His perfect blood could do that.  Jesus says in John 10:14-15;

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (Emphasis mine)

Three days later, He arose from the grave.  God the Father raised Him back to life to finish the promise of Jesus’ sacrifice.  There were some that thought this was all an elaborate prank.  Especially the chief priests and the teachers of the law.  They made the claim that Jesus’ disciples stole His body.  But that’s not what happened.  I don’t have a lot of space left to go into detail, but let me give you some evidence that Jesus really did come back from the dead.

First, women were the first one’s to claim that they saw Jesus after the resurrection, and they found the empty tomb.  If you were going to try to fake something like this, women would have been the last one’s that you would want “finding the empty tomb”.  In the culture they lived in, women were little more than property and they would not be believed as quickly as men would have been.

Second, all but one of the disciples, whom people claim stole the body to fool others, died horrible martyr’s deaths.  All they had to do to escape these deaths was to denounce their belief in Jesus, and they would have been spared.  If they had stolen the body, they would have known that Jesus was a fake, and I highly doubt eleven men would go to a martyr’s death willingly for what they knew to be a lie.

There are other evidences as well, yet I run out of space.  My invitation to have coffee with you and discuss further still stands.  Contact me at kraig@crosseyedjesusfreak.com.

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Community: Passionately Pursuing Jesus Together

A few days ago, I wrote about passions.  How as Christ followers, we should be passionate about following Him and carrying out our mission.  We can have other things that we are passionate about, but Jesus should be something that we undoubtedly have a passion in our souls for.  Around the same time, I came across an article that stated we should not rely on our passion for ministry, because passion can run out.  After reading the article in disbelief, I discovered that it was written by someone that I have never agreed with on anything that he has written, and his argument against passion is just added to the list.  Let me explain.

I do not mean to make lite of anyone’s profession when I say this.  But ministry and preaching every Sunday is not an easy thing to do.  If you haven’t done it personally, realize that you might just not understand what all goes into it.  And that’s fine.  Again, I’m not arguing that my job is any harder than anyone else.  But it is difficult.  And I don’t think I could do it week in, week out if God had not given me a passion for preaching His word.  That’s why I changed from Youth Ministry to Preaching, because God changed my passion.  I still really enjoy working with and being around teenagers.  But my passion is preaching His word week in and week out.  Without that passion for Jesus and for preaching His word, I don’t think I could handle all the demands that ministry and preaching have.

But that is not what I want to focus on in this post.  It was just something that got me thinking.  You see, in my last article about passion, I stated again that passion for Jesus and learning more and more about Him should be paramount.  I heard about a 12-year old this week that is doing just that, and it gave me a renewed hope.  Our Wednesday night Kid’s ministry lost one of our own a couple weeks ago.  His family moved out of state.  The last week he was here, we cancelled Adult Bible Study, and the Kid’s ministry along with myself threw him a going away party.  The teachers, on their own, got together and bought him a teen study Bible, we played games, and ate pizza.

My wife told me after this past Wednesday night that the Kid’s ministry must have really had an impact on our friend that left.  You see, the week before was spring break, and we don’t do any Kid’s programming that week.  But this past Wednesday, our friend who now lives in Michigan, called one of the teachers and asked if he could participate in the Bible lesson time over the phone.  Even better than that, we know that he was truly listening, as he was apparently answering questions after the lesson time.

Now, it is my heartfelt prayer that our friend can find a group to connect with in MI, not because we don’t want him in our group, but because he needs to be in a group that he can connect with face to face.  But the fact that he has been impacted enough to want to continue learning even over the phone is pretty incredible.  He has a passion building for Jesus in his heart, and it shows.

Passionately Pursuing JesusLet me ask you.  Do you have that kind of passion for Jesus that you would call so that you could be a part of a lesson?  Do you have a group of people that you have connected with so much that you would do anything you could to continue connecting with them?  That’s what the local church is supposed to be.  That’s why I love the idea of small groups, even if you’re in a church that could be classified as a small group itself. 

My wife and I have a group that meets at our house.  Right now, it’s just four of us, but we hope to expand that.  Actually, the prayer is that we can reach our neighbors through this group.  But for now, it’s just the four of us.  And I can tell you this.  I miss it terribly when something happens and we are not able to meet one week.  Sometimes we meet and just talk about life.  Other times we actually do a session of a Bible study.  Sometimes it’s both.  But here’s the thing.  We, as Christ followers, have been built to be in community.  And that community should be together more than just an hour or two on Sundays. 

Following Jesus passionately means finding a community of Christ followers to be connected with.  That’s why I have a passion for the local church as well.  The Church has a lot of flaws.  How could it not, it’s run on earth by flawed human beings.  But it is the Bride of Christ, and a community meant to help each other walk as Christ followers.  If you are in the Carlsbad area and don’t have a church that you gather with regularly, we would love to have you at Central.  If you are not in the Carlsbad area, please find somewhere that you can join a community of fellow Christ followers!

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The Most Loving Thing You Can Do…

There is a growing trend that I’ve been noticing for a while.  If you’re honest with yourself, you’ve probably seen it as well.  Some of you maybe have even gotten caught up in it.  I get it.  It’s easy to do, and our human nature wants us to believe it.  But I believe it is a dangerous trend that can end up hurting more people than we could ever help with it.  What is it?  It’s the idea that everything is alright, nothing is as bad as we could make it out to be, and in the end, God’s love wins. 

Let me say one thing before I go any further.  Yes, in the end God’s love wins, but not in the way that many are trying to argue now.  God wins in the end.  But for us that means we have to be in a right relationship with Him.  There are going to be those that, through their decisions, do not end up on the right side of eternity.  Jesus went to the cross for our sins, and it is through His blood that we have a chance at a relationship with God.  But that means making Jesus our Lord and Savior.  That means attempting to live the life that He has laid out for us.  That means loving others as our selves and becoming servants. 

There is a picture of a church sign that has been circulating through social media the past few days.  I’ve seen in pop up a few different times from different connections I have.  At first glance, I was all for it (even though I truly do have a disdain for church signs, because most do more harm than good).  It reads, “Just love everyone I’ll sort’em out later. —God”.  While I agree with this on the surface, I think there is a deeper meaning that people are trying to take out of this that, in the end, is just plain wrong. 

Love Everyone

Yes, we are supposed to love everyone.  I agree with that wholeheartedly, even though I understand that some people are just down right hard to love at times.  That’s ok.  God never said it was going to be easy to follow His commands, just worth it.  The deeper part of this, however, is a potential issue.  With society the way it is today, I see people taking this as saying “Never correct anyone, never disagree with someone, live with tolerance, even if they are doing something that is completely opposite of what the Word of God says.”  In other words, there is no right and wrong, so just love each other and God will sort it out in the end.

Here’s the problem with that.  If someone is going against the very Word of God, and you don’t try to help them see where they are wrong because you love them, that is the very opposite of love.  And that is where I am afraid our society is heading.  There are differences in how we need to react to others depending if they are fellow Christ followers or not.  I’ve written here before about how we can never expect a culture that doesn’t claim to follow Jesus to live by the morals that we try to live by.  And that is very much true here as well.  Pointing out to someone that they are not living according to the Bible when they don’t claim to be trying to follow Jesus is not the best way to go about this.

But think about it.  You wouldn’t let someone walk into the path of an oncoming bus that they didn’t see just because they don’t see it would you?  That’s why we need to be building relationships with others and introducing them to Jesus.  If not, they are just walking into the path of destruction. 

PennPenn Jillette is one of the members of the duo better known as Penn and Teller.  They have a very famous show in Las Vegas, where they perform regularly.  Penn is a very outspoken atheist, but I came across a video he posted a few years ago on Youtube that opened my eyes to something profound.  In the video (which you can watch here), Penn describes meeting a man from the audience of one of his shows.  The man gives Penn a Gideons pocket edition New Testament, and tells Penn about Jesus.  In the front of the Bible, the man has written contact info down so that Penn can contact him to ask questions if any arise from reading.

Now Penn states directly that he knows there is no god, a point that I disagree with wholeheartedly.  But he goes on to talk about how much respect he has for the man that approached him.  He says that he has no love for any Christian that doesn’t try to share their faith.  Penn goes on to use the analogy of a bus, saying if you see a bus coming that someone else doesn’t, you do everything in your power to pull them out of the path of the bus.  This is where it gets really interesting.  He says if you believe in God, heaven and hell, how much do you have to hate someone to not try to tell them about it. 

Penn Jillette makes one the best arguments for evangelism that I’ve ever seen.  Not only is it not loving to not share your faith with someone that doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus, an atheist claims that you must hate someone not to do so.  Think about that?  Love everyone and God will sort them out later.  How can you love someone and just sit idly and watch them go to hell?  

How much do you have to hate someone to not share your faith with them?

Now, there is another side of this that we need to deal with as well.  What about fellow Christ followers?  Just love them.  Never correct them.  Never call each other out for sinful behavior, right?  It’s not that simple.  In Jesus’ most famous sermons, recording in the early chapters of Matthew, and known to us as the “Sermon on the Mount”, Jesus addresses judging.  I’ve heard this passage used countless times trying to say that we should not judge each other.  And while there is some truth in that, it is not entirely what Jesus is talking about.  In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus is recorded as saying;

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

I hear most people talk about how can we judge someone else when we have our own sin.  And that is true.  Jesus asks how can we help our brother get the speck out of his eye with a log in our own.  But most stop there.  Jesus continued.  He said to take the log out of our own eye (get rid of the sin) and then we will see clearly to remove the speck from out brother’s eye.  In other words, we are called to help one another remove sin from our lives.  Not just let each other continue in sin with a log in our eyes. 

So I would say the same thing about our fellow Christ followers.  How much do you have to hate them to not try to help them correct sin in their lives?  It’s not judging them, it is loving them.  God even disciplines us because He loves us.  Sometimes He uses others to point out where we’ve goLove Everyonene wrong.  But make not mistake about it, His discipline comes from a place of love. 

“Just love everyone I’ll sort’em out later.—God”  I’m fine with that, as long as you realize this.  Sometimes, the most loving thing you can do for someone is point out that they are sinful and in need of a loving Savior.

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A Light Shines in the Darkness

As I woke up one morning this week, the news flashed across my iPhone screen about another potential terrorist attack, this time in London, England.  As I type these words, five have been confirmed dead, including one police officer.  There are at least 20 injured.  The person responsible for the attack is thought to have acted alone, and is also dead.  We see this all too often anymore.  Every time we turn around it seems some kind of violence is happening in our world, rather it be nation against nation, terrorism, or individuals against each other.  There is no doubt about the fact that we live in a dark world.  I’m not sure if it is actually getting darker, or if it’s just because the world is so connected through technology and we hear more about what is going on.  But there is no doubt that we live in a dark and dying world.

Just here in Carlsbad, we are reminded almost daily how dark and broken our world is.  We see a city that has the potential for a bright future, but we also see a city with a bad drug and alcohol abuse problem.  In the past few weeks, friends of mine have lost close friends suddenly.  There are many other things I could type, but I think I’ve made my point.  This world seems to be lost in darkness.

There is light, however, we just have to where to look for it.  When we see the void in our lives because of the darkness, we try to fill it.  That’s why drug and alcohol abuse are so prevalent.  That’s why there is so much violence in this world.  But, like I said, there is a light.  There is something to fill that void that we feel in our lives.  That light is Jesus Christ.  We’re in the middle of a sermon series here at Central called “I AM Jesus: Who Jesus Claims to Be”.  In this series we are looking at what is called the “Seven I Am Statements” that Jesus makes in the book of John.  One of those statements that He makes is “I Am the Light of the World”.

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There is so much packed into this one statement that we actually took two weeks looking at it.  Jesus actually makes the statement twice, once in John 8 and then again in John 9.  The setting for these claims are related, but there is enough difference in them to take them one at a time in our sermons.  In John 8, the setting is the Temple.  Specifically the Court of the Women, in front of the collection areas for the offering, probably early during the Feast of Tabernacles.  Jesus is teaching in the courtyard, and as usual, a big crowd has gathered to hear Him.  This setting is important, because on the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Courtyard of the Women is illuminated with four giant candelabras.

It is said that the Temple would be aglow from all over Jerusalem during this ceremony.  It is likely either during this time, or the next day, when it is still fresh on everyone’s mind that Jesus made His first “I Am the Light of the World” statement.  In John 8:12, Jesus is recorded as saying;

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Think about that.  Jesus is saying, possibly with the backdrop of the Temple being illuminated in a great way, that He is the light of the world.  Not the Temple.  Not the Pharisees who made it almost impossible to follow God, not even Moses or Abraham.  He is the light of the world. 

As impressive as the Temple had to be illuminated the way it was, Jesus is saying, “I shine a light in the darkness of this world, and only through Me can you see”.

After this conversation that eventually ended with the Teachers of the Law picking up stones in an attempt to stone Him, Jesus is with just His twelve disciples.  They come across a man that had been blind from birth and the disciples ask Jesus if it was because of the man’s sin or his parents’ sin that he was blind (The Jews, at this time, believed that one could sin in the womb, and therefore thought that this man could have caused his affliction.  I don’t have time to go into too much detail with this now though).  This led to Jesus making His second “I am the light of the world” statement.  This time around, it was just the twelve disciples and the man Jesus was getting ready to heal that was present for the statement.  John 9:1-5 records the event this way;

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

Jesus continues and heals the man, however, this is done on the Sabbath and that gets the Pharisees all in a twist again.  They cannot understand how someone “from God” would “clearly” break the Sabbath.  But you see, Jesus knew exactly what He was doing.  He was continuing His teaching from the Temple from the previous chapter.  He used the physical blindness of the man he healed to lead in to a discussion on what He considered an even bigger issue; Spiritual blindness. 

He’s basically saying to the Pharisees, and to us, that we are spiritually blind.  But through Him we can receive our sight.  Jesus knows the darkness that is in the world, but He has the cure.  In His own words, He is the light of the world.  The Pharisees bring in the man healed of blindness and question him.  They are not satisfied with his answers, and eventually kick him out.  That’s when Jesus enters the picture again.  John 9:35-41 records the rest of the story;

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

There is no question what Jesus is claiming here.  He is claiming to be the Messiah.  He is claiming to be the Son of God.  And He is claiming that only through Him can we truly see in this dark and dying world.  That is because He is the light of the world.  That is because only through Him do we have a relationship with God the Father.  You want to fill the void of this life?  You want to see clearly in the darkness?  John, continuing the thought of Jesus as light in this world, writes in I John 1:5-7;

5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

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What One Over-Zealous Dad Reminded Me About God

This season of college basketball has been exciting.  We are down to the final sixteen teams vying for a National Championship, and there really doesn’t seem to be a clear cut favorite in my opinion.  Yes, I hope that Kentucky will win out, but there are at least eight teams that have a legitimate chance to win it all.  The next couple of weekends should be really exciting to watch.

March Madness

There has been one thing this season, however, that has been really frustrating and distracting.  And it doesn’t even have anything to do with a player, team, or coach.  It’s a father of one of the best players in college this year.  LaVar Ball, the dad of UCLA Bruins star Lonzo Ball, has really made this a miserable season if you pay any attention to the sports world.  He can’t keep his mouth shut, and it is embarrassing.  Lonzo is arguably one of the best players on the college level this year, and any parent should be proud of his effort on the court.  But his dad takes it a little too far.

LeVar has gone on record numerous times over the course of this season, making ridiculous claims about his son, and about himself.  He has claimed that his son is, at this moment, better than two-time defending NBA MVP Steph Curry.  He actually said that they should switch Lonzo and Steph, and that that would make the Golden State Warriors better.  He has stated that if his son is going to sign a shoe endorsement contract, then the number to start at is $1,000,000,000.  That’s One Billion. 

LaVar, who played in college himself, averaging 2 points per game, stated that he would destroy Michael Jordan in a game of one on one, both being in their prime.  When other NBA greats stepped in to call him out on this unbelievable statement, he argued that he would beat them too.  And most recently, he got personal with LeBron James, stating that his sons (he has two more that are still playing high school ball) are set up better to succeed than LeBron’s kids.  That prompted LeBron to go on record stating to leave his kids out of it.

Basically, Mr. Ball thinks really highly of himself and his kids.  I’m all for having confidence, but this is more about ego than it is confidence.  He keeps running his mouth, and personally, I feel that he is actually hurting his sons’ futures.  Think about the NBA teams that might want Lonzo to play for them.  They are going to have to think long and hard about whether they want to put up with LaVar.  No matter the talent of Lonzo, if I was a coach or owner in the NBA, I wouldn’t want to put up with his dad unless there were some major steps taken to ensure that LeVar was not interfering. 

As I was thinking about the Ball family and all of this earlier today, I did draw a parallel that I had never thought of before.  And while it is not exactly the same, there is enough to it make the connection.  Let me say this.  LaVar goes too far in trying to promote his son.  He talks too much, and brags too much.  But he sees greatness in his son.  He sees someone with a great potential. 

God sees us doing great things for the Kingdom, even though He knows that we are going to mess up.

And I have to think that that is what God sees when He looks at us.  God is not out there bragging more than He should.  But He sees something that He created, and looks on us with pride.  He sees us doing great things for the Kingdom, even though He knows that we are going to mess up.  Look all the way back to the Creation account in Genesis 1.  God says that it is good after each of the first five days, meaning that what He created those days was good in His sight.  Then the sixth day arrives and He creates man in His own image.  Genesis 1:27-31 records day six;

27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (emphasis mine)

What was different on the sixth day?  He created mankind in His own image.  We have the image of God living in us, and because of that, God looks on us with pride.  That doesn’t mean that He is not going to hold us accountable when we sin.  He did that even with Adam and Eve in the garden.  He kicked them out of His presence because He could not be around sin.  But He also had a plan to bring all of us back into His presence from the beginning as well.  And that plan was Jesus Christ. 

And that plan was Jesus Christ.

It’s Jesus willingly going to the cross that convinces me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God sees potential in us.  He has pride in us, even though we sin.  And He willingly sacrificed His son on the cross to pay the debt of our sins that we could never ever pay on our own.  He continues to see our potential as well.  How do I know that?  He allows us to be a part of His work on Earth, when He could easily do His will without us.  He gives us free will, meaning that we can betray Him, and many of us do.  But that free will also gives us the potential to love God with a true love that only appears through free will. 

It’s Jesus willingly going to the cross that convinces me beyond a shadow of a doubt that God sees potential in us.

Parents discipline their children out of love and wanting their child to reach their potential.  So yes, there can and will be consequences when we sin.  The author of Hebrews reminds us that God does discipline us, but it is out of love.  Hebrews 12:7-11 reads;

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

He disciplines because He loves, and because He loves, He see potential in us.  Even in your sin, I want you to remember how much God loves you, and what He has done for you through His love.  He has had a great patience with all of us.  LaVar Ball no doubt loves his son.  I’m just grateful that God has a different way of showing His love for us instead of bragging and making claims that can’t be backed up.  Paul put it this way in Romans 5:6-8;

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

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Where Does Your Passion Lay?

Humans are created to be passionate.  We all have different passions and that is what makes us unique.  But what we have in common is that we should be passionate about something.  Some are passionate about sports.  Others are passionate about food.  Still others are passionate about reading or writing.  As Christ followers, it is my prayer that at least one of your passions is our mission of sharing Christ with others, and being transformed more and more into His image daily.

Let me back up just a moment and tell you what got me thinking about our passions.  Back at the end of February, while I was thinking through and working on our churches March newsletter, I was trying to figure out what to write about.  I remembered that just a few days before, February 23, was the “Shine the Light on Slavery” day.  You see, there are more people in slavery and human trafficking today than at any time in history.  When I realized that I had just posted about this, trying to shine a light on a very broken part of our world, I thought what better topic to cover in our newsletter.

End It

Em passionMy first thought was to write the article, but also to contact a friend of ours that has spent years researching and fighting this epidemic.  I thought it would be good to get some statistics from her to help the article out.  Then I had one of my best ideas I’ve had in a while.  Why write the article myself when I could ask Em to write it as a guest post for Thoughts From a Crosseyed Jesus Freak and our church newsletter?  I called Em, and while she was excited for the opportunity, she had too much going on to be able to write the article for March.  We agreed that she would write it for our April newsletter.

This past weekend, she sent me her first draft, and we are in the process of editing and proofing it now.  But this whole process is what has got me thinking about passion.  Em is passionate about ending human trafficking and sexual exploitation of people.  And you can tell from her writing.  I won’t go into too much detail now because I don’t want to take away from her article that will come out sometime next week. 

Here’s the deal.  When you are passionate about something, other people can tell.  When there is a passion in your soul for something, it takes a prominent place in your life.  For Em, she has spent time overseas, working with girls that were rescued from the sex slave trade.  She looks for opportunities to raise awareness anywhere and everywhere she can about this issue.  And she does it because of an even bigger passion in her life.  Her ultimate passion is Jesus Christ.  She does all she does about human trafficking because of her relationship with Jesus.

When there is a passion in your soul for something, it takes a prominent place in your life.

I try to live with the ultimate passion in my life being Jesus as well.  That’s why I preach.  He’s the best thing that has ever happened to me, and because of that I have a passion of preaching His word, trying to introduce others to Him.  Jesus is why I write here on Thoughts From a  Crosseyed Jesus Freak.  I have a passion for writing, but it’s not just because I like to write.  I like to shine a light on Jesus and help others in their walk of faith. 

Recently, through some of the sermons I’ve preached, books I’ve read, and the writing challenge I just completed, I’ve developed another passion.  One that I should have had for a long time.  But I have a passion for trying to get to know my neighbors and building a relationship with them so that I can, along with my wife, share Jesus with them. 

Scripture is filled with passionate people.  Some of those people had their passions in the wrong place.  Think Saul of the Old Testament, and even Solomon.  They ended up being passionate about the things of this world.  And it cost them in the end.  Paul, once he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, became passionate about spreading Jesus to anyone and everyone that would listen to him.  Jesus’ disciples, minus Judas, became passionate about taking the gospel to the ends of the earth as well.  And believe me, their passion was real.  I don’t have time or space to go through all of it here, but only one of the apostles died a natural death after a long life.  That was John.  All of the others were tortured and martyred for the passionate following of and teaching Jesus.

Scripture is filled with passionate people.

One story sticks out in a vivid way, however, when I think of passion for Jesus.  That’s the story of the first person killed for his faith in Jesus.  In other words, he became the first martyr in Christianity.  That’s the story of Stephen.  You can find it recorded in the book of Acts.  Specifically in the sixth and seventh chapters.  You can read it here and here if you’re not familiar with the story.  Let me give you a short synopsis before I wrap up.  Stephen was chosen to be a servant.  He was helping by taking care of some widows, but he was also sharing his faith.  No one that would challenge him could actually stand up to his arguments.  The religious leaders of the day (the Sanhedrin) seized him and put him on trial.  Stephen boldly told them the history of the Jews and stated that they killed Jesus, who was the Son of God.  And because of this, they killed him.  His passion was Jesus, and it didn’t matter what he faced in opposition, he stayed focused on Him.

What about you?  What are you passionate about?  There is nothing wrong with being passionate about food, or sports, or reading etc.  But is that your only passion?  If people were to look at your life, could they tell that you were passionate about Jesus because of something that you do with your life?  And I don’t just mean “going to church on Sundays”.  Is there something in your life that you do because of your passion with Jesus, and it costs you something?  Time, money, friendships, just some of the things a passionate relationship with Jesus could cost you.  But it is so worth it in the end.  I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.

What about you?  What are you passionate about?  There is nothing wrong with being passionate about food, or sports, or reading etc.  But is that your only passion? 

So let me ask you again.  What are you passionate about?  Don’t have a good answer right now?  Figure it out and start putting your passion to work for Jesus Christ.  It was His passion for you that led Him to the cross.  Return His passion.  It might cost something now, but I promise it is so worth it.

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Pressing On!

ANWPerseverance.  I just can’t seem to get the word out of my head the last few days.  It keeps coming up in different ways, almost playing a constant theme everywhere I look.  My wife and I enjoy the show “American Ninja Warrior”, and so many stories of the athletes that compete there are all about perseverance.  Just a couple of weeks ago, they aired their all-star challenge, and we got to see some of our favorites compete, and persevere through obstacles that they have never faced before.  Some of them even got to compete and complete obstacles that had taken them our during the regular season a few months before.

ETSUMy home town college basketball team, the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers from Johnson City, TN have shown some great perseverance this season.  This past Monday evening they won the Souther Conference Tournament, earning a spot to play in the NCAA March Madness Tournament that kicks off next week.  This was a team that only had one shot, winning their conference tournament, and they did so beating the number one seed UNCG team that had beaten ETSU twice already this season.

Even a movie that Kelley and I watched just a couple nights ago was full of the theme of perseverance.  The 2001 film The Musketeer is a lesser know versions of the story often known as the “Three Musketeers”.  In it, the main character perseveres through the hardships of life after his parents are murdered in front of him.  He is trained in the ways of the Musketeers and travels to Paris to join them, only to find that they have been disbanded.  Not to give away too much of the story if you haven’t seen the movie (or any of them), I’ll just say the rest of the story is about pressing on through hardship after hardship to accomplish his task.  In other words, he continues to persevere.

Much of this life, especially as a Christ follower, is about perseverance.  That’s why I have been noticing this theme all around me recently.  Life may go smoothly for a while, but inevitably, it is going to get rough again at some point.  Like I told our faith family this past Sunday, Jesus never promised following Him would be easy, only that it would be worth it in the end. 

Much of this life is about perseverance.

The fact of the matter is life is not fair, easy, or smooth most of the time.  How can we expect it to be easy when Jesus Himself said that we must take up our cross daily?  Luke records Jesus’ words in Luke 9:23-26;

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

So, without perseverance, without pressing on through all of life’s hardships, then we will just simply get overwhelmed.  We are going to face trials of many kinds in this life.  But we have to keep focused on Jesus.  We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time.  Paul knew this first hand.  He lived it.  That is why I take so much comfort in his words to the church in Philippi.  He starts out talking about how much he could have boasted in himself at one point in his life, but he realized that only in Jesus Christ is there anything to boast about.  Then he wraps up this section by stating that he realizes that he hasn’t obtained this yet, but he is going to keep on pressing toward the goal.  He writes in Philippians 3:1-14;

Further, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. 3 For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reasons for such confidence.

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

We have to be focused on the goal rather then what is going on around us at the time.

That’s my goal.  Forgetting what is behind me.  The good and the bad things that I’ve accomplished in my life mean nothing if I don’t keep focused on the prize ahead.  This life is a battle, and perseverance through Jesus Christ is the only way to get through it.  Not only do I take comfort in the words of Paul here in Philippians, I take comfort in the idea that he accomplished his goal.  Not that he was perfect, none of us will be.  But his words to Timothy in II Timothy 4:6-8, near the end of his life, are words that I want to be able to echo in my own life.  Paul writes;

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

May we all press on, forgetting what is behind and strain for what is ahead.  That’s the type of perseverance I long for in my life.

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