The church usually gives each team one day out of the week to take it easy, do some planning, and go see Chicago. Since our group is fairly familiar with Chicago, we stayed close to the church and spent some good quality time together.
The trip is here and we're very excited to start serving. Here are some things we did today and how you can be praying for us:
Branches are nothing without the vine. This is painfully obvious when talking about a plant but so easy for us to get wrong in real life. You and I are like branches and Jesus is the vine. Just as a branch cannot produce fruit if it has been disconnected from the vine, we can do nothing good for God's kingdom if we are disconnected from Jesus. Try as we might, if we aren't spending time with Jesus and allowing Him to fill us up, then we won't be able to impact people's lives for God's kingdom. Jesus says that we must abide or remain in Him. Unless we do that, we might as well be a branch all by itself trying to grow fruit by sheer willpower. It doesn't work that way. Pray that our group, myself included, would stay close to Jesus in order to impact the Lamon community.
Abiding is a process of Love and Obedience. The Dude abides. But how? What does it take to abide in Jesus? It's a nice thought, but it is pretty vague. Jesus clarifies by saying that to remain in Him we must love Him and obey Him. What does that look like? Because I love my wife, I make time for her, talk to her, pray with her, pray for her, ask questions to get to know her and what she is thinking, tell her what I love about her, and serve her. It's not so different with Jesus. To love Him, we serve Him and His church, we pray to Him, we read the Bible to learn about Him and what He is thinking, we worship Him. The more we know Him and spend time with Him, the more His love, thoughts, and servanthood will rub off on us. The more we choose to obey Him in all areas, the more we will see Him working through us and producing fruit. Pray that our group will love and obey Jesus ourselves that we might impact others.
The Gardener is here to help. Jesus tells us that God the Father is like a gardener who comes along and prunes the branches that are bearing some fruit so that they would eventually produce more fruit. That's encouraging! God Himself is working on us, cutting the bad habits and sins out of our lives, in order to help us produce better and better fruit. Pruning is a tough process where the plant gets cut. Sometimes it hurts when God prunes us, but He knows what He is doing. Pray that God would keep His promise to prune us and that we would not squirm against His hand but submit to His pruning.
Producing fruit for Jesus leads to Joy for us. Jesus tells us that this whole process of producing fruit for God's glory will cause our joy to be made complete. One thing I love about God is that He only asks us to do things that will lead us to deeper and greater joy. Knowing that we have been used by God to do work for His kingdom that will last for all eternity is an incredibly exciting thought. Pray that God would help us to be filled with joy from Him as we serve in the coming week.
Superman is important to Christians. The hero has a longstanding tradition, whether intentional or not, of being a Christ figure. His father sends him from the heavens down to lowly earth in order to lead and save humanity. He is (nearly) all powerful, a God among men. The only thing fiercer than his strength is his goodness.
Man of Steel has been catching a lot of negative feedback, but I just don’t see it. I thought this was the best Superman movie yet. Here's why:
Man of Steel doesn't disappoint the Christian looking for Christ imagery. The dialogue is ripe with stuff that believers can unpack. Superman strikes a pose that reminds us of the cross and Clark even visits with a priest for counsel. There's so much of this, that some non-Christians might gag on it as it's shoved in their faces. Sorry guys, I didn't make the movie.
While undoubtedly violent, I believe that Man of Steel will open family and friends to great conversations about faith, sacrifice, and even the purpose of your own life. Just check out these words from Jonathan Kent, "You are my son. But somewhere out there you have another father, and he sent you here for a reason. And even if it takes you the rest of your life, you owe it to yourself to find out what that reason is." Powerful words for Clark and just as powerful for you and me.
With Man of Steel, you get a very entertaining movie that continues the tradition of Superman by pointing to the real Savior.
Iron Man 3 was a blast. It was humorous, action packed, full of cool new gadgets and upgrades, and had a solid and unexpected twist. It was inappropriate at times with language and sexuality, which is pretty much par for the course with Tony Stark. I was mildly annoyed twice when Tony is saved by gadgets he happened to have on him the whole time. This installment of Iron Man was quite different from the last two in the way it was directed, narrated, and even the plot structure and camera angles. It was a lot of fun, but there is something about it that left me unsure how I'd rate it. For now I'm thinking it was better than the sequel but not as good as part one. Vague Spoilers Follow...
Good old Sesame Street.Ah yes, the difficult concepts of near and far. Michaela and I have been working on those for a few months now. We stand by the mirror and jump back and forth saying near and far. She laughs and smiles and when we're done she says, "Mah," which means "more" in Michaelanese.
But some day she'll grow up and have those concepts nailed down. She'll know that things that are near are things she can touch and see and interact with. She'll learn that things that are far are often out of reach. They are the things she can't see, can't touch, can't change, can't do anything about. She'll learn just like we all do what near and far mean.
But Jesus must not have watched Sesame Street, because He doesn't seem to have learned this lesson.
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. - John 4:46
So Jesus is back in Cana. There is a man from the next town over whose son is dying back home. He comes looking for Jesus and begs Him to heal his son. It must have been serious and he must have tried a lot of other things to get his son well. Usually the last thing people do is run around the country looking for holy men to heal their kids.
The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." - John 4:49
He begs Jesus to come back to Capernaum to help him. Near and far. This man understands the concept. I can picture what this father might have been thinking and saying as he begged the Lord. Jesus, we are in Cana and my son is dying in Capernaum. That's far away, twenty miles to be exact. We can't do anything to help him from here. Please Jesus, come down to Capernaum with me. If we leave now, we might get there in time for you to save him.
"Go," Jesus replied, "your son will live." The man took Jesus at his word and departed. - John 4:50
What an under appreciated little verse. We're so used to Jesus healing people in the New Testament that it's easy for this to just seem like any other person He healed. But there's something special about what He does here. Jesus heals a boy that is 20 miles away with just a few words! Your son will live. The man later finds out that his son got better at the very moment that Jesus was speaking with him. It didn't take any time for Jesus' words to act with power even from so far away.
With Jesus, far is near. We may not be able to see or touch or interact with or change things that are far away. But Jesus can. Wherever you are, no matter how far you may feel from God, Jesus is near. He sees you and your need. You're not outside of His reach. He can change your life in an instant. You don't need to be in the right room, building, or even city to be touched by God.
What's also incredible about this story is that the royal official believes Jesus. He takes Jesus at His word. Oh how much more simple life would be if we did that! I think of the times God has seemed far and life has seemed so difficult and I read a verse that tells me God is with me and will work all things out for good. I think of all the times I've read those verses and not taken God at His word. So I stress and I fret and I worry and God ends up keeping His promise. Instead, I could have walked away with joy trusting God would do as He said.
Today, be reminded. You and I may struggle with near and far. But God isn't limited by a few miles. Even when He feels far away, remember that far is near to God. You can turn to Him anytime, any place. And remember to take Him at His word. His Word is final and He is faithful to keep His promises.
Here's a little reminder that near and far are child's play to the Creator of the Universe.
Did you know that Easter is bigger than Christmas? I know it may not seem like it. For Christmas, we spend months decorating, planning, and shopping. We dish out a thousand or more dollars to buy gifts and host huge parties. We go on vacations and return home to visit family. We tell elaborate stories about Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty and we might even set up a Nativity scene and go to midnight mass or service.
On Easter, we paint eggs, eat candy, have dinner, and call it a day. But I'm telling you, Easter is bigger than Christmas. Easter is the biggest day of the year for Christians. It's our Super Bowl Sunday. Why?
Well let me ask you this: What's more important, the day Frodo is given the ring or the day he drops it into the fires of Mount Doom? What's more significant, the day Tony Stark built his first Iron Man suit or the day he saved the world from an alien invasion? The day the plan for Argo was drafted by Tony Mendez or the day those Americans made it back home? The day Abraham Lincoln was born or the day he issued the Emancipation Proclamation?
Enough comparisons, let's get back to Jesus. What's bigger, the day the Savior was born or the day the Savior actually triumphed?
There is no bigger day for Christianity than Easter! In fact, it's so important that Paul says that if Jesus didn't rise from the dead then you're faith is useless (1 Cor 15:14 and 17). On Easter, we celebrate that Jesus not only was born, not only lived a great life, not only died in our place, but that Jesus was victorious! By His resurrection, Jesus proved that He had conquered all of our great enemies.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep... But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Corinthians 15:20, 58
Jesus conquered Satan by His resurrection and showed that He is the King of this world and His power is greater than the evil one's. We don't have to be afraid of the devil anymore. Our King is bigger and better and stronger. No plan or scheme of the enemy can ever harm a child of God. Our God lives! Our God is victorious!
Jesus conquered sin by His resurrection and proved that we can be forgiven through Him and freed from the bondage of sin. We no longer have to live in fear of God's judgment or feel wracked with guilt for our mistakes. We no longer have to struggle without hope against our secret sins whether they be pride, gossip, pornography, alcohol, drugs, sleeping around, or whatever. There is freedom and a way out. Sin has been defeated. Our God lives! Our God is victorious!
Jesus conquered death by His resurrection and wrenched us from the grip of our greatest and oldest foe. We no longer live in fear of that day that's coming for us all. When a Christian dies, it's as much a party as it is a funeral because we know that death is not the end. Death cannot hold us because it could not hold Him. The grave doesn't have the final word, Jesus does. To us, death is sad but it is also overwhelmingly joyous because to die is to be alive with Christ forevermore. We Christians can look death in the face and ask, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:54b-55) Our God lives! Our God is victorious!
Easter is our Super Bowl Sunday because it is the day we celebrate that Jesus is victorious and, for those of us who have put our faith in Him, so are we. We have victory over Satan because Jesus conquered him. We have victory over sin because Jesus broke its chains. We have victory over death because Jesus rose again!
Do you have that victory? If you'd like to be free from Satan, sin, and death, you can. If you declare with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. -- Romans 10:9-10 If you've put your faith in Jesus today, let me or a Christian friend know so we can help you take your first steps of faith.
I hope these truths settle in you deeply this week and that you have a Happy Easter as you celebrate Jesus' victory!
Burning bush. Parting of the Red Sea. Angelic appearances. The walls of Jericho. The resurrection. All were crazy awesome miracles. And you and I didn't get to see a single one of them. Just once, wouldn't it be awesome to see a miracle? Why did Moses, the prophets, and the apostles get to have all of the fun? It would be amazing to actually see God doing something real in my life. It would be a huge anchor for tough times when doubt creeps in. But it seems that spotting a miracles is harder than finding Waldo in those old picture books.
Are you familiar with the miracle at the wedding of Cana when Jesus turned water to wine? At the wedding reception, the banquet hall runs out of wine. Talk about a buzz kill. So Jesus' mother Mary asks Jesus to do something about it. At first, Jesus doesn't really want to but mom gets her way. He heads over to the entrance of the hall and finds these huge jugs of water that were there so the guests could wash their hands when entering and leaving. He turns all of that water into wine. The servers that went with him took the wine and gave it to the master of the banquet who thought it was the best wine he had ever tasted.
Sound familiar? But here is what I want you to notice. Look at these three verses.
...and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now." What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. - John 2:9-11
There were lots of people at this party, maybe over a hundred. Jesus performs a miracle that every single one of them benefit from. They all go on to enjoy the wine. Yet only a handful of people even realize that something amazing has happened. Most of them have no idea that God has just done something extraordinary.
I wonder if this is true of us today. Is God at work all around us and we just miss it? Is He doing things in the day to day and we enjoy the blessings without realizing where they came from? I think so. And here's what I learned from this passage.
The Servants: Sometimes when God does something, He does something colossal right in front of you and there is no hiding it. Sometimes He parts a sea, raises the dead, or turns water to wine. The servants didn't ask for a miracle and they weren't looking for one but God gave them one anyway. God's gracious like that. If this has happened to you, great! If it hasn't, don't sweat it, you're in the majority.
The Master of the Banquet: Sometimes when God does a miracle, we give the credit to someone or something else. The master of the banquet drinks the miracle wine and praises the groom for saving such exquisite wine for last. I don't blame him for making the assumption, it's a pretty logical one, but he gives credit to the wrong guy. Are we ever like that? Do we thank luck or karma instead of God when something great happens to us? Do we pat ourselves on the back for our own hard work when God graciously provides a job, promotion, or good grade that we actually didn't deserve? How often do we give God's credit to others?
The Guests: Sometimes when God does something, we don't even notice at all. Most of the guests at the wedding kept drinking, eating, talking, and having a great night. They were completely unaware there was a wine shortage, let alone a miracle to make more! We can go through life enjoying all of our blessings but never even considering where they came from or how grateful we ought to be.
The Disciples: Sometimes when God does something, we have to be paying attention to notice. The disciples were likely seated with Jesus at the banquet. But they didn't accompany him when He got up to perform the miracle. Jesus didn't call them over and say, "Watch this!" It seems from the story He left them at the table and went to the entrance without them. Yet the Bible says they saw His glory and believed in Him. Why did they get to see this miracle? Because they were watching Jesus. They didn't take their eyes off of Him. When He got up and walked to the door, they kept watching. They were paying attention and wondering what He was going to do next.
I think God is constantly at work in our lives. He's not doing things as huge as parting the Red Sea in your daily life. That's not what I'm saying. But I do believe that He is blessing you daily, providing wisdom daily, speaking through His Word daily, answering prayers daily, and so much more every single day. We need to learn to be like the disciples. Keep your eyes on the lookout. When something unexpected and good happens, pause for a second and say, "Thank you God!" Every day make it a habit to ask God what He is up to and what He wants you to see and learn today. Keep your eyes on God, and just like the disciples, you're going to see Him doing some amazing things. May God bless you and surprise you as you watch!
P.S. I've actually seen God do some big miraculous things in the past. Nothing quite as big as the Red Sea or resurrection, but big enough that I'd call it a miracle. However, those bigger things are somewhat infrequent in my life and I've found it's important to learn to watch for the smaller day to day things God is doing.
Spiders. Crazed gunman. Car accidents. Public embarrassment. The dark. Each of us is afraid of something. What are your fears? Better yet, how do you deal with them? There is a Bible verse that I've known for years that tells us we were not given a spirit of fear but a spirit of adoption. Michaela did something that made a light bulb come on in my head in regard to that verse.
"The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." -- Romans 8:15
Lovely picture isn't it? Michaela typically only cries like that for two reasons. As was the case in the picture, she gets like this when she is very tired from sleeping badly the night before or missing a midday nap (often both). We call her Grumpy Brunke. The other situation that causes her to lose her mind like this is when she is scared. She doesn't get scared of a lot of things. Big dogs don't bother her. Loud trucks don't scare her. Strangers are her biggest fear. If she hasn't spent a lot of quality time with you, you can cause a Michaela meltdown just by trying to pick her up.
A few weeks ago at church, Michaela was playing near me. Someone she doesn't know very well walked up to her, bent down, and started talking to her and squeezing her cheeks. Her face immediately distorted into the look of terror as tears tumbled down her cheeks. She cried. LOUDLY. She spun around a few times until her eyes locked on me standing ten feet away. She walked around the stranger and cut a straight path to me, crying all the while. She reached her hand out and grabbed my leg. Her crying stopped almost as soon as she touched me. She sobbed a few more times as she caught her breath. She looked up, her cheeks covered in tears but with a smile on her face as she said two words: "Daddy. Up."
I couldn't help but laugh as I picked her up. She had gone from meltdown to happy in just 0.9 seconds. She was scared of the stranger but she knew that I would take care of her. Once she had made it to Daddy, she knew everything would be alright. I was her safe zone. She handled her fear in the best way she knew how. Run to Daddy.
If you've trusted Christ as your Savior, you were not give a spirit of fear, but a spirit of adoption. Almighty God has adopted you as His son or daughter. You are a child of God. He loves you deeply. You can cry out to God as a child cries out for their daddy. God wants you to realize that He is more than just the man in the sky who is in charge. He is your loving Daddy.
What troubles you? What scares you? What causes you to cry? What leaves you worried? Courage is not the answer. Manning up and saying, "I'm not scared. I can do this," is not the way to conquer fear. The cure for fear is not courage and trusting in yourself. The cure for fear is Daddy. Would you give that a shot next time you are afraid? Would you run to your Heavenly Daddy in prayer? Would you grab onto His leg and ask Him to pick you up? He loves you. He cares for you. He is bigger than those strangers that are scaring you. He wants to take care of you. He will walk alongside of you. Run to him with trust and faith and watch your fears melt away in 0.9 seconds.
Let me tell you a story about a pimp. Christy, myself, and a friend were on our way to see a movie. We drove through a less than awesome neighborhood and were stopped at a red light. In the middle of broad daylight, with many people around, a fly dressed man chased a scantily clad woman through the street while hitting her with a cane. The woman was yelling for help. People on the sidewalk kept talking to each other and laughing. People in their cars locked their doors. Nobody did a single thing while this man terrorized this woman.
What do you do when nobody seems willing to do the right thing? I've slowly been going through a series called Super to show that a lot of cool modern super heroes in one way or another have a lot in common with biblical heroes. More importantly, I've been trying to learn how you and I can be heroes by following these examples. So what do we do when nobody will do the right thing? Let's take a lesson from the original sharp-shooting hero, King David.
The story of David and Goliath is extremely well known. Here are some details that you may not have known. The Israelite army and the Philistine army were camped near each other and ready for war. They each decided to send out their best warrior to settle the battle rather than thousands of people on each side dying. The Philistines send forth Goliath, a giant of a man. He was either six and a half feet tall or nine and a half feet tall. We don't know for sure, but the point is that he was so big compared to the ancient Israelites that every man in the Israelite army was too terrified to face him. For forty days Goliath challenged them and they were too afraid to do anything about it.
Do you think any of the Israelites wondered what the brave, courageous, and right thing to do was? It seems pretty clear. Go face the enemy. As I process this story, I can't help but think that every Israelite soldier knew the right thing to do. They were just too afraid to do it. The same goes for my pimp story. I highly doubt there was a single person who saw that happening that honestly believed the right thing to do was sit back, watch, and ignore. It's pretty obvious that the right thing to do is help that woman. Everyone was just too afraid.
I think 99% of the time in every day life, we know the right thing to do, we are just too scared to do it. The question is not "What should I do when I see someone being bullied at school?" or "What should I do when my job wants me to do something shady?" We already know the answer. The question is "Will I bravely do what I know is right?"
So David, a boy too young to be a soldier, volunteers to fight Goliath. Where does he get his courage?
The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." Saul said to David, "Go, and the LORD be with you." -- 1 Samuel 17:37
He gets his courage from trusting God. He knows the right thing to do and he trusts that God will help him do it. That's hard to do! When our friends, popularity, job, or whatever is on the line, it can be very difficult to trust God. He doesn't promise to always work things out for us nicely and neatly as we know this story ends up. Sometimes doing the right thing will cost us. Will we choose to trust God anyway? David did.
Another part of the story that is often missed is a funny wardrobe malfunction. King Saul and his soldiers take David and give him the best armor and weapons to go and face Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:38-40). "Here David, a real soldier needs a sword and armor." But the armor is too big and heavy and David can barely walk in it. The sword is made for a grown man and David hasn't been trained with it. Everyone around him ends up over-complicating things.
David could have spent a bunch of time training with that sword before facing Goliath. The guy had already waited forty days, what's another week? He could have tried to have the armor fitted to him better. Instead, he took them off, grabbed his staff and sling, and went to face the giant. He didn't fall into the trap of over-complicating things.
It's easy to fall into that trap. We know we should share the gospel with our co-worker or classmate, but we are scared and nervous. We convince ourselves that we are not fully ready or equipped as an evangelist. So first, we go read a book on sharing our faith and then attend a ten week Sunday school class on evangelism. Those things are nice, but let's not over-complicate things. Those things are ultimately not where victory comes from. David recognized that. He knew that at the end of the day, the battle wasn't won by swords, size, or armor. He knew the battle belongs to the Lord. David trusted that God had already given him everything he needed to do what was right. So should we.
We all know the climax of this story. Shepherd boy David walks right up to the giant, dodges a spear, and fires one shot from his sling. He hits the bullseye and the giant Goliath falls to the ground. The original Hawkeye. God comes through for David. I'll say the hard thing. He doesn't always wrap things up so neatly. Many times doing the right thing will cost us. But you know what else it does? It inspires.
Then the men of Israel and Judah surged forward with a shout and pursued the Philistines to the entrance of Gath and to the gates of Ekron. Their dead were strewn along the Shaaraim road to Gath and Ekron. -- 1 Samuel 17:52
When David did what was right, the entire Israelite army saw. They went from a cowering group of wimps to a ferocious fighting force.
So here is what I've learned from David on what it means to be a hero. Don't pretend you don't know what the right thing to do is. Trust that God can totally come through with power if that's His will. Don't over complicate things. Trust that God will provide what you need in the moment. If we started doing those things, we'd inspire the people around us.
If you need closure with the pimp story, here it is. I put the car in park, told Christy to lock the doors and call the police, and I went and put myself between the pimp and that woman. I was pretty scared. She ran off, I tried to talk him down, and I dodged a few swings of the cane. The people around got a lot more startled when that happened and a few of them started calling the police and yelling at the guy to stop. The cops showed up and the guy fled the scene. Best of all, I think I inspired Christy because she ended up marrying me ;-)
Here's some questions to think through:
Mark has been happily married for five years, has a year and a half old daughter, and serves as a youth and children pastor in Oak Park.