Reblogged: He Did Not Look Like a Savior

I originally posted this on April 3rd, 2015.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.”
Isaiah 3:5

Hanging on a cross. A man who is exposed, bleeding, and dying. A man who is facing a death of humiliation. A death of a criminal. A sign hangs above him full of sarcasm, “Jesus, King of the Jews”. A man who was chosen to be crucified while allowing the freedom of a murderer. A man who had to do everything he could just to take in another breath. A man who is completely helpless. Here hangs the savior of the world.

He didn’t look like much of a savior. He certainly did not look like any messiah the world expected. He was not a military leader. He did not possess the strength of a Samson. He did not lead Israel to freedom like a Moses. He did not reign over Israel into an era of prosperity like a David. Jesus appears to be the least of the bunch. Let’s face it, this man hanging on a cross does not seem to look like a savior.

What is a savior? Is a savior one who comes in the form his subjects demand? Does he simply try and meet the needs of those who ask? Maybe a savior is meant to be something more. Perhaps this savior hanging on a cross is more than He appears to be. There is a story behind this man’s life that you may not have known if you were simply passing by. This man claimed to be the son of God. He didn’t look like any son of God we would have imagined.

The greatest hope of the world did not look like any sort of hope at all. A helpless man hanging on a cross. A man destined to die a painfully excruciating death. Abandoned by his disciples, denied by his closest friends, and alone on a cross. No, wait, not entirely alone. Two men are being crucified with him. Two common criminals hang on crosses next to this savior of the world.

One criminal can only see what hangs in front of him. Jesus did not look like any kind of savior to this man. He looked like a helpless criminal on a cross. This common man mocked and ridiculed this “Savior of the world”. This common criminal played a crucial point in the telling of the story. He was pointing out the clear truth of the situation. Jesus did not look like any kind of savior this world needed.

The second man saw something different. He was another criminal who had earned his punishment on a cross. He recognized something in Jesus. Perhaps he looked past the mere image he saw before him. Perhaps he simply realized some innate truth residing inside the core of his being. The truth set him free. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

It is true Jesus did not have the strength of a Samson. During his few years on earth he did not lead Israel into freedom like a Moses. He did not reign on a throne in an era of prosperity like a David. The only thing he had in common with these other men was death. This common criminal noticed the true diversion of the similarities though. He grasped that even in the one common thread between Jesus and these great men there was a huge difference. Samson, Moses, and David all died as sinners. They were some of the greatest heroes of Israel, but they each had huge flaws. Jesus was facing death, but he was facing death as an innocent man. He was facing death as a sinless man.

Jesus did not look like a savior, but he was the very kind of savior the world needed. A savior does not simply give what others think they want. A savior meets the core need. Jesus was the savior the world needed, but never realized. That was what this common criminal saw. A common criminal who realized the need for a true savior. The kind of savior that was required to look nothing like Samson, Moses, or David. He realized he needed a savior of souls.

You need to understand the need for a savior in order to realize that Jesus was a savior. Without knowing the need you will never fully see Jesus as the perfect savior. He was the perfect savior because he was the perfect sacrifice. He paid our debt for our sin. He brought peace between God and humankind.

Thank God Jesus did not look like a savior.

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A Story of a Girl Named Hadassah

On February 10 at 5:54 P.M. my wife gave birth to our daughter Hadassah. She is our very first daughter, and it is already a learning experience for me. Like Micaiah, we had a home birth for Hadassah. She was born under the same roof as Micaiah, and yet still managed to be different from him all the same.

Our previous child Micaiah seemed to arrive in what could only be described as a flash of lightning for us. Completely unexpected. He came out with a bang fully embracing the moment. Hadassah was quick once the time arrived, but the buildup was more recognizable and slow. Emily had been having contraction sine Friday night. By Saturday morning we knew that she was going to be here either that day or the next. The contractions were slow moving and sporadic, but it was clear that her time was coming. The whole thing was just telegraphed for us. We got the house ready because we knew that her arrival was imminent.

My wife was the one that found the name Hadassah. She loved the sound of it (as did I), and liked its connection in the Bible. Hadassah is the Hebrew name for Esther. The name itself means “myrtle tree” a tree whose flowers were often used for key ingredients in perfumes. It is more of the story of Hadassah that drew me to the name.

The Hadassah of the Bible is thrown into a giant story full of conspiracy and murder. She becomes the wife of a king. Her uncle Mordecai uncovers an awful conspiracy with plans to wipe out the Jews in the king’s country. This leads to Hadassah being confronted by Mordechai to utilize the position she has been placed in to bring about change and protection for her people.

Hadassah remains hesitant. Her husband has a bad temper streak and trying to speak out of turns leads people to death based on previous history. The result is a speech from Mordechai that contains what is arguably the most quoted phrase in the entire book of Esther. “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time. Relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Hadassah is given a choice. She can either hide from what God is doing or embrace her role in it. There is only one clear option. Her embrace of God’s call to sue her leads to the safety of the Jews.

In preparation for Hadassah’s arrival I also finished my degree. I finished a multiyear long process in preparation for the next step of what God wants us to be doing. Some read the statement “for such a time as this” and think of there being one specific moment that God calls us into action. One specific event that he places us on this earth for. It is understandable why we might think that because that phrase was used to embolden Hadassah towards action in this one particular event, but we should not think of this as pertaining to one specific moment. It is a call to us in every moment of our lives. If we our sensitive to God’s leading, then wherever we are is where He has called us. Emily and I have been seeking God a great deal in where He is calling us next, but we also know that “for such a time as this” is not limited to one moment, but rather the present moment we are living. Preparing for that next phase can even be scary. The unknown can be terrifying, but Hadassah is a reminder to sue that the choice is an obvious one. Living in our role for God’s missions is the only option worth pursuing.

The choice is plain no matter what moment we are livening in. We are called to embrace our role in God’s missions. Hadassah is a reminder of that. A reminder that God is leading us into his next phase for our lives, but also a reminder that in every moment we play a role in His mission. 2017 was a particularly hard year for us surrounded with moments of anxiety and loss, but 2018? Well 2018 is proof the story isn’t over yet, and the time as always is now for whatever God is doing.

Our prayer for Hadassah is that she lives a life where she is not afraid to be heard when God calls her to speak (She already does a great job in making her voice heard). We pray that she will live each moment asking “why not? Why couldn’t God use me for a time like this?” It will be hard at times Haddie. The world will fill you with doubt. It will try and silence you when you are living for Him but remember that in each moment you have the choice to pursue His calling. May your life be a sweet fragrance pointing to His glory. May you live for such a time as this.

Thoughts from a Call Center

               I currently work at a call center while completing my Masters degree, and looking for a ministry position. It is a job with plenty of colorful stories to say the least. I am still considered a younger guy at this point who has not quite hit 30 yet. I would fall into the generation that older folks would say are full of entitlement, disrespectful, inarticulate, directionless, and all around the cause of everything that will destroy this part of the galaxy. It’s a heavy role to live up to.

               In my job I deal primarily with individuals who claim to be born again believers with a large section of that population being from generations older than mine. On average, I have found that the older generations in their conversation with me tend to fit most of the above description compared to the younger ones. I have had countless ministers speak far worse to me than any unbeliever has. I have had my fair share of cuss outs from believers. I have heard threats of harm towards staff from older generations, and countless claims of being treated unfairly when they failed to follow any of the rules provided by the organization. I have seen some of the uglier side of humanity from older believers in this job, and that is coming from someone who has seen some pretty ugly things in ministry.

               I say all of this to point out a couple of things that require a constant reminder for me. The first one is that our problems in this world are not because of generational, gender, or race issues. They are because of sin issues. I have been called a racist, a sexist, and entitled and disrespectful youngster all because of needing to tell people they broke the rules. None of these are remotely close to accurate in full context. Is their racism in the world? Absolutely. Are there men and women who are sexist? You can count on it. Are there disrespectful and entitled younger generations? Guaranteed. However, none of this is really the issue. Noe gender, race, or age group has a monopoly on sinful behavior.

               Pastors are struggling. I am pleading you to read this if you are not a pastor. A joke at my job is that the meanest customers we have are pastors, and that is not too far from the truth. Many are cynical and angry. What most of my co-workers don’t understand first hand is that pastors see humanity at its ugliest. They face off in a war where believers who are meant to be the most caring in the world are the ones who tend to cause them the most harm. They are more susceptible to bitterness. It is not an excuse, but it is a harsh reality. Your pastor desperately needs your prayer. I don’t care if he is the jolliest person you know. He needs it.

               It’s really hard to love broken people. I make my living be yelled at by strangers a good portion of the time. They don’t know me. I don’t know them, but for that brief moment there are some who will choose to use this random stranger as the source of all their pain and grief in order to unleash their wrath upon it. Those are hard people to love.

               It is hard to not become like that person. I’ve been doing this for four years now. It is hard not to become a really bitter and angry person sometimes. While the angry people are not constant, there are some weeks where you will just have a string of bad calls. Those are the weeks where you are the most susceptible to break down by giving in and become a very angry person who just yells at others whether it may be a friend, child, or maybe a random stranger who is dealing with you in the customer service line. The other scenario is to just break down and to avoid being that bitter and angry person because at least you know you still have a healthier range of emotions at that point.

               It’s important not to place your value on how strangers treat you. There may be times where you are placed in a circumstance where you are inadequately prepared to deal with a situation through no fault of your own, and unfortunately you are the one there to take the heat when it all falls to pieces. It does not mean you have no value or skills to offer. It may mean there is a need for a readjustment to transition into a place that values you and where you can utilize your skills. It may mean needing to hang in for a while longer while waiting for that opportunity to arrive, but through that waiting it is vital to remember that no stranger can ever place your value on you. Your value is found in Christ, and on what he made you to be.

               I’ve been sitting hear typing this wondering exactly where I am going to go with it. This is after writing multiple posts on other topics that just didn’t feel like the right fit to post when trying to jump back in my blog. This one is different because it turned into being a bit more raw and personal, and that seems to be the phase I am in right now. I guess I have written all this to really end on this simple note. Whether you are the one answering the phone, or making the, call I beg of you to remember the words of Philo of Alexandria, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a great battle.”

Sweating Blood

Being in Holy Week has made me think more on Jesus moments in the garden during prayer. I could not even begin to work through the theological debates surrounding Jesus prayer in the garden, and that is not my goal in this post. In these moments we see a beautiful moment in Jesus where he is legitimately facing the weight of the burden he is beginning to carry.

The pressure is enormous. This is a powerful moment. This has been the moment on my mind this past week. It has not stuck out to me for its theological conundrums of Jesus asking for the cup to pass him. It is not even primarily from the fact that he willingly chooses to follow God’s will. It is the humanity to it all the has captivated me.

In this moment I am struck with the reality of it being ok to recognize that hardship exists. Scripture says Jesus was sweating great drops of blood. This is what the world would call weakness. Some would even say fearful. Can Jesus even be afraid? Is that really a thing? Those questions have been running through my head. What really is fear though? We treat it in a negative context because it is often something that controls our actions and behavior. This is an obvious problem, but should that deny us the right to acknowledge when things are difficult?

I have felt surrounded at times over the past few weeks to be encouraged to ignore how difficult things are. Don’t pay attention to the burning building because God is watching out for you. Here is the thing, it is true God is watching out for me. I have no reason to believe He will abandon me. However, it doesn’t change that I might be in a point in life where things are just difficult, maybe even unfair.

Jesus in the garden reminds us that it is ok to recognize when hardship is entering your life. Jesus felt the pain of what he was going to experience. He knew it would be unimaginable to anyone else. Yet he persevered. Anyone can walk into a burning building that they are forced to believe is not coming down. It is the one who runs into the inferno as the roof is collapsing that is showing true grit. Maybe you are reading this through a time of difficulty. Perhaps the world is telling you to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, and move along. Maybe the ones saying that are even the people causing you difficulty. I would suggest a different piece of advice. Go into the garden and be transparent. Sweat drops of blood. Call out this period of life for what it is. Name it as a hardship. Once you do that you can look up and give it over to God. I think that is what Jesus has been teaching me through this moment in His life throughout this week. I can only give something up to God when I willingly acknowledge how painful it really is.

Remember the Goodness of the Lord

When God interacts with Moses he says that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When Moses questions whether Israel will believe, He has sent him, God tells Moses to tell them “I AM has sent you.” What follows is a story that echoes for generations within Israel about remembering who God is and what He has done in the context of their present circumstances.

With each new circumstances Israel seems to suddenly forget God’s goodness. They get caught at the red sea, and suddenly forget all his miracles in Egypt. They get hungry in the desert while forgetting His constant provision. They freak out when Moses is gone for a little while, and decide to give a golden calf they made with their own hands credit for their salvation. The list goes on, and with each new big event God regularly call a timeout to say, “Hey, this thing I am doing. Pay attention. Build a monument about it. Pile up some rocks. Tell your children and children’s children what I did here. Remember me.”

That’s always easier said than done. We just struggle with it. Sometimes we can’t even bring ourselves to sing those songs of praise on a Sunday morning when doubt and uncertainty creep into our minds.  Why is it so difficult to remember the goodness of the Lord? Time and time again we are placed in a difficult or disappointing situation, and forget all the other times just like it where God came through. Sometimes we didn’t even recognize his faithfulness at the time. That is how hardship works there. We often don’t recognize his faithfulness in the moment when we don’t get that opportunity we were hoping for.

Let’s tale the crossing the Red Sea as an example. God deliberately guides Israel into what appears to be a trap. They are stuck with a body of water on one side, and Pharaoh’s army on the other. They see know way out of this. Why would God do this? wouldn’t it have just been better to leave them in Egypt? What a cruel trick. God’s just says, “Wait for it.” He separates the waters, and lets them walk across dry land while crushing Pharaoh’s army. Here is the thing though, it was impossible for Israel to understand the reason for the whole event at the time. They were in a panic. God saw the bigger picture though. He saw a few mean years later from Israel enter a city called Jericho. A city that looked formidable on the outside, but who were trembling with fear because they heard about the nation of Israel and their God who defies the very laws of nature for them in battle. It took 40 years of wandering around in the wilderness to be made aware of that fact.

I don’t always understand when I am in a difficult situation. On many occasions, it has taken time for the meaning of hardships to reveal itself. In those moments, I am reminded of the goodness of the Lord. So why would I once again worry when a new trial faces me? Is it simply in our human nature to forget? I suppose that’s possible. It would explain why God was so determined to constantly have Israel reminds itself of their goodness. Adam and Eve in a moment of weakness forgot God’s goodness doubting His words just like enough to take a bite of fruit. The truth is that I don’t entirely know why it is so easy for us to forget the goodness of the Lord. All I know is we do. This means we must be forever vigilant. Constantly on guard. We must constantly be preaching to our soul. We must always tell the core of our being to have courage. We must tell ourselves to continue to do good. To keep the faith. The reaping will come if we do not lose heart.

So, I sit here on a Sunday morning with not much left to say except if there is anyone else out there who struggles with remembrance, know that you are not alone as you are joined in company by a forgetful young man. That is why I write this though. Perhaps remembrance is more than just telling yourself what god is doing. Perhaps it is telling each other. Corporately reminding each other of the goodness of the Lord. So today I will go to church, and when my heart grows faint and struggles to raise its voice, I will be surrounded by a community who will raise their voice for me. Then my heart can finds its voice again, and I will remember the God who parts the seas.

Live with Faith

There has been a great deal of ink spilled over the topic of faith. We struggle with its meaning. We wrestle with its function. We debate how it looks. We argue over how it relates to salvation. I have been struggling through faith in a way. Now don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Some people say they have a crisis of faith, and mean that they struggle with determining whether the very core of their beliefs are still true. This is not what I am referring to in myself.

I find it can be a struggle to live a life that has faith as the focus. In this context I am referring more towards living my life in a way that implements the Biblical truths of trusting in the Lord for anything that might arise. The only thing the temporary future guarantees for anyone is uncertainty. Uncertainty is scary. There is no sense in ignoring that fact. People try to. For some reason it is easy for us to get into our head that faith means no acknowledgment of things in the world that are scary.

Fear is inevitable, but it is how we respond to that fear. Psalm 112 states that the righteous man does not fear bad news. His eyes are fixed on God. The Psalm does not guarantee bad news is absent in the life of the believer. In fact, it expects it to be guaranteed. It expects that life is going to be hard, but it also expects that someone who trust in the Lord will choose to focus on the creator who can deal with the struggles that arise rather than be paralyzed in facing the problem itself.

We often looking at a life of faith as having that one big moment that shows our great extent of faith. Once we bank a couple of those we don’t need to worry about the big faith moments anymore. It took a great deal of faith for me to move halfway across the country on my own to live in Kansas for ministry. It took even more faith for me to move back to Virginia with a family and no job. It felt like I had made my big faith moments. I shouldn’t need to have any others. That is not how a life of faith works though.

A life of faith is not comprised of the giant moments. It is comprised of every moment. It is filled with the moments of forgoing losing a temper out of fear when the unknown is crashing in. it is the resistance to feed off of anxiety when trouble shows its ugly head. It is knowing that everyone will answer for what they are responsible for, and only worrying about what God is holding you responsible for. It is about being able to look at some of the worst humanity may have to offer, but come home to kiss your wife and children knowing you are set to live a life that can provide a better world for them.

When Christ was at the garden before his crucifixion he did not ignore that what he faced was difficult. He didn’t even deny that it was scary. The fear was not the focus though. He looked past the fear and towards the Father. He chose to trust.

I have realized as craziness swarms around me that I have had the ugly attitude of wondering why I face more uncomfortableness now. Didn’t I just have another big faith moment? That is not how faith works. Faith is a constant. It is looking at the world in its bitter greed and hostility, but yet knowing that your mission remains firm. A new kingdom is coming. We may not see it in all of its glory, but at times we can catch glimpses of it. We catch glimpses in people banding together to provide and encourage those who are struggling. We see it in a church who cares for someone in need. We see it in the love of a family. We catch those glimpses as a reminder that the faith is not in vain. The race will not be lost.

I have no idea what even the next few days will bring, but a life of faith does not require me to. The struggles will be there, but it does not demand a loss of temper. It does not require to be driven by fear. It does not force me to stop enjoying the sweetness of life. Instead, it will forever remain an opportunity to turn to God and follow the example of my savior as I say, “Not my will, but yours.”

Abusing Prayer

I can often forget the weight of prayer. It is a aspect of the Christian life taken for granted. It is a tool incorrectly use by many. “Oh I will be praying for your situation.” This is a statement we can often run the risk of using to make sure an individual believes we were listening to their plight with sympathy. We might be lucky if we just pass off a brief one sentence prayer about the situation to check off the list.

“I gave this decision a lot of prayer before reaching my conclusion.” A statement often made to lessen the blow of an unfavorable decision, or something to defend a decision against criticism. I prayed about it therefore this is God ordained. How can you argue with God?

Prayer is a two way street. We can forget that. Psalms is filled with songs and prayers of individuals crying out to God. We can easily forget that God is often responding in those prayers. There are moments where a psalmist cries out to God that he feels distant. He is lost and feels alone. He changes his attitude and proclaims his trust in the Lord. What happened in that moment? Why the sudden change? Maybe the psalmist is reciting a prayer he had at one point. A prayer where God responded. Maybe he was reminded that it may feel in the moment that God is distant, but he is still faithful. The story isn’t over yet.

We let the word “prayer” do our dirty work. It is a way to protect us against any unpleasantness. We diminish the power involved in the process. Stop and think for a moment. We can come to God through prayer based off the intercessory work of Christ. Christ is our mediator, and has managed to create the only religion that is based on relationship. Yet we often use prayer as a name dropping moment. It becomes no different than an angry customer who mentions he had lunch with some executive of the company last week. It is resorted to either a bullying tactic, or a way to end a conversation we are done having.

I have been haunted lately by a question I have asked myself. If I stopped praying, would it make a difference? Is my prayer life so limited and based more off of talking about the act rather than performing it that the impact would really even change if I stopped?

I had a common phrase when being a student in a classroom. There was always someone who needed to talk about how intelligent they were. How smart they were in a subject. I would often respond by saying that if you need to spend time telling me how smart you are, then you probably are not all that smart. If I need to tell people how much I am praying, then I am probably not praying very well, or at least not even doing much praying at all.

People won’t know how much you are praying because you tell them. They will know when your soul is a deep well of grace and mercy filled with compassion that only comes from an intimate relationship with the Savior. They will know when those around you who are hurting receive comfort after they have expressed their burdens to you for you to take to the throne room of the King. They will know how much you listen through your prayer by the wisdom you express when life comes barreling down with a difficult circumstance. They will know how passionately you pray when you face the fears of the world that demand you to move, and your response is one of a child with access to his father as you boldly proclaim, “Here I stand.”