Jesus Gives a Standing Ovation

Acts 7: 54-60

Stephen, in this passage, has just finished a very articulated pointed expository sermon on the story of God’s salvation from Abraham to Jesus. Many who were present in the crowd did not enjoy or appreciate such a fine expositional sermon. They were so enraged at the sermon they their gritted their teeth and took him and had him stoned to death. There was obviously a courage and boldness that Stephen possessed, but the most intriguing aspect of this passage regarding Stephen’s persecution and martyrdom is the description of Jesus.

Verse 56 states, “And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.'” Jesus usually sitting, is standing in Stephen’s description. Off the top of my mind, everywhere else in Scripture that depicts Jesus in heaven, depicts him as being seated. Here, Jesus is standing. Why? In honor of what Stephen has just done and is about to endure for the sake of the name and fame of Christ. Stephen becomes the first martyr of the church. Who does not like applause, standing ovations, recognition?

I have not come across another passage of Scripture where Jesus stands to his feet in honor of one of his followers. As it stands to reason, based upon this passage, the way to bring Jesus to his feet for his children is to give your life for him and his glory.

Thus, the question I pose this morning for myself and every believer who names the name of Christ: “Have we given our life to Christ? Have we surrendered? Have we offered our body as a living sacrifice? Are we willing to give our life for this Christ we confess? If not, we should not expect a standing ovation or applause from Jesus. A life that is sold-out, committed, surrendered, and given for him and his renown is what moves Jesus to stand and applaud one of his followers.

Some people will read this or at some point hear this message and say, “Oh it is not big deal if Jesus doesn’t applaud me. I am saved and that is all that matters.” How is it that we want our boss to notice us, our spouse to notice the good we do, our parents to pat us on the back and say ‘at a boy’, etc. We live in a contestant state of wanting people to acknowledge us, applaud us, and even when we perform, a standing ovation. So for someone to say, “it’s not that big of a deal is Jesus doesn’t applaud me,” is more narcissistic than desiring applause from others. What you have just said is that your boss, your parents, and others are more important than Jesus.

Not desiring Jesus to give approval of what you do, is like comparing Jesus to some nobody whom you could care less if he acknowledged what you do. Jesus demands and deserves the preeminent place in our life. Not that Stephen preached and endured what he did in order to seek the applause of heaven, but he did what he did because he was fixated on Jesus. What he did and endured led Jesus to stand in honor of one of his fallen followers! Today, may Jesus be pleased by the words, mediation, and action of our lives. May he be pleased and give approval to how we live for him today.

Blind Barty and the Cry Everyone Heard

The story of Blind Bartimaeus is found in Mark 10:46-52. This passage precedes the one where Jesus triumphantly enters Jerusalem. The story also takes place in Jericho. As many know, Jericho fames itself as the location of Joshua’s conquest of Jericho. In addition, preceding the fall of Jericho, another recognized event happened—that being the salvation of Rahab the prostitute. 

Particularly in this situation at Jericho, Jesus was leaving with his disciples, along with a mob of a crowd following him out of the city. With this great caravan of people moving along with Jesus, hoping to get his autograph (just kidding), there also seems to be still those lining the streets hoping to get a glimpse of this spiritual giant, Nazarene rock-star, and polarizing figure. As the commotion filtered through the streets, there is this blind beggar, Bartimaeus (Barty for short), who hears the commotion and asks those around, “What’s going on?” They tell him Jesus of Nazareth is coming through. 

Although Barty was blind, he was not deaf. He has apparently heard of Jesus of Nazareth. For what will transpire from him is nothing short of an amazing faith that is responding to the truth he had heard coming from eyewitness accounts; accounts that told of who Jesus claimed to be and what he had been demonstrating. Barty, after hearing that it is Jesus who is coming through, cries, “Jesus Son of David, have mercy on me!” As Barty cries this out, many in the crowd become uncomfortable and rebuke him, telling him to be silent. I could imagine people in the crowd yelling at Barty—the obnoxious beggar—“be quiet Barty, your embarrassing us; be quiet Barty, don’t disturb Jesus; be quiet Barty, will pay you to be quiet, just quit screaming.” Whatever they were trying to do to quiet Barty failed to work; instead, he cried all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Talk about a man who embodied his description, a beggar. Barty was desperate. He was a man in need; and he knew that only Jesus could meet his need. It would be fair to say that out of all the people in the crowd that day Barty wanted Jesus more than anyone else. (Question: how bad do we want Jesus, do we cry out for Jesus?) Jesus’ human ears hears the loud cries carrying over the commotion stopping him in his tracks; but I also believe that Jesus’ divine ears heard the cry of Barty’s heart.

As Barty sits there screaming for Jesus, Jesus sends for him. The Bible says, “And they called the blind man, saying to him, Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” And throwing off his cloak he sprang up and came to Jesus.” Reading this, I sense Barty’s excitement and anticipation! I believe he anticipates not needing that cloak anymore. I believe he anticipates not needing to come back to the place he had been accustomed to being everyday, begging people for money. Oh, No. Barty believes that the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth, is going to heal him. It is interesting that when Barty stands before Jesus, Jesus asks him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

This is like the genie-in-the-bottle moment. Jesus gave Barty an open-ended question of what he would like Jesus to do. Barty is very specific of what he wants. He does not want money or wealth, position or status. Barty wants to be made whole! In other words, he wants to recover his sight. Jesus answers the cry of Barty’s heart. Jesus heals him, and Barty is no longer the same person. He can see; he is whole. He does not have to return to the place of redundant begging and never being fulfilled.

At the heart of this passage, there is the message that every person is a beggar because their life is incomplete. Everyone is a beggar because his or her life is not whole; their life is in shambles, broken, damaged, or distorted in some shape, form, or fashion. Since everyone’s life is incomplete in some way, the only person that can bring healing, restoration, and wholeness is Jesus! He has come to redeem and restore the image of God on man as well as the entire created order.

Sometimes it takes a disease or sickness, like blindness, to get people to understand that their life is broken. But, if people would be honest and truthful with themselves they would come to the realization that they are still broken. They would understand they are not perfect, nor is everything right about them. Maybe people’s brokenness and incompleteness is their perception, attitude, actions, family, purpose, or personal life. And when people come to the realization that life is broken, damaged, distorted, and incomplete they will begin to look for the answer(s) to repair their brokenness, damage, distortion, and incompleteness. While many people have come to this understanding, the answer(s) they have tried to apply have been anything other than Jesus. From the Enlightenment, the answer(s) to repair the brokenness and incompleteness of life is more man.

This is the notion that man can achieve a utopia, a perfect order. Man can better society. Although this idea has led to the advancement of medicine, technology, and quality of life, it has still left people incomplete, broken, and damaged. Many others have turned to substances to at least help them cope with the pain of their incompleteness. Still others turn to people and busyness to help them deal with their brokenness and incompleteness. Finally, others turn to religion and spirituality. However, the difference between every religion and spirituality and the way of Jesus is this: every religion and spirituality other than Christianity has at its core man fixing their incompleteness and brokenness through works and right action. Christianity teaches that there is nothing that man can do to fill the void nor repair the incompleteness and brokenness in their life—only Jesus can.

Jesus is the only one that can repair the brokenness and incompleteness of humanity (and creation). However, I believe it is important to know that while Jesus does that presently in people’s lives, by grace through faith, his final act of restoration and completeness will take place at his second coming when he finally and utterly destroys the work of the evil one and sets up his perfect kingdom on earth. 

In conclusion, have we, do we, or will we cry the cry of Barty, a cry that everyone heard that day, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” Have we, do we, or will we cry the cry, “Jesus, Lord, God, Savior, make me whole.” 

Lip Worshippers Vs. Heart Worshippers

I was reading Mark 7 this morning and came upon the place where Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ snooty question as to why the disciples do not observe the tradition of the elders, which in this case was washing the hands before eating. Jesus, knowing exactly what to say, responds, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men’. You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8).

This particular message of Christ is a consistent one throughout not only the Gospels, but also the gamut of Scripture. Christ centers on the heart; and whatever flows from a life originates in the heart. In this case, Jesus pointed out the disconnect between the Pharisees outward actions, their claim (lip service) as to why they did what they did, and to what really was in their heart. In other words, what they claimed [outwardly] was not the same as what was within the recesses of their heart [inwardly]. Because of this disconnect, these Pharisees were lip worshippers of God, not heart-worshippers.

Lip-worshippers claim they love God base solely on what they do, morals they hold, new rules and structures they have created, and how religious or even spiritual they are. The truth is, God truly could care less about those who are very moral, socially active, and religiously committed. His concern rests with what is in the heart. And if a supreme love for God is not present, God is not pleased!

Based upon the focus of Jesus and all of Scripture, I would have to say that a center-set theory trumps a boundary set theory of behavior. Now, I do not use these in an ecclesiastical (church) way, as does Alan Hirsch in describing church [membership] structures. I use center-set and boundary set in a way that distinguishes rules (boundaries) and idols (center). For instance, there is always much discussion happening towards men in the arena of sexual immorality and marital infidelity. In these discussions, the majority of what is said focuses on boundary set ideology. Many tell men to do this and do not do this; here is a list of boundaries, do not get close or cross them. In doing so, they will protect your integrity and your marriage. While nothing is wrong with this focus (and these are needed), the focus on boundaries is very similar to the focus of the Pharisees in Mark 7. They were focusing on what they were doing or suppose to do, like washing their hands before they ate; and the origin of their actions, which originated from their heart, flowed from a heart that was unclean. They were unclean because their focus was all “jacked up”. The focus was their custom or tradition; and to be a good moral, spiritual, and religious Jew, who pleased God and gained his acceptance.

In the case of marital fidelity, the church can tell men to do this and do not do this, and incorporate these boundaries all day long for the sake of their wives and children that the focus on the boundaries lead to the neglect of God being center and the ultimate reason for a pure marriage. In the end men can have the cleanest healthiest marriage—as the Pharisees had the cleanest hands before they ate—but in the end they still are a lip worshipper of God rather than a heart-worshipper of God, especially if the focus has become the boundaries not the center. Having boundaries as the primary focus exposes the sin of idolatry in the heart.

Sadly, this notion of lip-worshipper of God vs. heart-worshipper of God describes our Western church/Christian landscape. Because at the center of good, moral, spiritual, and religious people, who attend worship services and claim to be a child of God, is the idol of self-righteousness, self-centeredness, and self-aggrandizement.

In other words their (lip-worshippers) lives and what transpires from their life is not ultimately originating in the heart for the glory of God, the praise of his majestic name due to their relationship with him, and the embodiment of his great kingdom due to their citizenry. But rather it originates in their heart for the glory of being good and religious, doing what is expected, following through on some type of traditional life handed down from parents or spiritual leaders, or maybe even to be socially acceptable. In the end, these types of people claim worship of God, but are only self-medicating the innate sin of self-centeredness and self-aggrandizement.

Although I believe this describes, in general, the Western Christian landscape (and I must admit it is easy for me to succumb to this temptation in my own life), there is this movement towards gospel (Christ) centrality. I am grateful for this movement, and I believe that the more gospel we pump into the veins of Christians and churches—the healthier they will become, while at the same time the more radiant God’s glory will be projected through them.

In conclusion, we must remember that boundaries, rules, or traditions are not bad, but they are not primary. The center is primary, and for believers and churches the center should be the primacy of Christ and his word. Boundaries, rules, and even traditions originating from this center do not lead to hypocrisy, but to his supremacy and glory. Striving for this center would keep the words of Isaiah from being applicable to us. Here are his words once again: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Fail, But Fail with Purpose

The cultural milieu of pragmatism creates defenses to combat the attacks of failure. Walk into any bookstore and there you will find self-helps on everything from parenting to cooking 30-minute meals. Our culture is one that is fixated on not failing. Maybe it is because failure is something that affects everyone, whether it is the fear of failing as a child, student, parent, or spouse, failing as a leader (in whatever capacity), or whether it is just a straight up failing at life.

I know that in my short amount of time, I have experienced a fair share of failures. I have experienced failures in sports, family (as a child and now as a spouse and parent), and ministry.

As everyone who has ever failed (which is all of us) knows, failing is not fun. In fact, failure hurts! Failure many times hurts our psyche, emotions, relationships, ego, confidence, potential future opportunities, abilities to move forward, etc. But as John Maxwell exhorted people in his book Failing Forward, failure needs to become man’s best friend.  So, in this post I want to simply add some of my own insights into this whole realm of failing forward, or failing with purpose.

  1. It’s OK to fail! It’s OK to make mistakes! I believe the reason why many people hate to experience failure is how it makes them look to other people, as well as how other people respond or react to their failure. Simply put­—who cares! Remember, we all make mistakes—we all fail. And If people look, react, or respond to your failure in a snobbish, holier-than-thou, or pharisaical way, you don’t want to be around them. You don’t need them. These types of people are too perfect for you, and their heavenly standards will not provide you the freedom and adventure to make more mistakes and experience more failures in the future.
  2. Be Willing to Fail. Look Forward to Failure. There are so many books, seminars, conferences, and environments created to help people not fail. I think these are great; learning from other’s  failures and mistakes so that we can avoid them is very helpful. However, sometimes learning in a second hand fashion is not always the best way to learn. Many times, we must experience the failure and mistake ourselves in order to truly learn and comprehend. In other words, sometimes it may be more beneficial to touch the hot stove ourselves rather than taking someone else’s word. Neil Cole believes that although it is wise to learn from other’s mistakes, he thinks it is also wise to learn from our own (204, Organic Church). I couldn’t agree more. Hearing about the hot oven is one thing, touching the hot oven is another, and an experience one will never forget.
  3. Failures Provides a 3-D and High Def Picture of the Experience. I know that in my own failures whether they have been in sports, family situations, or ministry, I tend to play the failure over-and-over in my mind trying to glean and understand what went wrong. Typically in my successes, I don’t play them over-and-over in my mind like a play-by-play analysis. I tend to just celebrate them. In my failures, I analyze them. I look at them from every angle. I dissect them. What I believe this does, especially for those desiring to fail forward, is create the potential for success the next time. Thomas Edison went through countless failures in creating the light bulb. Each failure provided a better, more detailed picture of how not to do it, which eventually led to the breakthrough—the light-build going on!
  4. Make sure Failures make you Better, not Bitter. Because failures and mistakes are usually viewed as negative, they have the tendency to turn us negative. We should not succumb to such temptation. Rather than allowing our failures and mistakes to blame others, become bitter at others for our circumstances, we must channel the (negative) energy and emotions, churning them into a more positive form of energy and emotion. In other words, determine that you will not let this failure and mistake define you and erode who you are and who God has deemed you to be. If you keep a negative (failure) as a negative (attitude) then you walk around as a ticking time bomb. However, if you convert a negative (failure) into a positive (attitude) you walk around as a fragrant aroma.
  5. Make sure your Failures and Mistakes lead you to Worship. I believe this is the most important aspect of failing forward. Because failure and making mistakes is hurtful, disappointing, and negative, it many times, like stated earlier, can lead to bitterness. Bitterness can evolve and co-exist with anger, resentment, and also depression. Therefore, we must take our shortcomings, mistakes, and failures to the God who loves us and died for us. Remember: GOD is BIGGER than our failures and mistakes! Therefore, we must be willing to fail forward into the loving arms of God (like Peter). Not that this happens in ever situation, but it may just be that God led us to the place of failure so that we might learn complete and utter dependence on him. I think of Jacob and the time God wrestled with him. Jacob left that Ultimate Fighting Championship with a limp that would accompany him all his life. But with every step Jacob would remember the love and grace of God, as well as his utter dependence on God. His limp was not a hindrance, but a holy blemish meant to remind him of the primacy of God in his life, and that his life did not solely exist for himself, but for his Maker and Redeemer. Whether God intentionally led us to the place of failure or allowed us to go to the place of failure, he is sovereign and in control, and desires to take these moments of failure and disappointment and turn them into something good and glorious for the glory of his name and kingdom!

So these are my five thoughts on failing with purpose.