We’re Not from Here

This post originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer.

When people ask me where I’m from, I think to myself, That it’s a tricky question. Do I answer where I currently live, where I currently moved from, or where I was born? In all honesty, I think they are trying to locate the accent they hear from the words coming out of my mouth. So, I answer, “Memphis, Tennessee.”

Truthfully, I’m not from Memphis. I’m actually from Munford, Tennessee. But most people wouldn’t have a clue where Munford is located. It is a town about 30 miles north of Memphis.

Munford was a small town. Growing up, there was no McDonalds, Walmart, or BP Gas Station. Everything was mom and pop. It wasn’t until years later, after I had moved, that Munford began to commercialize. Munford was your typical small southern town—simple, conservative, religious, connected, and friendly (still to this day I tell my wife about the “index finger” wave). This was the cultural environment in which I was raised and in which I became a Christian.

At the age of 15, I sensed a call to vocational ministry and began to lay out my future plans; I planned to attend college, then seminary, and finally land at a church serving God in some capacity. Participating in several overseas mission trips as a teenager gave me a perspective of the world that was bigger than Tipton County. Thus, I never thought I would stay local.

At least my 40,000-foot plans panned out. I attended Union University, graduating with a degree in Biblical Studies. Prior to graduating, I met my wife. As newlyweds, we embarked on seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Full disclosure, I was your typical Bible College, young seminarian. I was consuming so much Bible, theology, and Greek—in addition, serving in local churches—that I was overweight with pride.

Shedding pride 

But there were two practical things that happened that help shed some of that overweight pride. I was part of a church planting team in urban Atlanta and a few years later—upon completing my MDiv—I entered a PhD program in Missiology.

Remember, I’m from Munford, TN—population under 5,000. I found myself on a small church planting team in urban Atlanta where there were 5,000 people in a few blocks. No building, no budget, no people.

How in the world do you reach people—without borrowing members from other churches—with no church building, no members, and no money? Maybe I was a bad student, but from my perspective, neither college nor seminary had prepared me for this environment under these conditions.

There, I learned the precious principles of proximity and presence. It was great that college and seminary had built a theological foundation. But that theological foundation would be useless unless first, I knew the people living around me and, second, I knew how to contextualize the gospel and church in their heart language.

The second practical thing that led me to shed some of my pride weight was my PhD studies in Missiology. In that program, it occurred to me that I’m not as smart as I thought. In addition, it taught me that if the church is going to reach a changing culture, we must change our perspective and our paradigms. Both lessons require a posture of humility.

I remember reading a statement by Ed Stetzer (at the time, one of my professors, now my boss), that if the 1950s came roaring back, there would be so many churches ready to engage. That’s so true of many established churches.

But then, one of the problems with Western Christianity is that it is a copy-cat culture. We copy what we perceive is working.

The church growth and seeker church movement captivated so many young leaders 20 years ago, and since then, such churches have popped up all around the U.S. to the point that they’ve saturated many of the suburban and urban markets.

Why do I say, “saturated the markets”? Because there are those like Aubrey Malphurs and Rick Richardson that accentuate, based upon research, that only a fraction (10 percent or less) of church growth is from conversion growth. In other words, the church is having a difficult time engaging an ever-changing culture with the good news of King Jesus.

Navigating the unfamilar…

I woke up to the realization that I was no longer in quaint, conservative, religious, down-to-earth Munford years ago. I had to wake up from my presuppositional stupor if I was going to be evangelistically effective.

The lessons I’ve learned over the years remind me of the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy woke up realizing she was no longer in Kansas on Uncle Henry and Aunt Em’s farm. She was in Oz. Oz was a strange, unfamiliar land. Oz was a place of witches, lollipop guilds, lions, scarecrows, tin mans, and flying monkeys. Dorothy had to learn how to navigate Oz if she wanted to get back home.

Navigating unfamiliar, strange, and even hostile territory was something the people of God in Jeremiah 29 had to do. Could you imagine being a captive, taken from your homeland? You find yourself stunned, marginalized, uncomfortable, oppressed, and even despised.

Wondering what to do, God tells them to settle down—for they will be there 70 years! He proceeds to tell them to get back to the basics of family raising, field planting, and community building. In addition, he tells them to seek the peace and prosperity of the city of Babylon.

In short, God tells His people to enact Promised Land life in Babylonian captivity and to engage the Babylonians with grace and mercy.

Talk about a tall order for a marginalized, oppressed people!

Also, in God’s directives, you won’t find instructions to retreat, to become sub-cultural hermits. They weren’t to sit and sulk—longing for the good ol’ days back in the Promised Land. They weren’t to become mean-spirit, violent, and intolerant. They were to navigate the new, strange, unfamiliar, even uncomfortable land with grace and grit.

Truthfully, the Western Church today is like Dorothy in Oz and the Israelites in Babylon. Foreign and unfamiliar describe their environment.

In such environments, there’s a natural inclination to long for home. And that we do. But, I’m not talking about a home in which we go back to. And it’s not a home that is three-clicks-of-the-heel away. Our home is a future City—The New Jerusalem.

While we wait for home, let us as the church of the Living God, the Bride of Christ, live for the peace and prosperity of the unfamiliar, the strange, the one different than us. Doing so will require a posture of humility, a heart of grace, and a mind of understanding. And this is the essence of our podcast, Living in the Land of Oz.

A Servant’s Viewpoint

A few mornings ago, my 11-year old had a “princess moment”. You know what a “princess moment” is? Where she thinks the world should revolve around her. She was running late, as she fell back asleep. As she comes down the stairs, my wife was very gentle and encouraging to Ellie as she said, “I have everything ready for you. I’ve made you breakfast; got your bookbag all packed.” 

As parents we would love for our child to respond by saying something to the effect, “Thanks so much mom! You’re the best! I couldn’t ask for a more caring mom. I love you.” Yep, you guessed it. That’s not how she responded. Having plopped down on the couch, opening up her laptop, she begins barking about the breakfast. “That’s not what I want,” she exclaimed. With a little bit of my wife’s New York-Italian coming out, she expresses that all she wanted to do was serve Ellie and make her life a little bit better and easier since she was running late.

My wife’s words resonated with John 13, the passage I’ve been contemplating lately. John 13 is where Jesus washes the disciples’ feet. Imagine the scene. The Son of Man wraps a towel around His waist. He kneels down to where the dirty, nasty, and filthy feet are planted. He then takes the basin of water and begins to wash the dirt and grim off the disciples’ feet. 

As He begins to wash Peter’s feet, a shell-shocked Peter immediately and bluntly says, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” We know that Jesus responds, “What I’m doing you don’t realize now, but afterward you will understand.” Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus looked up and locked eyes with Peter, or if Jesus continued to focus on the feet. If I had to guess, I would say that Jesus locked eyes with Peter for the dialogue goes on a few more sentences to the point where Jesus exclaims, “If I don’t wash you, you have no part with me.” 

It is in this exchange that we see a servant’s viewpoint. It is from the bottom looking up. We live in such a culture where I don’t know if we fully understand a servant’s viewpoint, for our culture in one way or another is where people posture themselves from the top looking down. 

A servant’s viewpoint is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down. 

Looking up rather than looking down is a game-changer. They are two completely different viewpoints and perspectives. One says, “I’m here to serve,” whereas the other says, “I’m here to be served.” 

Jesus goes on to describe to His disciples that what He did that night they are to do likewise. They are to pick up the ministry of the towel. To follow in the vein of Jesus, and to take upon ourselves a servant’s viewpoint, we will have to arm ourselves with three questions. In other words, a servant will always be asking themselves the following questions.

Who Can I Serve?

This seems to be the easiest question, yet it is the most difficult. I know what you’re probably thinking, “How is it the most difficult question?” Because, although it is easy, our hearts and minds don’t naturally want to ask this question. Rather our hearts and minds—especially in our culture—are constantly looking at who can serve us. 

Be honest. When’s the last time you went to a sit-down restaurant, entered your subdivision, pulled into your home, exercised at the gym, or attended church and thought, “Who can I serve?” The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves. 

The places we frequent and the busyness of our lives do not condition us to think about others—they condition us to think about ourselves.

When you ask yourself, “Who can I serve?” it takes the attention of you and refocuses it on those God has placed around you. It can be a family member, friend, neighbor, co-worker, or a complete stranger. Jesus arrived that night and entered into that upper room knowing that He was going to serve His disciples. 

This question is critical. If you don’t know who you are going to serve, you won’t be able to answer the next question. 

How Can I Serve? 

Why did Jesus take upon Himself the form of a servant, wrapping a towel around His waist and kneeling down with a water basin to start washing feet? Because Jesus entered that upper room not only knowing who He would serve, but how He would serve them. 

Knowing how He would serve them was built upon knowing them. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them. In other words, knowing precedes doing. Better yet, knowing precedes serving. You will not know how to serve others unless you know them.

If you know the account in John 13, you know that Jesus performs a physical act of service that has deep spiritual connotations. In other words, His physical act of cleaning feet represents His fast approaching physical (yet spiritual) act of sanctifying hearts. In short, Jesus’ physical act of serving feet reflected a deeper kingdom reality directed at their hearts. 

The physical act of service should reflect a deeper kingdom reality directed at hearts.

As followers of Christ, when we ask ourselves, “How can I serve?” we should be thinking about the deeper spiritual realities of our physical act of service. For instance, husbands when you ask this question in the context of your home—particularly towards your wife—your deeper spiritual reality will involve loving your wife as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her. 

How we serve should ultimately reflect the deeper spiritual reality of the kingdom of God invading the dirtiness and brokenness of our lives.  

What do I Hope to See from My Service? 

Obviously Jesus wanted His disciples clean—spiritually speaking. John 13 isn’t as much about feet as it is about hearts. Jesus wanted to see His disciples (as He wants to see the whole world) clean so that mankind and God could be reconciled. Without cleaning—which ultimately required the shedding of Jesus’ blood—there is no reconciliation. In fact, Jesus tells Peter if He doesn’t wash him then Peter will have no part (or relationship) with Him.

But there is something more Jesus wanted to see from His act of service. He wanted to see this kind of service enacted in the life of His disciples. In other words, what He did, He wanted the disciples to replicate. 

If you continue to read the passage, there’s even one more layer to what Jesus wanted to see. He wanted the disciples to experience deep-seated happiness—better known as joy. He expresses that those who do such things are blessed. 

Could it be the reason why many today have such an unsettled spirit is because they are selfishly driven to feed the bottomless pit of self-absorption. The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God. 

The only true way to experience wholeness, fulfillment, and joy is to give your self-away in the service of God. 

Put these three things together, and a servant’s viewpoint hopes their service: 

1) draws the person closer to God, 

2) ignites others to join in serving in a similar manner—making the world a better, more selfless place, and 

3) instills a deeper-seated joy and peace in life. 

Do you get it? A true servant’s viewpoint leads to the trifecta of life—right relationship to God, right relationship towards others, and a right relationship with self. 

In closing, Jesus teaches that the greatest position in this world is from the bottom looking up, not the top looking down. That’s what we call an inversion of the gospel. The Prince of Peace didn’t tie a towel around His waist and kneel down next to a water basin to wash feet so that we could be American cultural princesses and princes that tell Him, “He missed a spot.” He did so in order for us to take our clean feet—washed by the blood of the Son of God—and go and do likewise. And this is definitely something my wife and I are striving to emulate for our children—not to mention, praying for them. 

Living in the Land of OZ: Three Ways for the Church to Posture Herself in a Foreign Land

The influence of Christianity upon Western society seemingly has become a past experiment. As the Enlightenment experience failed—failing to eliminate all societal ills and bring about a human utopia—so too has the “Christian Nation” or Christendom failed. As a result, the church has struggled with this shift—and now find herself, in many ways, confused as to her role and posture in a pluralistic, secular, post-Christian, and skeptical environment. In other words, the church in North America has finally realized they are no longer in Kansas but in the land of OZ (or biblically speaking, in Babylon). And now believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, “What do we do?” 

Believers and churches across the denominational spectrum are asking the question, What do we do?

In many ways, the North American church in the twenty-first century finds many similarities with the people of God in Jeremiah 29. [The dissimilarity that I must point out is that God was in a covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, whereas America is not.] Jerusalem had fallen. No longer did Israel experience cultural and national hegemony. Now in captivity, Israel experienced life as a sojourner, alien, and minority. They were marginalized. Obviously, many saw their newfound position as difficult, demoralizing, and depressing.

In response to their newfound foreign environment, they had a few options with regards to how they would posture themselves towards the larger culture. First, they could have just faded off as a sub-cultural hermit—sitting and longing for the ‘good ole days’ as they faded into irrelevancy. Second, they could have taken a more antagonistic, resentful, and angry approach, one that was mean-spirited, violent, and intolerant. Second, they could have bashed the Babylonians over the head with the Torah. Third, they could have accommodated the Babylonians—thinking “if we can’t beat ‘em’, join ‘em’.” Or, they had a fourth option—God’s option. They could seek the peace of the city.

Embedded within this Spirit breathed option, there are at least three particular ways the people of God were (and are) called to seek the peace of the pagan land.

1) Live here as if you were living there. We are to live everyday normal lives as if we were living in the homeland. God informs His dazed and confused people to, “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease” (Jer 29:5-6). In other words, God tells them to live here as if they were living there (back at home)—faithfully tilling and cultivating both land and family while they multiplied in the land. Seeking the peace of the foreign land begins by living faithfully as if we are in the homeland. [Keep in mind that for believers today, our “homeland” is the new city where Jesus will have made all things new (Revelation 21).] 

God tells them to live here as if they were living there.

2) Live to bless, not curse. God expresses that His people take up the task of blessing the pagan nation. This is quite remarkable! The people of God were to live as a blessing, praying to the Lord on behalf of the nation as they seek the flourishing of the pagan city. For in the city’s flourishing, God’s people will flourish. While the scope of this article does not permit me the time to dive into the notion of “blessing,” this vision, nevertheless, harkens back to both Genesis 1 where God blesses humanity (Gen 1:28) as well as the prophetic promise God made to Abram, “through you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

Blessing a pluralistic and pagan city means believers will work for and towards the common good in a way to bring flourishing and functionality to every sphere of life.

3) Live faithfully, not forcefully. We are to strive for faithfulness, rather than striving for world change. In this passage, there is nothing about seeking the transformation of the city. God doesn’t ask them to work towards transforming Babylon into a theocentric (Jewish) nation. God doesn’t ask them to transform the Babylonian culture and cultural practices to those that more align with the Torah. While change may very well take place, God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life, as they seek God and the welfare of the pagan city. 

God’s call to His resident aliens was a missional posture of faithfulness—faithfulness in all areas of their life.

In applying this notion to the cultural context of the church today, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I completely agree that the gospel is transformative; the gospel changes individuals, families, cities, and even nations. To a certain degree God did bring change in Babylon through the faithfulness of people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. My point is that the goal for the people of God is faithfulness to God and to His call, work, and mission in the world.

In neither Testament does God ever assign the task to His people of world change or city transformation—forcing people to believe and behave like the people of God. 

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples. We witness and make disciples by working as ambassadors for the kingdom of God, serving as agents of blessing for the city, and inviting people to follow Jesus as their King who is in the construction process of making all things new. In sum, we simply share and show the gospel of King Jesus!

The mission of the church is to witness and make disciples.

In closing, may the church today—in finding herself in this foreign land like Dorothy found herself in the land of OZ—seek to live faithful lives reflecting the characteristics, attributes, and signs of God’s kingdom life in our homes, vocations, relationships, and ethics. May churches seek the “welfare” of the foreign city, living as agents of blessing rather than antagonistic, mean-spirited, angry, resentful and defensive agents. And finally, may we take the posture of faithfulness—faithfully calling people to follow Jesus. 

Pre-Clean Before the Deep Clean

We have decided in the Laxton house to hire someone to clean our home a couple times a month. Given our busy schedules both at work and chauffeuring the kids back and forth from their events, we thought it best to hire someone to help us keep our house clean. 

On the eve before the cleaning person started, my wife frantically goes around barking orders at everybody to clean the house for the “cleaning lady.” I’m sitting and listening to this thinking to myself(because I don’t want to upset momma; because when momma’s not happy, no one is happy), “What? This is crazy! We have to clean the house for the “cleaning” person?” For a man, it didn’t make sense. However, Joannie explained it a little more to me and then it still didn’t make much sense. [Ladies, what can I say…I’m a man.]

This got me thinking about how some Christians communicate (whether unintentionally or intentionally) about “cleaning up” our lives, and how many outside the church view themselves before darkening the doors of a church building or thinking about giving their life over to God. 

Here’s the misconception: We think we need to pre-clean before Christ does a deep clean

Like I said, Christians communicate whether intentionally or unintentionally that there’s some self-effort that goes into cleaning up a person’s life before Christ comes in to do a deep clean. My feeling is that this is unintentional. In other words, churches don’t really know they are doing it. But they do so through their posture. 

The posture of many churches communicates to people that you need to be a certain kind of person to make it here. Your worldview can’t be too crazy. You need to be somewhat moral and decent. You need to use a PG (or at the most PG-13) language. You need to do a little bit of homework so that you can understand a smidgen of what’s going on—since few will do anything to try and reach communicatively where you might be. In short, you need to be somewhat put together. 

Such a posture communicates to “dirty” people that they need to have some things straightened out before Jesus does a deep clean in their life. This kind of posturing frustrates people with already dirty lives. Just like our house, we knew it was dirty. We knew it wasn’t put together. That’s why we “hired” someone to clean it. So, being told to clean it before the professional cleaning person came was frustrating. In essence, we were being told to do something we had yet to do.

When churches posture their engagement this way with a lost world that waddles in their dirty sin, they wind up pushing them further away. When the church (even unintentionally) communicates that a dirty world must do some pre-cleaning prior to attending Christian community, they tell them to do something they don’t know how to do and to do something that only Jesus can fully do. 

One of the glories of the story of the Gospel is that “dirty” people found Jesus attractive. They encountered Jesus in all their filth. There was no pre-cleaning that happened. Sure, some were cleaned after encountering Jesus, others left still in their mess. Nevertheless, they encountered Jesus in all their nastiness. 

Dirty people found Jesus attractive.

The church must have a posture where people in all their filth feel safe enough to encounter the glorious Christ. If not, we aren’t as much like Jesus as we imagine. Truthfully, I believe the church, by in large, has a lot of work to do in reimagining such a posture where “unclean” people feel comfortable enough to approach. [Hint: we can start by realizing that we don’t have it all together. We might dress up and play a good part, but we all have our own mess and our own struggles. We call this vulnerability and authenticity. Those two places are a good start in creating a safe environment. Never forget the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is Jesus. It’s not our morality or how we seem to have it all together. It’s simply Jesus!]

Never forget the difference between a believer and an unbeliever is Jesus.

The other thought that’s a misconceptionis when people think they need to clean their life up before coming to God. If I had to guess, this misconception finds its roots in shame. In other words, people are ultimately ashamed of who they are, what they do, and how they feel. They feel they don’t add up. They feel they aren’t enough. They feel defeated. Thus, they feel shame. 

Shame is a powerful deterrent from God. It is what drove Adam and Eve into hiding. Because there’s this innate feeling that we don’t add up to a being that (if He exists) is transcendent. And so the thought goes, if God is real, and He is who He says He is, then I need to get my act together before I come and bask in His presence—much less join His family. 

The overall thrust of this way of thinking is what most religions teach. You work your way out of shame into God’s good graces. In other words, you pre-clean your house before God does the final clean. But, that in no way is the Gospel message. You don’t have to pre-clean your house. You don’t have to tidy up the home of your heart. Jesus comes into the darkest and dirtiest residences and makes them miraculously new.  

You don’t have to tidy up the home of your heart. Jesus comes into the darkest and dirtiest residences and makes them miraculously new.  

Some might come back and say, “That sounds all well and good. But what happens if I make it dirty again.” Truthfully, it’s not “if” you will make a mess again, it’s “when” you make a mess again. What makes the Gospel so unbelievable is that Jesus not only comes to clean the home of your heart, but to make your heart His home. Jesus has covenanted (not contracted) to not only do a deep clean justifying your past, present, and future sin, but to work with you to bring about a sanctifying cleanse where you become more like Him. Over time you will have less and less mess.

What makes the Gospel so unbelievable is that Jesus not only comes to clean the home of your heart, but to make your heart His home.

In closing, I ultimately realized why my wife asking our children to pre-clean before the professional cleaner came. However, when it comes to our lives, I’m grateful that Jesus doesn’t ask us to do some pre-cleaning before He does His deep clean. I’m grateful that Jesus enters into our mess and chaos (regardless of how bad we think it is) and not only cleans it but takes up residence to keep it clean as He leads us to our glorious future home—eternal life with Him in the new city.  

Kiss of Death

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen all the Star Wars multiple times. No, better yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen each episode. In fact, if I’m doing some work—whether reading or writing—I’ll put on one of the episodes in the background. 

My favorite moment in recent episodes comes in Episode VII, The Force Awakens, when Han Solo and Chewbacca enter the narrative. Oh, talk about nostalgia! As we catch up with Han, we learn that he and Leia were married and had a son, Ben Solo. But the dark side twisted Ben’s mind and he became known as Kylo Ren. 

As you could imagine, Han is devasted by his son’s choice and seeks to “save” Kylo Ren by convincing him to turn from the dark side. If you’ve seen the movie, it is a very dramatic scene in which Han aims to penetrate the heart of his son. Just when you think that Han had persuaded him, Kylo Ren thrusts his red light-saber into the heart of Han. Their eyes lock one last time, and then Han falls off the ledge into the dark abyss. 

BETRAYAL! We cringe every time we see it. Not only do we cringe, but our hearts skip a beat when we see it. It doesn’t matter if it is fictional or real. 

Probably the greatest reason why we cringe at betrayal is because we’ve experienced it at some level—whether intentionally or unintentionally. Maybe it was from a parent who deserted you, a family member who abused you, a sibling who stole from you, a spouse who cheated on you, a friend who lied about you, a boss who terminated you, a believer who wronged you, or a church that abandoned you.  

I’ve experienced betrayal multiple times, even within the context of church. Regardless of where it comes from, betrayal is never easy to accept and digest. Betrayal is like a kiss of death—especially since the hurtful and painful blow comes from someone who has been relationally and lovingly close. 

While most of us have experienced a kiss of death, there is one who experienced the greatest kiss of death—the greatest act of betrayal—in the history of the world. His name was Jesus. Jesus’ experienced the kiss of death by a close associate, Judas, for 30 pieces of silver. And when leading the guards to the place where Jesus was, Judas approached Jesus, embraced Him, and gave Him a kiss. And the rest is history. Jesus is then arrested, beaten, tried, and crucified. 

Whether you are a follow of Jesus or not, such a betrayal is hard to comprehend. Why would Judas do such a thing? Why would he turn his back on someone so good? So loving? So kind? So humble? So miraculous? Did he really despise Jesus that much? Did he really need money that bad? 

While we could focus on the “why” all day long, I believe that it is more helpful to focus on the outcome. In other words, rather than zooming in on Judas as to why he betrayed Jesus, I think it’s more beneficial to concentrate on how Jesus responded and what ultimately transpired days later in the life of Jesus.   

When we look at Judas’ betrayal in the totality of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection, we come away with this main principle: 

The kiss of death brought the breath of life.

In other words, Judas’ betrayal eventually brought about the death of Jesus, but Jesus’ death and resurrection would bring about life for the world. 

For the remainder of this post, I want to look at this principle from four different angles so that we can feel its gravitas.  

Angle 1: Judas’ Betrayal is Part of a Larger Story

Guess who wasn’t surprised by Judas’ betrayal? Jesus. During the Passover meal with His disciples, Jesus divulged that one of the twelve would betray Him—knowing it would be Judas. In addition, some scholars believe that the Old Testament forecasts that the Messiah would be betrayed. In short, Jesus knew that the pathway to the cross went through the town of betrayal. 

Just because Jesus knew that the pathway of obedience involved betrayal doesn’t lessen the pain of being wounded by a close associate. However, while the pain is real, the perspective is essential. Jesus understood betrayal as part of a larger story that God was writing. Therefore, He could trust the Father who was the author of humanity’s story. Judas’ action didn’t get by the pen of God, it was actually going to be used for the purposes of God. 

Remember: Betrayal isn’t the story of your life, it’s part of the story that God is writing for your life. 

Angle 2: What Judas Meant for Bad, God Used for Good

This angle is very similar to the angle taught by Joseph in Genesis 50 when he graciously expressed to his brothers, “You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people” (Gen 50:20). Likewise, Judas meant to harm Jesus by handing him over to the authorities in an effort to pad his pockets with silver. However, what he meant for evil in ending a life, God planned to use for eternity to provide the means of [eternal] life. 

Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested, beaten, and nailed to the cross. But Jesus’ pain wasn’t wasted—the pain of both the betrayal and the execution. In fact, His pain became the world’s provision. Never underestimate the plan, purposes, and power of God of how He can use the pain you experience from a betrayal.  

Remember: The pain caused by your betrayal—however demented and evil it was— can become someone else’s provision. 

Angle 3: The Outcome of the Betrayal Doesn’t have to Define One’s Identity 

Think about the outcome of Judas’ betrayal on Jesus. Because of Judas’ betrayal, Jesus was arrested and condemned as a sinner and criminal. But that is not who Jesus was. Jesus wasn’t a sinner and a criminal. Jesus was the Son of God, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world, the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Jesus knew who He was and what He had been called to do on planet earth. Nothing that Judas did—no matter where it landed Him—could taint Jesus identity.

I know firsthand how betrayal can lead to an unpleasant outcome and the unpleasant emotions that go with it. Whether the betrayal led to abuse, abandonment, embarrassment, termination, etc., it’s easy to believe that you are a loser, something is wrong with you, you aren’t good enough, or that you are damaged goods. In other words, it’s easy to define yourself by the outcome of the betrayal. However, may we never forget that the outcome doesn’t have to define who we are but is an opportunity to declare whose we are. 

Remember: Your identity is in Jesus. 

Angle 4: Betrayal Doesn’t have to End with Harboring Bitterness but with Releasing Forgiveness

The last angle really is a culmination of the previous angles. Since Jesus understood Judas’ action was part of a larger story in which he (Judas) wasn’t the author; since Jesus knew that God would work good from Judas’ bad; since Jesus’ identity was in the Father not any outcome Judas’ actions brought about; Jesus could then release forgiveness rather than harbor bitterness. 

From the cross Jesus uttered the words, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Scholars debate the direct object of Jesus’ forgiveness who had ignorantly participated in His crucifixion. Without delving into the debate, it is certainly an option that Judas was part of the ignorant who participated in Jesus’ arrest, trial, and execution. If so, Jesus paved the way for Judas’ to receive forgiveness. However, Judas never received the forgiveness Jesus offered since he was so stricken with grief and depression that he committed suicide. Nevertheless, Jesus wasn’t consumed with vengeance, wrath, bitterness, anger, and hostility towards those who wronged—nor betrayed—Him. He lavished upon such with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. 

Remember: Bitterness is a cancer that eats at your heart, whereas forgiveness releases healing. 

In closing, everyone at some point in his or her life has experienced the act of betrayal. Depending on the nature of the betrayal—the who and what—will determine the severity of the hurt and pain. The closer the betrayer is to the wounded and the more damage inflicted by them—like Kylo Ren killing his father Han Solo—will make the act of betrayal feel more like a kiss of death. However, as we have briefly seen in and through Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, the kiss of death can bring about the breath of life. 

If you are dealing with a betrayal, no matter how painful it is, regardless of the outcome of the betrayal, Jesus can work in and through you to bring about life—not only for you but for those God places in your path.

The Tale of Three Seats in Light of Good Friday

I debated whether to write this blog given the time-sensitivity of the story, but in light of Good Friday I feel at liberty to do so.

This past week, United Flight 3411 with service from Chicago to Louisville experienced a turbulent pre-flight exchange between a passenger and some police officers when he refused to give up his seat to a crew member. Many have seen the shocking video whether through the news or social media.

Before I go any further, let me first say that I was disheartened at how the situation went down and the force that was used to eject the patron (Dr. Dao) from the seat. It’s amazing that something like that happened for a routine flight. Second, I don’t know the whole story. Sure, I’ve seen media reports and news casts that have discussed it, but I wasn’t there, so I don’t know every detail.

Now that’s out of the way, I do believe there is a deeper story when we probe the scenario with the information we do have. And it is the tale of three seats.

The tale of three seats is one of inconvenience.

Seat #1:

The first seat is the patron (Dr. Dao) who was physically removed from his seat. He was already on the plane and was fully ready to get home because he had work to do the next day. The compensation vouchers United was offering him wasn’t enough to inconvenience him. Rather than getting out of his seat and talking to his lawyer, he chose to sit and let them physically remove him.

Seat #2:

The second seat is the patrons who witnessed the entire ordeal go down. Once again, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know exactly what happened and how things were communicated. But I have some experience with an overbooked flight. In my experience, the airline came on the intercom stating that they had an overbooked flight and that they were accepting volunteers to give up their seat in exchange for a monetary voucher to be used at a later time. I could be wrong, but I am sure something like that happened. And when there were no volunteers they started randomly selecting passengers.

For argument sake, let’s say they didn’t do that. Let’s say that they by-passed asking for volunteers and went straight to random selection. After the lengthy exchanged with the Dr.; after the threats from the officers; and during the physical altercation, it seems to me, that another passenger would have had enough and stood up and offered their seat. But from the information we have, that didn’t happen. Maybe it did, but I haven’t read or heard an account of that happening.

Once again, it seems the amount of compensation United was offering nor the awkward altercation with the Doctor was enough for any other passenger to be inconvenienced and give up their seat.

Seat #3:

The third seat is the airline industry and the employee that needed the seat in which the Doctor sat. Once again, I don’t know the entire story (and yes this is a theme for me in this blog) nor do I know why the four employees (or crew members) needed a seat. What I do know is that both United and the crew member weren’t willing to be inconvenienced.

There we have it. The tale of the three seats is one of inconvenience. This story exposes how our culture loathes being inconvenienced.

Our cultures’ disdain for inconvenience exposes the raw reality that as human beings we want to do what we want to do when we want to do it.

In short, we don’t want anyone else controlling us—because we might not like what they ask us to do. And if we do offer to inconvenience ourselves, it is usually for someone we know, love, respect, or work for. We might even be inconvenienced if our hearts are moved with compassion for someone in a tough predicament.

But by in large, we would rather anchor our souls to convenience even to the point of being uncomfortable rather than relinquish our rights to inconvenience and avoid a situation that might make everyone uncomfortable.

Enter Good Friday:

Today is Good Friday, the day Christians set aside to remember Jesus—their Savior who was nailed to a wooden, splinter-filled cross for the sin of the world. When you think about doing things that are convenient, going through horrific torment and being nailed to a wooden-cross almost naked for all of Jerusalem to see doesn’t make the cut. In fact, it is the exact opposite—it is super inconvenient.

In Philippians 2 Paul writes the following,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The cross speaks of how Jesus inconvenienced Himself—how He gave up His comfort, His seat, and His life—so that humanity might be saved. We must remember, Jesus didn’t have to do what He did. Paul says, in the passage quoted above, that Jesus was God. Yet, for our sake He didn’t count equality with God a thing to be grasped. Rather, He chose to yield up His life, empty His life, in exchange for our salvation.

As believers who cast our minds to Calvary as we commemorate Good Friday as the day Jesus substituted His life for us by hanging on an old rugged cross, let us also not forget that three days later (as we will celebrate Sunday) He rose victoriously from the grave. Therefore, because He is risen, because He is alive, because He lives through us (through His Spirit), let us—as Paul encouraged believers—have the same mind as our King. Let us be willing to be inconvenienced for the glory of God and the good of others.

Being willing to be inconvenienced may mean we give up our airline seat to someone else. It may mean that we invite that friend to Easter service with us this coming Sunday. It may mean we give up an hour each week and serve our church in some way. It may mean that we commit ourselves to a small group. It may mean that we go out of our way to make things right with our spouse. It may mean that we give up some of the luxuries of life so that we can direct more finances to advancing the mission of God. It can also mean a host of other things.

In closing, I pray for all involved on Flight 3411 and especially Dr. Dao and his recovery. I also hope that we can learn from this tragic event. And one of those things I hope we learn is that the tale of three seats reminds us of how much our culture hates being inconvenienced. Yet, in light of our culture’s resistance to inconvenience, let us be also reminded of Good Friday.

Good Friday reminds us how our Savior and King—who knew no sin—over two-thousand years ago inconvenienced Himself by being nailed to a tree for us to be raised to life with thee.

May those who follow Jesus, be willing to follow in His footsteps by relinquishing our convenience and rights in order to live for the glory of God and the good of the world.

Investing in and Taking Inventory of our Sanctification

We invest in what we love. Take a quick second to think about that statement. It’s true isn’t it? If you love your job, you invest your energy and effort into doing excellent work. If you love the thought of retirement, at some point, you invest in a financial portfolio. If you love being healthy, you invest your energy and effort into eating right and working out. If you love your wife and children, you find the time to invest in them.

Peter, in his second epistle, expresses that those who know Jesus—those who have been saved and redeemed by King Jesus; those that know Him and have been given everything they need to live a godly life—are to “make every effort” to invest (to supplement) in growing in their faith. In other words, Peter, after having explained that God has done all the heavy lifting to give us what we need for living a godly life, turns to explain how believers are to be active in their sanctification—the process by which God molds and conforms His people into the image of Jesus.

Without going into detail on the specific areas (which you can do by listening to a recent message of mine) Peter mentions, I want to spend just a few moments addressing four principles of investing in our sanctification.

First, our investment is PERSONAL. Investing in sanctification is something we “get” to do rather than something we “have” to do. Or, put another way: it is something we should “want” to do rather than “have” to do. Growing in our faith and relationship with Christ is personal. Because of His unwavering and unconditional love for us, and our growing love for Him, growth in that relationship should be seen as a privilege and honor, not some burden.

If you see following Jesus as more of a burden than blessing, it may be that your view of following Him is more mechanical, ritualistic, and religious rather than personal and relational.

Second, our investment is INTENTIONAL. Investment, regardless of what area of life it’s in, is intentional. Someone investing their time coaching a little league team is intentional. Someone investing their money in a money-market or 401K is intentional. A husband investing time in planning date nights with his wife is intentional. The same is true with regard to sanctification. We have to be intentional.

Being intentional requires planned and deliberate action to exert energy and effort into cultivating our relationship with Christ.

If someone wants to lose weight and they go out and buy a treadmill but never intentionally use it, they won’t lose weight. In a similar manner, if someone follows Christ but never spends any time with Him (reading, praying, and seeking Him) or His people (gathering corporately, meeting with other believers), then that person hasn’t been intentional and therefore is unlikely to grow.

Third, our investment is GRADUAL. Just as it takes time for a financial portfolio to increase and grow, it takes time for us to grow in Christlikeness. We don’t go from zero to hero overnight. That’s why we refer to sanctification as a process! As we personally and intentionally invest, we see gradual growth. Here’s a sobering truth that hopefully makes you and me take a deep breath: YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE PERFECT! You are going to fail; you are going to drop the ball. You are going to miss the mark. But, in the process of sanctification, understand that you fail forward—knowing that every step (and misstep) along the way God is molding you and shaping you into the image of Jesus. In other words, He is working all things out together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Sure there will be days you echo the Apostle Paul, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15).

In the gradual process of becoming like Christ, it’s important to remember that there is NO CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1), and that the same grace that saved you is the same grace that sustains and sanctifies you!

Fourth, our investment is SYNCHRONIC. Although Peter’s list seems sequential—add to virtue, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, etc.—it’s more synchronic. It’s synchronic because the Christian life isn’t about a checklist. For instance, it’s not like I master virtue and then move on to knowledge. The characteristics and qualities that Peter lists are all areas in which we are to grow simultaneously and synchronically. They are all interconnected. However, the last characteristic that Peter lists is love. And, like I alluded to earlier, it is love that drives all the others. It is Christ’s love for us, and our [growing] love for Christ that compels us to grow in virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, and brotherly affection.

So, how’s your investment? Are you investing in your sanctification? Are you working out your salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)? Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t ask you if you’re working FOR your salvation? But, are you working out, working in LIGHT of your salvation. Are you taking the life that has been imparted and imputed to you and cultivating it through the practice of spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, silence and solitude, corporate worship, accountability, etc.?

In conclusion, to help take spiritual inventory on how your investment in sanctification is going, here’s a list of ten questions I borrowed and adapted from Donald Whitney’s, Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. As you read through them, be honest with where you think you are.

1. Do you thirst for God?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

2. Do you strive to govern your life according to God’s word?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

3. Are you sensitive to what God may be doing in and around you? In other words, are you contemplative or reactive to what happens to you or around you? Do you immediately start complaining when things don’t go your way, or do you pause and ask God what are you doing? What do you want me to do? What are you teaching me?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

4. Are you a loving person?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual, temporal, and physical needs of others?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

6. Do you delight in, and are you devoted to, the bride of Christ?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

7. When is the last time you exercised in the following spiritual disciplines?

  • Prayer
  • Bible Reading
  • Corporate Worship
  • Evangelism (Had a gospel conversation with someone)
  • Served others
  • Stewardship (giving)
  • Fasted (you went without food or device in order to seek God’s direction and will)                                                            
  • Do you express a godly sorrow over your sin

8. Do you express a godly sorrow over your sin?

                            Always                  Often                           Seldom                         Never

9. Are you a person who holds grudges or extends grace? 

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never

10. Do you strive to live here on earth as if you were living there in heaven?

Always                  Often                           Seldom                        Never