Tag Archive: Jesus


The Answer to Our Question

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” -Matthew 4:18-20

I remember talking to my dad about my future a while back. “I’m still not sure what I want to do with my life.” I said. I was very frustrated (as most college kids are) about the fact that the choices I make now seem to pigeonhole me into one vocation or another, seemingly permanently. I didn’t feel prepared to answer the question: “What are you going to do with your life?” I was surprised by my dad’s response to my request for guidance: My dad, a successful doctor (with a Master’s Degree in Architecture on the side), who has all of the signs of cultural success, said,

“Adam, I’m 50 and I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.”

I share this moment with you all because I think that the question as to our purpose here on earth is one that is burned deep into the soul of all human beings. Most often, we seek to find our ultimate significance through what we do. Isn’t it true that one of the first questions asked of us when in college is “What’s your major?” and, once in the workplace, “What do you do for a living?” I think (and I think that you’d agree with me) that our culture places immense value upon our occupation because it has nowhere higher to look when trying to answer the question:

“Why am I here?”

Enter the Reversal. Look at Matthew 4, where Jesus begins his ministry on earth and calls his first disciples to follow him. “Follow me” he says. You see, without some source of significance, without a caller to give us a calling, we create it on our own. For Peter and Andrew, their purpose on earth was probably something along the lines of “To be an honest, hard-working fisherman, God-fearing Jew, and steady provider for my family.”

Sounds great, right? Not when compared with what Jesus had in mind. You see, he calls us to so much more than a vocation or even to his mission. Jesus’ answer to our Question isn’t even on our level. He doesn’t answer primarily with a task but with himself. He gives more than a calling. He gives the opportunity to walk with the caller. True significance in this life can’t be found in a job, but in a person.

And our task flows from Him; to be his humble disciples, spreading his word to the ends of the earth (Matthew 28:12-20), in whatever vocation we find ourselves. He doesn’t just say: “Follow me” He gives a completely new level of significance to the familiar task of fishing.  You know what I love about these verses? He didn’t say : “Come with me, I’m going to make you a Rabbi” as would have been the custom for a Rabbi to do when gathering disciples. Translated into today’s terms, he didn’t call them necessarily to be “Pastors.” He called the fishermen to be… fishermen. Brilliant, right? Jesus called them to do what they were already doing, but to do it with Him and For Him and in a way that Honors Him Alone.  Not all are called to be preachers, but all are called. If I was a betting man, I’d bet on the fact that the Lord has bigger plans for your vocation than you currently imagine, be it student, businessman, engineer, janitor, whatever.

And there’s the reversal: Jesus calls us to be… us, but to do it for Him. And that is the trick to deep significance in this life. Follow the Call closer and closer to the Caller. Jesus answers our question with nothing but himself.

Love = Miracle Gro, Pt. 3

In this group of posts, we’ve been looking at Paul’s apostolic prayer found in Ephesians. At first, we began dissecting the passage, then we looked at the symbolism of plant growth (I spoke of a tree, but I don’t know exactly what was on Paul’s mind). Now, let’s look at what all of this means for us practically.

When looking at the passage, I’m struck by the level to which Paul emphasizes the size of Jesus’ love. It is as if Paul uses every dimension that he can think of in order to stress the size and scope of God’s love, and even with the use of as much hyperbole as possible, he still runs short of being able to explain “the love for us that is in Christ Jesus.”

With that said, you might be wondering, “Yes, but how does this work? I thought you were going to give some application here!” Let us not forget that this passage is a prayer. That means that the only thing that we can functionally do with it is to replicate it. We don’t pray a prayer like this and expect the answer to come from ourselves or others. Paul is asking for some work to be done here by the Holy Spirit.

Do any of us fully comprehend how much God loves us? Who of us would answer “yes” to that question? We need God himself (God the Holy Spirit) to enable us to further understand His (God the Father) love for us in Jesus (God the Son). Isn’t that crazy? We can, with God’s help, continually grow (see all the plant-ish connections?) to understand and grasp God’s love.

And since this is a prayer, we can ask this of God on behalf of others. We need to ask this on behalf of others. After all, if you were a plant, would you rather grow in rocky sand or in miracle gro?

 

This post is part of a series. To view the previous post, click here.

Feeling Taxed

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

“Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?”

“From others,” Peter answered.

Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”  (Matthew 17:24-27, NIV 1984)

For anyone reading this who does not live in the state of Illinois or has been blissfully ignorant of state politics since forever, taxes and authority are kind of a touchy subject around here these days.  Back in January, our income taxes went up by something like 67% – and people went crazy.  “We shouldn’t have to pay for the mistakes of this dysfunctional government,” they cried.  “Bye, have a great life!” said the corporations.  Long story short, people are tired of paying what they feel are unjustified taxes.  How would Jesus handle this situation?  Differently from 98% of people out there (myself included), let me tell you…

According to John Piper, the temple tax was an annual tax collected for the upkeep of the temple.  It was not collected by the scammy Roman tax collectors, but by Jews.  So as a Jew, Jesus was expected to pay the temple tax, which he did.  But Jesus’ conversation with Peter reveals something deeper: a reminder that Jesus is not your ordinary first-century Jew paying the tax without really thinking about it.

Jesus’ question and Peter’s answer make the point that the governments of the era did not collect the tax from the rulers and their families.  That must have been a nice perk of being related to the king – no taxes!  The taxes were collected from everyone else; “…the sons are exempt.”  Okay.  So who is the King of all creation?  God.  Who is His Son?  Jesus.  So since this tax was collected for God’s service, Jesus should be exempt.  Talk about an unfair tax!  How many of us would stand for that?  I know I wouldn’t!

So Jesus goes marching up to the temple tax collectors and yells, “Do you know who I AM?!  I created you!  I created this world and everything in it!  And you’re going to make me pay this tax??  I don’t think so!”  The tax collectors tell him it doesn’t matter, so he goes to get his two drachmas; Peter, walking next to him, hears, “Grumble grumble king of creation grumble grumble judgment grumble fire from heaven.”

…At least, that’s how it would have gone down if I were in Jesus’ shoes.  I guess that’s why I’m not God. (Though that confrontation would have been in my head; I’d never have done that in person.  I would have just been passive aggressive and complained the whole time I was doing it.)  No, “so that we may not offend them,” Jesus tells Peter to go catch a fish which would have a coin covering both his and Peter’s tax.  He pays the tax perfectly willingly and does not cause a scene, although we would say he has every right to do so.

Now, none of us is likely to be God anytime soon.  But, like Jesus, we do have to pay taxes which we may perceive as unfair.  Sure, Jesus could have made a huge stink about how he shouldn’t have to pay the tax, asked loudly and frequently where all this money is going, or accused the tax collectors of being corrupt.  But in the end, it was a tax with a good purpose – to maintain the temple – so he paid it.  What if we stopped assuming every little (and not so little) tax increase is used to line the pockets of politicians?  What if we acknowledged the good results of these taxes instead of complaining?  I think two things would happen: 1) people would be really confused, and 2) our relationship with and outlooks on government could really improve.

What Is Love?

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)

The word “love” is mentioned 235 times in the ESV New Testament (according to a quick biblegateway.com keyword search).  Clearly, love is something that God is quite concerned with.  In fact, when asked which was the greatest commandment in the Mosaic law, Jesus responded,  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39, ESV)  So, love is the thing we are to be concerned with.  Despite this, I think our society has tragically distorted and misunderstood the concept of love.  We tend to confuse it with other, similar terms that have very different meanings.  So then, what is love, and what is it not?

First of all, love is NOT…

  • Tolerance.  Much is made in current popular culture of tolerating those who are different from us, those we might disagree with.  So what does tolerance actually mean?  The Oxford English Dictionary says that “tolerate” means “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference,” or “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance” (www.oxforddictionaries.com).  It often carries the connotation of allowing something because you have no choice, such as “I don’t like olives, but I will tolerate them.”  But in Matthew 22:39, quoted above, Jesus does not call us to endure our neighbors, or to allow the existence of our neighbors without interference, but to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Quite a difference – one is almost begrudging of the existence of the thing to be tolerated, while one unconditionally cherishes it.
  • Condoning.  There is a common belief that to love someone means to support all of their actions and attitudes.   That idea falls apart pretty quickly, though; say a parent has a teenager who is dabbling in illegal drugs.  Is the parent loving if they support the kid’s habit or give him/her money to support it?  Absolutely not.  The loving parent will do anything they can to get the kid out of the situation and cleaned up.  Simply put, not everything we do is good for us; those who truly love us will correct us when we go astray and help lead us out of the darkness of sin.

Love IS…

  • Action.  Contrary to what chick flicks would have us believe, true love is not a warm, gooey feeling of affection toward someone.  True love is action – doing things for those you love.  We can say we love the poor, but unless we do something about it, what good is it to them?  Or to use a more personal example, I can feel what I think is love for Tyler, my boyfriend; but if I never actually do anything to show him that I love him, well, the relationship probably wouldn’t last very long.
  • Accountability.  If I love someone, I am sharing a piece of myself with them, and I am answerable if I let them down.  I can profess to love the homeless of Champaign-Urbana and volunteer at a soup kitchen every weekend in order to show my love for them.  But if I then start a campaign in the city to shut down these types of charities, you can bet the hypothetical soup kitchen patrons would hold me accountable for my actions.  As well they should – my campaign to shut down the soup kitchen is hurting the very people I claim to love and rendering my claim invalid.
Both of the “greatest commandments” involve love – for God and for our neighbor.  There are lots of misconceptions about love in American culture today; what it is, how to show it, its results.  Love is certainly not easy for us, but real love that does not trivialize or hinder is a rare and priceless gift to a hurting world.
For a different perspective on love, check out Adam’s series on love starting here.