Jesus Will Always Surprise You

I try not to stray too far from the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) in my Bible reading and study. In any given year, I try to stick close to Jesus’ words and the story of His life in these four books. I do this partly because Jesus is the center of all that God has done for us and said to us, from Genesis to Revelation. Without Jesus…well, life-the-universe-and-everything doesn’t make much sense.

But I also stick close to the gospels because even though it’s familiar territory, each time I listen to Jesus speak through the text, He catches me off guard.

Jesus always surprises me.

Let me tell you about a recent surprise…

In 2017 I’ve been reading through the Bible chronologically. I say reading, but it’s mostly listening. About 80% of my time in the Scriptures this year has been listing to the Bible in chronological order of events using two apps: ReadingPlan and English Standard Version. I’ve found this approach really helpful when reading the Old Testament because it has helped me pick up on major themes I’ve missed before. For example, until this year, I haven’t fully appreciated the significance of this Old Testament word: steadfast love. It’s all over the Old Testament and a constant reminder of God’s faithful care for those He calls His own.

But, reading the Bible this way also means that I haven’t been in the gospels much this year. Until now.

This past week I listened to the entire book of Matthew. And there was Jesus, saying something I’ve heard, and even studied, many times in chapter 15. And yet, He caught me completely off guard. Again. Here’s the passage below. (I’ve marked Jesus responses to her in red.)

21And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26And he answered,“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.—Matthew 15:21-28

 

The woman sounds pitiful, her words reveal her desperate heart, arousing our compassion. And yet, Jesus at first appears callous ignoring her, then condescending, and seeming to insult her. In fact, he almost sounds what we would call racist. Is this the picture of Jesus you learned in Sunday School?

Ultimately, of course, its a story of Jesus’ power and compassion. But, if you or I demonstrated power and compassion that way, those around us would say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I had to stop and listen a few more times. What do I make of this Jesus—a man with the miraculous power to heal, but who alludes to her as a dog in the process?

When I considered His surprising words, I was forced to remember…

❯ I Don’t Know the Whole Story

Jesus never spoke this way to any other woman. Consider the way He spoke with another woman who was publicly accused of adultery. It was quite the opposite. He came to her defense and did not condemn her though she was guilty of the charge. So, for reasons I will never know, Jesus treated this Canaanite woman in a way that provoked her persistence and revealed her desperation. And so, she has become a parable of what Christian faith and humility looks like in action: casting one’s hopes entirely on Jesus alone.

I Am Not His Equal

If a mere man spoke like this to you, whether his intention was kind or not, you would rightly think him full of himself. When a mere man condescends and treats you as beneath him, his conceit is evident. But we know Jesus to be the only truly obedient Son of the Father. The voice of God proclaiming him so at his baptism and on the mount of transfiguration, and his own resurrection testify that Jesus is The (only) Righteous One.

So, Jesus is no mere man. The word condescension has negative connotations when applied to a man. But, the condescension of a true, divine superior is the essence of grace, mercy, and kindness. In this story, I read of a man unlike any man, a God-Man who granted an inferior audience, tested her, and amazingly, satisfied her heart’s desire. The passage teaches in surprising terms both that Jesus is good, and that I am infinitely beneath Him.

I expect Jesus will keep surprising me as I read through the rest of the gospels. It’s good to keep the gospels close and stay surprised. Otherwise, I fear I have a tendency to try to tame Him in my imagination. But as C. S. Lewis said of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, He is neither tame nor safe.

I want to encourage you to meet Jesus face-to-face in the gospels, too. Pick up a Bible. Sit down. Listen. Look Him in the eye. If you want to know Jesus, that is where you will find Him. If you want to grow in faith, that is where you will hear Him command you to believe in Him. If you want to know why, that is where you’ll find the reason. If you want to grow to be a more spiritual person, He will tell you what that really means.

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How Routine Effects Your Well-Being and Mental Health

Quick. What are you doing at 7:00 tomorrow morning?

If you didn’t know within a second or two, you may be missing out on one of the best ways to improve your quality of life. And if you are battling a mental health problem, you may be missing out on a powerful, free weapon in your arsenal.

It’s called: Having a routine.

❯ A Routine Is Good for Anyone

Every mom knows her kids flourish on a consistent routine, while an inconsistent schedule leads to more and more tears, outbursts, and conflict. But a consistent routine doesn’t just benefit kids. Want better sleep and feel more alert? Stick to a routine. Want to be more productive? Have a routine. Want to improve your fitness? Accomplish a goal? Feel more relaxed? Develop your spiritual life? Routine. Routine. Routine.

A routine is every adult’s friend. It helps you feel more like life is working with you, rather than against you. It produces peace of mind. It engenders calm. It reduces stress. It promotes a positive outlook on each day and a sense of well-being. A routine can build health and strength and a feeling of accomplishment. If applied wisely, it can even help strengthen relationships with the most important people in your life.

Sure, living on a consistent routine may run the risk of you being labeled: Boring. And yes, sooner or later, someone’s gonna tell you to let your hair down, to live a little, that you only live once, that you take life too seriously. But that peer-pressure is a small price to pay for the well-oiled hum of a satisfying life routine. People who live according to a routine know that low stress for the long-term is far, far better than short-term thrills or indulgences.

Of course, you can have too much of a good thing. A routine can be so rigid that it makes you intolerant of people who interrupt it. But, a good routine is flexible and makes room for people by scheduling them into it—everything from lunch with a friend to planning a Super Bowl party.

 A Routine Is a Mental Health Weapon

If having a consistent life routine is valuable when you feel yourself, just imagine how important it is for the person who feels not yourself right now.

I have observed this in my wife Dawn, who struggles with the cycles of bipolar II: hypomania, then briefly feeling herself, then depression, then repeat. In the 30+ years of our marriage, we continue to see how effective a stable routine is in managing the almost daily assault of tumultuous thoughts.

Let me give you an idea of what living a consistent routine means for Dawn:

  • It’s knowing how much water to drink every day and when.
  • It’s when she goes to bed, and when she gets up.
  • It’s knowing which foods make her feel worse (sugar, caffeine, some spices).
  • It’s avoiding music, TV, and movies that lead to more mental battles.
  • It’s what she does first thing every single morning (drink a bottle of water, a 20-minute breath to relax exercise, time reading her Bible, and writing in her journal)
  • It’s how much exercise she gets, and when, and the right kind, and the right level of intensity
  • It’s tackling a manageable set of tasks every day, not too much, not too little.
  • It’s taking time for friends and serving others, but reserving enough quiet space to be alone.
  • It’s participating in the community, but knowing her limits.
  • It’s even scheduling laundry, dishes, shopping and house cleaning so that our home always feels like a calm, peaceful place to relax.

Dawn has learned and keeps learning what works for her by reading, and talking with others, and by trial-and-error. Like blocking and tackling in football, she knows she has to keep practicing the basics of her routine to manage her challenges. I try to help in small ways too: like calling to pray with her each morning, or asking if she remembered to drink water when she feels out of sorts. I also avoid playing some of my music around her because of how it affects her.

What should your routine be like? How could it help you? How could the people who love you help you practice the basics? Only you can know. But give yourself time to learn. The benefits will be worth it.

A Routine Has These Benefits

You can think of the benefits of your routine a few different ways: as a motivator, as decision-support, as guard rails, and as a peace maker.

Think of your routine as a motivator because it can give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning. When you are depressed, it gives you something tangible and positive to do as soon as you are alert. And this can begin to stabilize your mind at the beginning of the day.

Think of your routine as decision-support because it helps you know what to do next. When your mind is foggy or fretful, any decision can seem huge and daunting, with inflated importance. But your routine will remind you of what you can do or should do next. And sometimes, getting through the next few minutes of fog with something positive to focus on is just what you need to build courage for later in the day.

Think of your routine as guard rails that keep a car from the edge of a cliff. If you feel manic or hypomanic symptoms your racing thoughts could lead to some not yourself behavior. They need to be brought smoothly to a slow, safe, sensible pace. Your routine can help you feel grounded so you can focus on one thing at a time. The next thing. And the next. And then, the next. Your routine can help you avoid behaviors or decisions that you may later regret.

And finally, a routine can help make peace within and around you. Just think. Are you more relaxed in a cluttered space or an orderly space? Does a 100 item to-do list for the day help you feel calm and confident? Do you function better when your sleep patterns vary? Are you likely to feel yourself if you skip a proper meal to binge on brownies? It’s pretty clear which habits of life promote that calm, and which destroy it. But it’s practicing your routine that will help make the life habits you need feel easy and desirable.

If you’re a take life as it comes person, I suggest you carve out some time to start thinking about the routines that will help you make a life instead. Don’t obsess about getting it right. Just start imaging how a routine could benefit you, and then take the next step that seems best to you. And then, the next. And the next.

And as always, remember Whom you are dependent on. Remember the source of your life. Jesus, our Redeemer is a ready help to the needy and contrite.

Why Faith Won’t Save You, And What Will

One of the things I hope to do on Average Us is help the average you grasp the rich hope that is yours in Christ. Thus, the tagline: “Real hope. From God. Through Christ. For us.” But, average Christians like me have been raised in average churches where biblical and theological instruction in this real, rich hope is offered rarely and poorly. And the result is that much of what we “know” about Christianity amounts to no more than a handful of Bible stories, misquoted verses, and misunderstood slogans.

…having the eyes of yourhearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…
—Ephesians 1:18

Take this slogan for example: saved by faith. If you grew up near any kind of evangelical people, you’ve heard this one. But, what does it mean? Slogans are good at capturing a key idea in a short, memorable phrase. But the problem with slogans is that as they are passed around from person to person and generation to generation, the key idea becomes distorted, misunderstood, or forgotten.

So, for many, saved by faith can become a kind of false gospel. Many people believe that the mere fact of having a general belief in God grants them salvation. Faith then becomes a kind of good deed which merits salvation. This is similar to the non-Christian who believes that being a good person merits entrance into heaven. But the apostle James taught us that even the demons have this kind of faith (James 2:19). And of course, it merits them nothing from God.

❯ Saved by the Savior

How much better it is to read in the Bible that “Christ Jesus came into the world to saves sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). So, faith does not save. Rather, Christ saves the sinner who believes in Him. It is the object of our faith—Jesus of Nazareth—that saves. Or, as the more instructive slogan has been handed down to us from the Reformation:

We are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

But, isn’t this just semantic hair-splitting?

Not at all. Believing that you are saved because you believe is vastly different from believing that a person (Jesus) can and will save you. It’s not that you believe that saves; it’s what you believe and who you believe in.

Christian faith believes:

  • The God of the Bible is the only true God (Deuteronomy 4:39)
  • That this God is both good and has given us His law (Psalm 19:7-8; 118:1)
  • That we have woefully broken His law by what we desire, think, say, and do, as well as what we fail to desire, think, say, and do (Psalm 14:1; Romans 3:11-12)
  • That as a result, we are liable to God’s judgment and wrath and are cast off and without hope (John 3:36; Ephesians 2:12)
  • But also, that God mercifully sent His Son into the world to be our Savior (John 3:16)
  • That this Savior saves us from God’s wrath by suffering the penalty we deserve on the cross (1 Peter 3:18)
  • That this Savior has risen from the dead to declare our penalty paid in full (Romans 4:25)
  • So that our hope for salvation rests unashamedly in this gospel: the good news that Jesus saves (Romans 1:16)

Faith in the Savior

I hope you see, reader, that Christian faith involves several elements beyond general faith in God’s existence.

First, that we hear the specific content proclaimed in the Bible: the law (what God demands of us) and the gospel (what God has done for us in Christ). Second, that we agree that God is true, His law for us is just and His mercy toward us great. And third, (that which fulfills and crowns the other two) that we wholeheartedly, actively trust in Christ alone for God’s mercy and cast all our hopes on Him. Or to put it another way, faith only becomes saving faith when Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Savior is its sole object.

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.—1 Timothy 1:15

The Faith of The Christian Faith

The distinction between faith as a noun and faith as a verb may also help you understand the nature of Christian belief.

The Christian Faith (Faith as a proper noun) is a body of truth claims about God’s work in history (creation, fall, promise, providence, incarnation, and resurrection) which has ultimate meaning for all people. This Faith is the biblical content we hear and agree with that leads us to Christian faith (lowercase “f”). Christian faith is the in-the-moment trust we place in Jesus because of what He accomplished for us in the past, and what He promises us today and for eternity.

Is Jesus the object of your faith? Is He your only hope? Is He the Savior you actively trust for eternal life? If you’re not sure, you may want to read What Does It Mean to Believe in Jesus?


for further study…

❯ Westminster Catechism 86

Q: What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A: Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel.

Read the Scripture proofs here.

Belgic Confession of Faith Article XXII

Therefore we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith apart from works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all His merits, and so many holy works which He has done for us and in our stead, is our righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with Him in all His benefits, which, when they become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.

Read the Scripture proofs here.

Westminster Confession of Faith Article XIV.2

By this faith, a Christian believes to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acts differently upon that which each particular passage thereof contains; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings, and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace.

Read the Scripture proofs here.