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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Making Spiritual Life Adjustments

Any Christian who is familiar with the Bible knows that the most significant aspect of the Christian life is God’s grace: salvation is His gift. It is by grace alone that we are saved, through faith in Christ alone. He or she also knows that the most significant and practical way to experience God’s grace is to attend to God’s regular means of grace: private prayer and Bible reading, along with public worship and receiving of sacraments.

For this reason Christians are encouraged to develop a habit of daily prayer and Bible reading. An easy way to start this habit is to think about three things: a time, a place, and a plan. Because of my work location and commute, my habit has been 7:30 am, at work, reading through whole books of the Bible and writing in a Moleskine journal.

Until recently.

Due to a health problem with my back, my daily schedule has changed and I don’t get to work early enough to keep my regular prayer habit. So, I have adjusted and that’s the subject I want to share with you today.

I could have just changed to praying at home alone before leaving for work. But, I decided to do something different for this season of my life, which is 4 months so far, and probably a few more. I pray with my wife, Dawn, and listen to the Bible on my iPhone during my commute.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this adjustment that I am experiencing.

ADVANTAGES

1. My wife and I love praying together every day by sharing our prayer requests. Dawn prays for me. I pray for her. We have always prayed together, so it’s not a new thing for us. But, praying with her daily is new and beneficial. This is something I’ll want to continue after this time of life. BTW – if you are a Christian husband, part of your role as husband and/or father is to cultivate the spiritual life of your family. Praying out loud with your family is a key element of that.

2. I love hearing large sections of the Bible at once. I might read a chapter or two, but I might listen to five, six, or even ten chapters at a time during my commute. This gives me a better sense of the broad sweep of a Bible book, especially narrative books like the gospels and much of the Old Testament. Also, since I usually back up a chapter or two each day, I hear more of Scripture repeated to me more frequently, which is good for retention and spurs reflection.

DISADVANTAGES

1. There is less time for reflection and repentance, and my journal has been set aside for now. Over the long haul, it will be better for me to give adequate attention to reflect on my deep, desperate need for grace, and the true state of my soul. I can be too easily fooled into thinking self-sufficiently about my spiritual life.

2. I’m not meditating on Scripture as much. It’s hard to hit the pause button while driving to think about the verse or sentence you just heard. Considering Scripture carefully is much easier when the Bible is in print before my eyes.

ENCOURAGEMENT

The encouragement I want to leave you with is first, to find a time, a place, and a plan to experience God’s grace in your life. This is how God has ordained to mold you into Christ’s image: by His Spirit’s work in you through the means of prayer of Bible study. Don’t underestimate how important this is. Second, pray with your spouse. Don’t underestimate how much love, trust, forgiveness and healing can spring like water from the simple moment of hearing your loved one bring your need before the Father. And third, since we all experience different seasons of life—singleness, child-rearing, sickness, health, two jobs, retirement, out-of-work—don’t be afraid to make adjustments to meet your spiritual needs during each time.

Grace to you,

Lon

 

Why Life Will Fight You for Prayer and Why You Should Fight Back

Christians pray.

I’m a Christian. If you’re reading this, you probably are, too.

Do I pray? Do you?

We Christians believe God promises to hear us when we pray in Christ’s name. We also believe God commands us to pray seeking His kingdom, His will, and His blessing on our lives.

And yet, the ordinary circumstances of our average lives seem to fight us tooth and nail for time and attention given to prayer.

Some time ago the anti-prayer bias of my own life manifested itself in a particularly obvious and frustrating way. Afterward, I took a moment to put a few prayer-life-lessons into an email to my family. Today, I wanted to share those observations with you.

Here’s what I wrote…

Hey Family, I thought this would be useful for you all.

I’ve had several crazy days in a row that have robbed me of my opportunity to have devotions (read the Bible and pray). This morning for instance, I was just starting to read my Bible in the break-room at work when I realized I was 20-minutes late for an early morning meeting with the VP of our department. I texted Mom and asked her to pray for me as I rushed to the meeting.

Here’s the spiritual lessons I hope we all learn…

1. Life will ALWAYS fight you for the time you want to devote to prayer and Bible study.

2. You must fight back. It’s worth it. Prayer and Bible reading are the regular means of God’s grace which strengthens your soul and helps you live in God’s purpose for your life. A habit of prayer and Bible study leaves you feeling fulfilled, strong, gives you courage, clarifies your sense of purpose, and reminds you how deeply your are loved by God.

3. Don’t fight alone. Mom and I regularly pray with and for each other. We’ve got each other’s back. I encourage you to develop this habit. It is the most encouraging thing to us.

4. God fights for you. Never forget that you belong to God through Christ. You are His. He will defend and strengthen you.

Love you all,

Dad

I hope this small glimpse into one of my many spiritual struggles encourages you to fight for a prayerful life. You will never regret the work of God done in you, and through you, through your prayers. It’s how God infuses our average lives with His greatness.

God bless, Lon & Dawn

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