Be A Big Baby!

Childlike Trust Is The Best Gift We Give To God

Eternal life is the gift God gives to his children; complete trust is the gift God’s children give back to him. So precious to God is our childlike trust that he sent Jesus to die to make it possible.

The Journey: Matthew 18:1-4

The disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.”

At some point in our developing years, most of us heard the parental admonition, “quit acting like a child.” We were sometimes derisively chided, “you’re being a big baby!” We were told to “grow up and act our age!” The Bible even gets in on the act, telling us to put away childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11), to stop thinking like children (1 Corinthians 14:20), to grow out of the instability of our emotional/spiritual infancy (Ephesians 4:14).

Yet here Jesus tells us that the people who are the greatest in his Father’s kingdom are those who become like little children. Obviously, we’ve heard that before, and I’m sure most of us think we get what Jesus is saying, but have we really stopped to think about those childlike qualities exhibited in the faith, character and life of a believer that cause Father God to sit up and take notice? It would be easy to simply pass by this familiar passage without giving it much thought, but let’s take a moment before we move on to consider what it is about little kids that not only makes them, but anyone who embodies those very characteristics, so precious to God.

First, Jesus mentions repentance: “Unless you turn from your sins and become like little children you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.” It is typical of children to recognize their own “childishness”, and along with that recognition is an innate sense that change is desperately needed, correction is helpful (though not always appreciated), and a new course is required if maturity is to take place. The starting point in God’s Kingdom is acknowledgment of our sinfulness, sorrow for our offensiveness to a holy God, and our willingness to change the whole orientation of our life by walking in a way that is pleasing to the One who created us to glorify him by our very existence. Jesus declares that this attitude of repentance—not just the act, but an attitude of repentance—is both a childlike quality and a necessary condition for entrance into the Kingdom Life as well as growth in it.

Second, Jesus speaks about humility: “Anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.” Many helpful definitions of humility have been offered, but the kind of humility a child naturally exhibits is simply one that recognizes his or her utter dependence on the parent for day-by-day sustenance, guidance and protection—for life itself. Jesus says that those who know their utter helplessness and their total moment-by-moment dependence on the Father are on their way to greatness in his eyes.

Third, Jesus talks about trust: “If you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6) Perhaps the most endearing quality of a child is a fully devoted trust in their parent. So precious is a child’s trust to God that he reserves his worst punishment for adults who damage it in children. And so precious to God is the trust of his spiritual children that Jesus died to make it possible. Eternal life is the gift God gives to his children; complete trust is the gift God’s children give back to him.

Do you desire to be great in God’s eyes? I do. If you do, then join me today in offering him our childlike faith. Nurture a repentant spirit, cultivate authentic humility, and wrap up your trust and give it as a gift to the Father who gave you your very life. According to Jesus, his Father will think it’s great. He’ll think you’re great, too!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, give me a childlike trust. Help me to uncomplicate my faith so that I can return a total moment-by-moment, delightful dependence on you.

What Jesus Wants From You

Dare To Walk In Christ's Authority and Power

As much as anything, stagnant faith disheartens Jesus. In fact, it displeases him. When we neglect the exercise of faith and when we resist moving forward in his authority and power, then the very thing for which Jesus came, died, rose again, ascended, and intercedes for at the right hand of the Father has been put on the back burner: our empowerment as agents of his Kingdom. No wonder our lack of faith hurts his heart so deeply. On the other hand, any time we operate in faith, even if that faith is only mustard seed sized, we are activating God-pleasing faith. That is what Jesus wants from us.

The Journey: Matthew 17:17-20

“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Jesus was fully God, yet fully man. That is a core part of our Christology—our doctrine of Christ. That fundamental belief about the nature of Jesus is a mystery; it is hard for us as finite human beings to grasp. Yet while we accept it by faith, there is no shame in struggling with various aspects of it. Some struggle with the divinity side of Christ’s nature, others with the humanity side. I, for one, have more difficulty with the humanity part of his nature: how could God be fully man?

Yet being fully human, Jesus the Son of God experienced and expressed the full range of human emotions. He cried, he got angry, he rejoiced, he felt concern, and as in the case here, he got frustrated. When his disciples couldn’t cast out an evil spirit that has been tormenting an innocent little boy, he took them to task, “rebuking” them for being unbelieving and perverse, for having so little faith—not even mustard seed sized faith. In comparing their faith to a mustard seed, he was using one of the smallest common objects in that culture to make an unforgettable and very harsh point with them.

Now as you read this story, like me, you probably relate to the disciples. Haven’t we all been in situations where our efforts for the Lord produced no kingdom results? I, too, have prayed for people that didn’t get healed, too—more than once, in fact. So would Jesus rebuke me, too, if he were physically present?

But as always, to understand the hard sayings of Jesus, it helps to understand the context. In this context, his rebuke was not directed at the quantity of their faith—for sure, they did have faith at least the size of a mustard seed or they wouldn’t have been following Jesus in the first place—but he is referring to the quality of their faith. It wasn’t the breadth, but the depth with which Jesus took issue.

You see, their inability to drive out the demon exposed their prayerlessness (Mark 9:29), which itself exposes laziness of faith. Furthermore, it indicated that they still didn’t fully believe Jesus’ words (Matt. 10:6-8) that they would be doing these very kinds of things in his power. Their failure to deliver the boy demonstrated they were operating in their own strength rather than Jesus’ authority and God’s power. Jesus was quite clear that when the will of God was carried out by human beings in the power of God, even the most stubborn objects had to move (Matthew 17:20). Obviously, they had missed the point—their faith was shallow, they were unbelieving, they were relying on their own power—and that frustrated Jesus.

So what is the lesson for us? Simply this: stagnant faith displeases our Lord. He came, died, rose again, ascended, sent the Holy Spirit, and intercedes on our behalf at the right hand of the Father to make it possible for us to enter the kingdom by faith, and by the exercise of that faith, become agents of that kingdom. His plan for us is to walk in his authority and exercise his power as we do his bidding on Planet Earth.

The disciples needed Jesus physically with them for their authority and power, but he wanted them to come to the place where they could operate without him being physically present. While he would leave them, he would be within them through the Holy Spirit, and in this way, they and all his followers could fan out around the globe to bring his kingdom to those, like the little boy, who were enslaved and victimized by the power of Satan.

God has given each of us a measure of faith. And he expects us to exercise it. We exercise it through prayer, by believing that Jesus authorized us to use it, and then by stepping out in his power to do the works that Jesus would do if he were in our place. And if we do, that faith, even the smallest amount of it, will make impossible things possible, even to the degree that immovable mountains like demonic harassment will get uprooted and tossed aside like a child’s play toy.

That is the kind of faith Jesus has given you. Don’t neglect it.

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, I want to offer you faith today—prayer-based, kingdom-focused, mountain-moving faith. Not for my sake, nor for anyone’s else, I want to exercise the kind of faith that comes from you, is expressed to glorify you, and pleases you. Make me a conduit of God-pleasing faith.

Spiritual Fixations

Don’t Misunderstand The Purpose Of A Spiritual High

Too many believers are addicted to the intoxicating effects of a “spiritual high.” The problem with those kinds of experiences, however, is that we tend to fixate on them, and then rate the rest of our Christian walk against them. Unfortunately, nothing can quite live up to the warm fuzzies of a mountaintop moment. God never intends for us to fixate on past spiritual experiences; they are meant for fuel to empower us for the next spiritual assignment.

The Journey: Matthew 17:9

As they went back down the mountain, Jesus commanded them …

We love mountaintop experiences — “spiritual highs” — experiences that are so wonderful we never want to lose the good feeling of their warm afterglow. Like the good feelings we had at the moment of salvation, or an ecstatic encounter with the Holy Spirit, or when we cried our eyes out at the altar during summer youth camp, or at a revival meeting when God’s presence seemed so thick you could slice it.

The problem with those kinds of experiences is that we tend to fixate on them, and then rate the rest of our Christian walk against them. Unfortunately, nothing can quite live up to the warm fuzzies of a mountaintop high. We love to stay on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. After all, it is so spiritual…and it feels so good! Going back down the mountain is way overrated.

But following Jesus always means we have to “come down from the mountain to do as he commands.” We have to leave the sanctuary, the worship service, the warm incubator of our small group Bible study and get back into the game of extending the Kingdom to those who don’t know Jesus yet.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a high mountain where he was transfigured—literally, morphed—right before their eyes. And not only that, two of Israel’s greatest prophets appeared before them—Moses and Elijah. Predictably, Peter suggested what the other two disciples were thinking: “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

Who wouldn’t want to stay there? I sure would! I would want to can that spiritual experience and pull it back out of the can everyone once in a while—okay, a lot—to whiff the fumes of that intoxicating spiritual high all over again.

Here’s the deal: God never intends for us to fixate on “spiritual highs”; they are meant for fuel to empower us for some spiritual assignment. Jesus didn’t have this encounter with Moses and Elijah just so he could feel special. Luke 9:31 says that these two Old Testament prophets came to encourage him about his upcoming departure—literally, in the original text, his “exodus.” Jesus was about to face the greatest assignment of all—the cross. This mountaintop experience was meant as fuel—encouragement, strength, a reminder of his life’s purpose—for his impending death for the sins of the world.

I am not down on “spiritual highs.” They are wonderful, and necessary. Just don’t fixate on them. Resist the urge to erect a shelter and live in their warm afterglow. Don’t rate the rest of your Christian experience against them. Simply see them for what they are: Fuel for the assignment ahead.

Then get off the mountain and back in the game. Get back out there and give ‘em heaven!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, I repent of worshiping my spiritual experiences of yesteryear. Please forgive my immaturity and wrong focus. Now I ask you to show me how you intend for those past “warm, fuzzy highs” to fuel me for the kingdom assignment setting before me today.

The Only Christianity Worth Pursuing

Jesus Is A Tough Act To Follow—But Sign Me Up!

If Jesus rebuked Peter — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” — for suggesting Christianity without a cross, what do you suppose he would say to those in our day who promote Christian discipleship without cross-bearing? Dietrich Bonhoeffer was right, “Salvation is free … but discipleship will cost you your life.” That is the only Christianity worth pursuing.

The Journey: Matthew 16:24

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”

Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Salvation is free … but discipleship will cost you your life.”

Does Christ’s call to discipleship seem a little extreme in comparison to the “easy believism” that passes for much of what we would call discipleship today? You will likely hear a lot more from spiritual leaders these days about a life of comfort, security and success that following Jesus brings than straight talk on self-denial and cross bearing.

Jesus made no of promises of an easy, breezy, carefree Christianity. Rather, he demanded complete obedience, costly sacrifice, and selfless servanthood from those who would follow him. He told them that they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood if they wanted a part in him. He said people would hate them, misunderstand them, reject them, persecute them, and put them out of the synagogues. And he even promised that misguided religious fanatics would kill them, believing that in so doing they were helping God out.

Yet the eleven disciples (one of them, Judas, got cold feet) fully bought into Christ’s call to costly discipleship. They left everything they had and everything they knew for a life that promised nothing except a chance to advance God’s kingdom in a resistant, hostile world. They fully understood that the overwhelming bulk of their rewards would come only afterwards, in the afterlife. And, despite Christ’s less than appealing recruitment campaign, these first disciples, followed in the years to come by countless thousands of other hungry seekers, flocked to this self-denying, cross-bearing brand of Christianity. Jesus was a tough act to follow, to say the least, but these disciples eagerly signed up—and they changed the world.

How did they manage such a “small task” like changing the world? Simply by doing what Jesus had asked: they denied themselves, took up their crosses, and laid down their lives for his sake. Without a political voice, financial resources, social standing, and military might, this unlikely ragtag band of followers conquered the Roman Empire in less than three hundred years.

Such was the radical, transformative power of this brand of fully devoted discipleship.

Do you worry, as I do, that Christ’s call to costly discipleship would empty most churches of its people in our day if it were preached unapologetically like Jesus taught it in his day? Though most believers give mental assent to cross-bearing and self-denial, in reality there is very little evidence of it in their lives, or in their churches.

If Jesus rebuked Peter (verse 23) — “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” — for suggesting Christianity without a cross (verse 24), what do you suppose he would say to us who have suggested Christian discipleship without cross-bearing?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once remarked, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” We need to remind ourselves of that truth, because you likely won’t hear it from too many pulpits today. A.W. Tozer commented that “it has become popular to preach a painless Christianity and automatic saintliness. It has become part of our ‘instant’ culture. ‘Just pour a little water on it, stir mildly, pick up a gospel tract, and you are on your Christian way.’”

We must aggressively and boldly reject that brand of faith, because that is not the discipleship to which Jesus has called us. And that is not the discipleship that I want for my life.

How about you?

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, though my flesh from the inside and my culture from the outside are constantly calling me along the path of easy spirituality, deep in my heart I want to take up my cross and follow you. Enable me by your indwelling Spirit to die to myself so that I might live unto you—at all costs! Thank you for the cross. Simply to it I will cling.

You Don’t Need No Stinking Proof!

Maybe It's You That Needs To Prove Your Trust To Him

Jesus has already done plenty to prove himself to anyone who is half interested in who he is. The Father has done more than enough to authenticate that Jesus is indeed the Son of God—and as such, is worthy to be accepted as Savior and obediently followed as Lord. On Judgment Day, we won’t be able to offer the excuse that God didn’t prove himself to us. Maybe today, we ought to prove our trust to him through our unqualified worship and loving obedience.

The Journey: Matthew 16:1,4

One day the Pharisees and Sadducees came to test Jesus, demanding that he show them a miraculous sign from heaven to prove his authority. He replied, “…Only an evil, adulterous generation would demand a miraculous sign…”

A sign? They want another sign? You’ve got to be kidding!

Keep in mind that Jesus had just delivered the demonized daughter of a Syro-Phoenicean woman (Matthew 16:21-28). He had just healed scores of people—“the crippled were made well, the lame were walking, and the blind could see again”—in the Galilee (Matthew 15:29-31). Then to top it off, he had just fed 4,000 men (not including women and children) with seven loaves of bread and a few fish—with seven doggy bags for his disciples afterwards. (Matthew 15:32-39)

Now the Pharisees and Sadducees had the gall to ask Jesus to show them a miracle! As we used to say when I was a kid (for which I was usually reprimanded by my very prim and proper mother), “what did they want, egg in their beer?” What else could Jesus do, raise someone from the dead before their very eyes? Oh yeah, he’d already done that, too! Come on, did they expect him to die and come back to life again to prove his divine authority? Oops, guess he did that as well.

The point is, Jesus has already done plenty to prove himself to anyone who is half interested in who he is. The Father has done more than enough to authenticate that Jesus is indeed the Son of God—and as such, is worthy to be accepted as Savior and obediently followed as Lord. On Judgment Day, no one will be able to offer the excuse that God didn’t prove himself to them.

At some point with Jesus, we need to stop asking for proof and start proving our faith—whether or not we have signs, wonders and miracles to, yet again excite, to fuel our trust that Jesus is who he said is. Augustine pointed out, “Faith is to believe what we do not see; and the reward of this faith is to see what we believe.” St. Anselm argued that believing, that is what we call saving faith, is the precondition of knowing:

I believe in order to understand. (credo ut intelligam)

Miracles are nice—but our faith doesn’t depend on them for stability. You’ve got all the proof you need! So why don’t you prove your faith in Jesus by giving him your trust today!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, I believe in you. I need nothing more to give you all of my love, my obedience, and my trust.

Why Jesus Is So Annoying

He Comforts The Afflicted And Afflicts The Comfortable

On a fairly regular basis, Jesus got under people’s skin. In fact, he flat out annoyed them—and it didn’t bother him in the least. He didn’t come to earth to win a popularity contest, he came to get in the way of people’s headlong plunge into hell. That meant he had to tell them the truth—even if it ruffled their feathers. By the way, he is still doing that today, and chances are, he’s fixing to ruffle your feathers, too, if he hasn’t already. That’s just his job.

The Journey: Matthew 15:12-14

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?” Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”

On a fairly regular basis, Jesus got under people’s skin. In fact, he flat out annoyed them—and it didn’t bother him in the least. He didn’t come to earth to win a popularity contest, he came to get in the way of people’s headlong plunge into hell. That meant he had to tell them the truth—even if it ruffled their feathers. By the way, he is still doing that today, and chances are, he’s fixing to ruffle your feathers, too (if he hasn’t already)!

So why is Jesus so annoying? How come he doesn’t always play nice? What is it that makes him so willing to irritate sinners and saints alike —especially saints? I’ve already given the answer, but let me restate it once again:

Jesus is more committed to your holiness than he is concerned about your happiness!

You see, it is holiness that will get you into heaven and keep you out of hell. Now that’s not just my opinion, that’s a direct quote from the Word of God. Hebrews 12:14 (NLT) very clearly says, “work at living a holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.”

That’s why Jesus is so willing to get up in your grill and tell it like it is. He wants you to be holy, just as he is holy. That’s why he says things that are uncomfortable, that will make you squirm, that are frankly, offensive…things like,

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. (John 6:53, NLT)

You will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. (Luke 13:3, NLT)

I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. (John 14:6, NLT)

Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. (Matthew 7:21, NLT)

All who love me will do what I say…Anyone who doesn’t love me will not obey me. (John 14:23-24, NLT)

And on and on the list of Jesus’ annoying sayings goes. Now of course, Jesus is not annoying for annoyance sake. He says things that make us uncomfortable because he loves us, and wants us to partake in his holiness. In fact, in the greatest act of love imaginable, he died on the cross so that you and I could enter through his sacrifice into the very holiness that will put us and keep us in right standing with a holy God. That is called imputed holiness—which Jesus offers that as a free gift, received only and completely by grace through faith.

What a deal—Jesus paid the full price for my holiness, and all I have to do is turn to him in full repentance of my sins, full acceptance of his death and resurrection, full surrender to his Lordship over my life, and I am declared holy. Moreover, I am then declared legally holy because I now stand before God in the holiness of Jesus Christ.

Now there is one more thing: Hebrews 12:14 said we are to “work at living a holy life”. Since Jesus has graciously done so very much to make us holy, we ought to gladly and thankfully make every effort (this is not about earning, mind you, you can’t earn what you’ve already been freely given) to live a life of complete and utter holiness before God.

Before you groan about this “holiness” thing—truthfully, it’s not such a bad or burdensome deal. All you really need to do, in light of what has already been done for you, is to gratefully love God will all your heart, mind, and body. Then once you’ve done that, just do as you like.

But just remember, to keep you loving God as he deserves, expect Jesus to annoy you along the way!

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, please annoy me about the things I am too dull to see that stand in the way of a lifestyle of holiness that you have called me to pursue. Make me sleepless over the things that I am doing that betray my love for you. Give me discernment and boldness on this very day to jettison those behaviors or thought patterns from my life. And this year, give me marked growth in the walk of holiness.

Sacred Cows – Barbecue Sauce, Anyone?

Traditions Are Not Holy, Only God Is!

When any tradition, no matter how loved and appropriate at some time in the past, hinders worship, belief, and intimacy with the Almighty in the present, that tradition has to go! What traditions am I talking about? I don’t know—you tell me. Perhaps it has to do with style of music or appropriate worship attire or a preferred version of the Bible or how your church practices Holy Communion. It could be anything that, by itself, is not wrong, but if that practice or tradition is now, in all honesty, worshipped or treated as sacred, then it has nullified the Word of God. Traditions are not sacred, only God is! Take a hard look at your traditions, and the traditions of your fellowship. And if you find a sacred cow, it may be time to heat up the barbecue. Be wise, be prayerful, be careful, but enjoy the burnt offering!

The Journey: Matthew 15:6

And so you cancel the word of God for the sake of your own tradition.

Tradition gets a bad rap in Christian circles these days. Much of modern, so-called “seeker-sensitive” spirituality has pretty much done away with anything that smacks of tradition. Yet not all tradition is bad—Holy Communion, to remind us of Christ’s sacrificial death, the living body of Christ, and the return of our Lord; the early creeds of the church to remind us of the great doctrines upon which our faith stands, the recitation of the Lord’s prayer, for obvious reasons; the celebration of special days, like Christmas and Easter, to remind us of his coming and his dying.

However, it is safe to say that the reason modern Christianity is down on tradition in general is that many churches have done exactly what Jesus warned against: they have nullified the authority and power of God’s Word by blind allegiance to these traditions. In other words, the tradition has become the end rather than the means to a greater end—the worship and glorification of Almighty God.

We must be careful at all costs to avoid unthinking and unquestioned loyalty to a tradition. Woodrow Wilson offered a revealing insight about tradition that we really ought to consider here: “To do things today exactly the way you did them yesterday saves thinking.” He was right: blind, uncritical loyalty to a tradition is mental laziness.

We ought to boldly question anything that prevents seekers from experiencing the present reality of a God whose Son broke scores of ridiculous rules and then died to redeem those seekers. We ought to courageously challenge anything that keeps believers from walking more intimately with Jesus Christ. We ought to seriously evaluate anything that might stand in the way God’s presence when he, himself, went out of his way to remove every barrier to his presence. When any tradition, no matter how well loved and appropriate at some time in the past, hinders worship, belief, and intimacy with the Almighty, that tradition has to go!

What traditions am I talking about? I don’t know—you tell me. Perhaps it has to do with style of music or appropriate worship attire or a preferred version of the Bible or how your church practices Holy Communion. It could be anything that, by itself, is not wrong, but if that practice or tradition is now, in all honesty, worshipped or treated as sacred, then it has nullified the Word of God. Traditions are not sacred, only God is!

Take a hard look at your traditions, and the traditions of your fellowship. Identify a tradition that really helps you to experience the presence of God. Then write a paragraph describing why that tradition is important to your faith and honoring to God. If you cannot root it in a “theology” that encourages intimacy, spiritual power, the growth of the fellowship and the evangelization of the lost, then maybe it’s time to fire up the barbecue.

Be wise. Be prayerful. Be careful. And enjoy the burnt offering.

A Simple Prayer To Be More Like Jesus:

God, give me a wise and discerning heart as it relates to traditions that I have elevated above simple intimacy with you. Then give me courage to put that tradition in its rightful place—either back in the barn for a time out or on the barbecue for a proper sacrifice. Keep me always and ever burning with an authentic, passionate love for your presence.