Compassion: A Key to Living Like Jesus

I look back at my life and examine my first reaction to things, whether that’s with a parent, a friend, a girlfriend, a pastor, etc. My first reactions, either in my head or in my words, have not always been fantastic, I must admit. Especially when my expectations of what should have been said or done were not met. Whew, no telling what’s going to happen.

I remember one instance in particular recently when I thought someone was going to do something the way I had understood it, but instead they did something different. I lost it. I didn’t yell at the person, but I definitely got frustrated. It’s almost my natural reaction sometimes. And I hate that it’s that way! It shows my lack of patience and my lack of love for those people.

But it’s funny: oftentimes I do genuinely love the people, but they didn’t do what I wanted. Someone I trust recently told me this: “There’s no one that annoys you more than the person you love the most because you expect so much from them.” I find a lot of truth in that. And that annoyance comes from not getting your way or things not going how you expected them to.

As I’ve been reading Matthew, I’ve learned so much about Jesus and, as a by-product, learned how much I do not imitate Him as I probably should. I guess that’s what happens when you compare yourself to God. One area in particular I noticed today was how Jesus reacted to people who came to Him asking for help. Let’s look at two instances in Matthew 14-15 specifically.

Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand

After Jesus heard of the execution of John the Baptist by King Herod, He “withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). Clearly He needed some alone time, maybe to grieve or pray. Probably both. But people caught wind of it and, like people who hear a famous actor or athlete is chewing on a chicken sandwich at a local McDonald’s, they flocked to where He was.

So now Jesus, who’s just lost a very important person in His life and is probably still mourning, is surrounded by all these people who know Him because He’s famous. What does Jesus do? Verse 14: “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”

What’s His first reaction to seeing the people gathered on the shore? Compassion. He doesn’t want to ignore them because they’re sinful or they’re bothering Him in His time of mourning. He displayed “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others,” as Wikipedia defines compassion. He didn’t feel sorry for them and heal them because He felt bad – He loved them. He didn’t look for their flaws and tell them to change; He showed them compassion.

The rest of the section talks about how Jesus fed five thousand men, which doesn’t include the women and children that were there, with five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t send the people away when it got dark, He kept them there and fed them Himself.

Jesus Feeds the Four Thousand

The lesser known of the two great feedings comes in Matthew 15. Jesus had spent three days on a mountain beside the Sea of Galilee healing people of all kinds of maladies. Verse 32: “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry lest they faint on the way.'”

The disciples asked Jesus what they would feed the people with, since they were in a “desolate place” (v. 33). With seven loaves of bread and a “few small fish,” Jesus fed four thousand men, plus women and children.

With what did Jesus see the crowd? Compassion, yet again. After three days of healing people, probably doing some teaching, but being around people, Jesus wasn’t tired of the people. He had compassion for them. He had “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” He loved them. He didn’t just care for their eternal soul; He cared for their physical needs as well, and spent a lot of time healing and feeding people on earth.

We Are a People Who Receive Compassion

The great tie-in here is that the Gospel is an act of compassion, just like these works of Christ but on a much larger scale. We are a people who, without a relationship with God, are hopeless, lost, without any profitable destiny. We are a people who need compassion. God is gracious to us and, in Christ, shows His compassion, His love.

There is a connection between compassion and love when it comes to God. God’s love is often displayed in acts of compassion, like Christ dying for us. 1 John 4:10 says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” He saw that we did not have loved for Him, but He still loved us and sent Jesus to be the sacrifice, to be the substitution.

That’s some compassion. Greater love has no man than he who lays his life down for his friends, but even more so for his enemies. And no one has greater enemies than God does of us! That’s compassion!

So why is it so hard for us to show compassion like Christ? Well, we’re sinful. But we also think we’re entitled to certain things and to only interact with certain kinds of people, and only have certain kinds of things happen in our lives, and only do certain things wrong. So when things don’t go our way, we don’t show compassion. We rebel and we get angry and impatient.

But that is not how Jesus reacted to the crowds, and it’s not how God reacted to us who are His people! He loved us enough to provide a way for the relationship to be made new, restored, made whole!

Let us seek to imitate Christ. We will likely fail at this again and again, but it is worth working at, because in showing compassion we get to give glory to God, which is our life’s mission. And when you fail, remember the grace of God that is greater than all your sins. It’s a piece of His compassion you get to know on a daily basis.

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The Gospel Greatness of Jesus’ Baptism

So I’m going to get a little theological here today, hope you guys don’t mind. But there’s something so fascinating about a typical Bible story that I hadn’t really noticed before, and it’s so awesome!

Baptism is a pretty hot topic in the church nowadays, with the debate between paedobaptists (infant baptism) and credobaptists (believer’s baptism) at an all-time high in recent years. Personally, I fall on the side of credobaptists, but that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m also not writing this to talk about whether or not you need to be baptized to be a Christ. Personally, I say no, but again, that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’ve been reading through the book of Matthew recently just trying to get a greater understanding of who Jesus is, what He said and how He lived. I’m planning on going through all the gospels with this mindset, which pumps me up because I feel like, for the first time in a long time, I’m learning about my Savior with an open heart and a ready spirit. Something only God can produce in me, for sure. But so cool!

As I was reading through the early chapters, particularly chapter 3, I came across the story of Jesus’ baptism. It’s a story I feel like I’ve heard a hundred times, seen many paintings, etc. It’s the starting point of Jesus’ ministry, so it’s an important event, but I hadn’t grasped how important it was until this last time I read through it. Verses 13-17, the whole story:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

I want to hone in on, obviously, the bolded words. They’re not bolded in the copy of the Bible I read them out of. But any time I read this story, I want to have those words be bolded in my mind.

What does it mean to fulfill all righteousness? It means to do everything possible to be called righteous. It’s “all” righteousness, not just “some” righteousness. In this case, we as humans will never “fulfill all righteousness.” We’re incapable because we’re sinful creatures with a still sinful heart and attitude. Are we growing out of that? Are we becoming more like Christ? Since we’re destined to be conformed to the image of Christ, we are, some quicker or slower than others.

In order to have a relationship with God, one must be seen as completely righteous in His sight. This is the reason why people in the Old Testament made sacrifices; the blood of the goats and bulls were the atonement for sin so that God would not abandon the Israelites. When Christ came, a new standard was set. The only way this new standard could be set is that there would have to be a new scapegoat. The blood of goats and bulls couldn’t do it anymore. Baptism-of-Christ

Jesus was the sacrifice. But in order for Him to be the perfect sacrifice, He had to be perfect. He had to do everything the right way. And being baptized was part of His submission and obedience to God. There is no specific Old Testament command to be baptized, but Jesus’ statement to John implies that it was an important act of righteousness. It was also a tradition in Hebrew culture to have some kind of water submersion to indicate repentance or religious cleansing.

But here’s the best part: because Jesus was baptized, we can be forgiven of our sins. His words indicate it: “Thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). It’s fitting that Christ would be baptized in order that all righteousness would be fulfilled in Him. If Jesus had not fulfilled all righteousness, these things would not be possible:

  • “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)
  • “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)
  • For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” (Hebrews 9:13-14)

Jesus’ baptism is super important because it directly contributes to the Gospel being true, to grace being applied to our hearts, to forgiveness flowing freely.

This is one of the most important theological things I’ve learned recently. It’s so simple but it’s also so incredibly powerful and life-changing.

The Poison That Is Unfair Expectation, Part Deux: I Will Never Be Perfect

In school, especially in middle school and the early part of high school, I was a decent student. So around the middle of my sophomore year or so, I began to relax a bit on the studying and the academic side of things. I thought, “I’ve got it.”

But my grades dipped. It never got out of hand where I was afraid of failing classes – except for once in college, never EVER take geology. But my lack of preparation led to not as good a grade as I probably was capable of. I put myself in a situation where I was not capable of getting straight As.

If you’re not capable of something, you shouldn’t expect yourself to do, especially perfectly. There’s very little you can actually “luck into” if you don’t prepare appropriately.

One of the most dangerous expectations we can have of ourselves is thinking that we will be perfect or do it all correctly. Mostly because it’s not even necessary.

Paul was someone who, at one point, thought he was perfect. His words in Phillippians 3:4b-6,

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal,a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Paul thought he had perfection. But what did he realize? Verses 7-8:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

His perfection he thought he had didn’t matter. All Paul needed was Christ and the assurance that he knew Christ. Christ was the only perfection he needed. Likewise, all we need is Christ. We don’t need to be perfect. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect or want ourselves to be perfect. Because that’s dangerous thinking.

We make expectations when we think we need something. And truth is, we don’t need to be perfect. All we need is to be reminded of Christ’s perfection, and we can expect that from Him because it never changes. I think it’s even dangerous to say, “I’m trying to be perfect,” because if we repeat that too often, we’ll believe that’s what it means to be a Christian. And it’s not.

Now, we should seek to be obedient and not use our imperfections as an excuse to just do whatever and not seek after pursuing Christ. But we shouldn’t be surprised when we screw up. It’s in our nature. We should just fall back on the beauty of the Gospel. The Gospel is there for when we do screw up.

It’s inevitable. We will screw up. That’s why the Gospel is so important, and must be the lens through which we see ourselves. And it should temper our expectations because we don’t need to expect perfection from ourselves.

To be honest with you, self-expectation is one of the most crippling things you can have. I’ve lived a long time with high expectations for myself. And it’s not a terrible thing unless it’s wrapped in the Gospel. For a long time, my high expectations of myself were not wrapped in the Gospel. I didn’t have grace as my backdrop. And that can lead you to a life filled with guilt and shame.

I’ll wrap with Christian rapper Braille’s verse from the song “Framed Stretch Marks” by Propaganda:

Yeah, the birth pains have changed
Stretched to the limits, stretched marks from giving birth
To the death of a cynic and cinematic
My emotions like motion pictures imagine
A world with no beauty in it, all I see is the negative
Undeveloped negatives, nothing worth framing in my frame of mind
It’s like an empty gallery with white painted walls
All the flaws are hidden, I just wanna adjust my focus
Cause all I ever noticed is the thorns on the roses
And it’s moments like this when my hope is misguided
And I’m looking for perfection in a place I can’t find it
My body bears the marks of missing the mark daily
The only hope I hold is knowing that my God will never fail me
Even though I fall short and that’s no tall tale
Now I drive my point home with that new car smell
I see beauty in the scars, like colors in a collage
The greatest love gave me life through His death on the cross.

The Poison That Is Unfair Expectation

One of the most dangerous things in a fallen world is high expectations.

Let me give an example.

I came into college expecting this: I’d be great friends for life with my freshman year roommate. I’d go on to win Academy Awards for a Christian film. People would think I’m awesome. I’d be the most spiritual person in my life. I’d be able to handle everything.

I left college knowing this: I haven’t talked to my freshman year roommate since graduation. Don’t think I’m going to win any Oscars. Some people think I’m a jerk. I’m most definitely not the most spiritual person in my life. Definitely not in the top 500. I can barely handle anything.

Some people handle unmet expectations fairly well. They know that their high expectations probably won’t get met, so when they don’t they just shrug it off and move on. But others (coughmecough) don’t. We get our minds set that something is going to be a certain way and then, BOOM, death when those things don’t happen.

Where do high expectations come from? Why do we get them? For some, it’s a result of a childhood where everything was easy and went right, so they expect nothing less. For others, it might be a defense mechanism against the deep-seeded fears they hold. For others, they hold themselves to such a high standard that they can’t help but do the same to others. It’s almost an automatic thing. There might be other reasons too.

But so often, high expectations are unfair and impossible to reach. Most notoriously in my high expectations of others. I expect people to be perfect and be exactly what I want them to be. So when people inevitably don’t measure up, I get frustrated and sometimes even bitter. That frustration and bitterness is the reason why expectations can be so poisonous.download

It’s like this picture on the right: a road that leads right into a wall of dirt. You expect there to be more road, but then all you get is a wall of dirt. In some ways, our unfairly high expectations might not seem unreasonable, but that’s not how things were designed. This road was clearly designed to go into a wall of dirt, but if you were driving and didn’t know that, you probably wouldn’t expect a dirt wall.

It’s not a bad thing to have some expectations. We expect our pastors to lead us to Jesus. We expect our parents to care for us. We expect our co-workers to work with us to get the project we’re working on completed in time. Those expectations are not bad. But when we take those expectations to the nth degree, where there is no limit to them, that’s dangerous.

I’ve been asking myself over the last few days: what is the solution to having abnormally high expectations of people? How do I fix this? Look no further than Jesus.

In Matthew 9, Jesus calls Matthew, the author of the book and a Jewish tax collector for the Roman government, to be a disciple. Matthew goes. Verses 10-13 follow that:

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when he heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no ned of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’

Jesus’ calling of sinners and tax collectors to Himself came with reasonable expectations, I think. He didn’t call them with this list of things they had to do or requirements they had to meet before they could be His disciples. The only thing that they had to be was called by Him. Nothing that He tells them to do later disqualifies them from being His. Even the Great Commission didn’t end with, “This you must do to be loved by Me.”

Expectation-is-the-root-of-all-heartacheThe Gospel kills the need for high expectations. Grace says we don’t have to be a certain way or do certain things to be accepted by God. Does this mean we are not expected to be living in obedience in response to grace? By no means! We are given instructions to follow so others know that we are Christians and so that we can present ourselves to God as workmen approved who have no need to be ashamed (2 Timothy 2:15). But we do not need to be afraid that we’re not living up to some high expectations God has of us. He knows our frame, He remembers we are dust!

In this way, we must put on the mind of Christ and, as Philippians 2:3 says, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” In humility, not in expectation, in a recognition of two things.

  • First, people are sinful and will constantly let you down. Kinda bleak, I know, but it’s the truth.
  • Second, we will likely never live up to the expectations that we have for others if they’re that high.

So we give grace. We seek to have the mind of Christ and love others regardless of their shortcomings, flaws and failures. He loves us in spite of our weaknesses. It’s my belief that Jesus doesn’t expect as much of us as we think He does. What does He desire? Mercy, not sacrifice. Consider loving others more significant than them fulfilling your high expectations. Loving others is more about them, while having unfairly high expectations is more about you getting what you want than actually caring for them.

For those of you, like me, who are currently struggling with unfairly high expectations of others, I’m praying for you. Know the grace of God and the grace of the Gospel. Be changed by it, then let it change how you view others. Let it change your mind. It’s got to be a heart change, then a mind change. It might be hard, but don’t quit!

The Consistency of Christ, My Favorite Attribute

Oftentimes in my life, I’ve used the phrase “consistently inconsistent” as the proverbial “story of my life.”

No, not that kind of story.

I feel like it’s a cool thing when somebody says a phrase or a sentence and you say back, “Dude, story of my life!” There’s a chuckle and a smile and then you continue on with the conversation.

The time it really struck me was during my freshman year of college. I was playing racquetball with a few friends. Now, the one thing you need to know about me athletically is that occasionally I’ll somehow pull off something incredible – a great catch in football, an unreal save in soccer or a pretty sweet racquetball hit. But the majority of the time, I can’t do the simple things. A ball right in my hands bounces off. I mis-kick a pretty simple pass right to an opponent. Or I just swing at the ball and hit nothing but air.

I made some kind of great play in racquetball against a friend of mine and he made that remark, that sometimes I’d do what seemed impossible but couldn’t do the simplest thing. I wasn’t offended. I just said, “I’m just consistently inconsistent…story of my life.” And it hit me: that wasn’t just something I said to make a joke. It’s true.

You could define my life by how inconsistent I am. Even within the span of a day, I can flip-flop on my thoughts on a number of things. Sometimes in the hour or so it takes me to write these blog posts, I change my mind on several pieces of it, wonder if I should even post it. Some people might chalk that up to normal doubts that everybody faces, but this is a big deal to me. It’s a consistent part of my life.

Yesterday, I was pondering a very important question: “Why do I follow Jesus?” I think it’s a question we often don’t have a good answer for, or we recycle some stock answer in which we may or may not have anything invested. Now there are people who use those “stock answers” and really mean them and really have experienced them, and I love it! Yet, it’s one of the most important questions you’ll ever have.

Kids go to college and the only reason they “follow Jesus” is because they were raised in church and it seems like it’s the “right thing” to do. But when they go to college and that foundation is shaken, there’s not much left. This is one of the main reasons why I love youth ministry; I want to help these kids have that foundation. Read more about that here.

If there’s no real foundational answer to the question “why,” you’ll get shaken by anything and everything against your faith that comes your way. And yesterday, after almost a year and a half of struggling with that question, I got my newest answer. I think there’s a sense where the “why” is different at different times of your life, but I had been questioning “why” many times over the last year and a half. I couldn’t come up with a concrete answer.

But yesterday, I got it! Here it is: the consistency of Christ. I’ll break it down a bit:

  • While I am woefully inconsistent in so many ways, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
  • While I am woefully inconsistent in defeating sin, Jesus by His grace always defeats sin. (Romans 5:20-21).
  • While I am woefully inconsistent in praying for others, Jesus is always interceding on my behalf before God (Hebrews 7:27).
  • While I am woefully inconsistent at living humbly, Jesus was always humble (Philippians 2:5-11).

Those are just some of the ways that Jesus is consistent. He says what He means and means what He says, and then He does it! I love it! It’s so awesome! And it teaches me a few things.

Jesus is so much holier than I am. This truth humbles me. I look at this and I see that I’m clearly not to the level that He’s at. His consistency is one of the marks that make Him God, and it’s a reminder that I just don’t measure up.

Jesus is not swayed by sin, people’s opinions or circumstances. He’s not swayed by sin because He doesn’t sin. He’s not swayed by people’s opinions because nobody can bring a charge against Him that would make Him wrong. He’s not swayed by circumstances, He controls circumstances.

Jesus’ consistency means I’m consistently savedIf His love and grace for me never changes, then I never have to fear about losing my salvation. His consistency on earth, the fact that He never sinned, means that I have a claim to righteousness – His, not mine.

So often in Christianity, we talk about wanting to be “consistent” in our walks with Christ. We want to have a consistent prayer time, a consistent Bible study routine, consistently be growing. And all those things are desirable and awesome. But wouldn’t we be better off if we also thought more and talked more about how Jesus was consistent? Because it means our salvation.

Lamp-Lighters

Whenever I watch a horror/scary movie, which is not very often, some of the scarier moments come whenever a character is somewhere dark and they just happen to have matches on them.

You might know what’s coming.

They fumble around in the dark, maybe don’t strike it right the first or second time, but eventually they get it. There’s a sigh of relief. But then the camera pans up, and the monster/serial killer/creature is right behind the soon-to-be victim. The victim looks to the light as their salvation, but they end up getting eaten/killed/freaked out anyways.

One of the more fascinating concepts in Christianity I’ve come across in my 22 years on earth is the idea that following Jesus is like walking towards a light in a dark room. The closer you get to the light, the more you see of yourself. I buy that. The more you see of God, the more you see how terribly you compare and how much you need saving.

But there’s another way in which God is the light. Psalm 18:

[25] With the merciful you show yourself merciful; with the blameless man you show yourself blameless; [26] with the purified you show yourself pure; and with the crooked you make yourself seem tortuous. [27] For you save a humble people, but the haughty eyes you bring down. [28] For it is you who light my lamp; the LORD my God lightens my darkness. [29] For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. [30] This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.

We all are carrying around lamps by which we hope to see through the darkness that is the world around us and the path before us. We try to light our lamps with whatever we have in our possession. But oftentimes the light doesn’t last too long. It’s a flicker, and then it’s gone. Those things are things like relationships, jobs, money, sex, food, etc. In and of themselves, those things are not bad and can even be good things that push us towards loving God more. But they are terrible lamp-lighters.

Only God can light the lamp, and that light will last as long as we let it. We may put it out from time and try to light the lamp with something else. I’m guilty of letting things like approval of man, selfish gain and relationships be things that I try to light my lamp with, things by which I try to see the world and the path in front of me, even myself.

But one of the many awesome parts about the Gospel is that, when we realize that what we light our lamps with is lacking or it goes out, God is still there saying, “Hey, light your lamp with Me.” He is the light that never goes out on its own. For this God, His way is perfect. Every word He speaks proves true.

Let God light your lamp. Let His Word be the guiding principle with which you make decisions. Let His people be the friends you lean on in hard times. Let His providence help you see where He’s leading you. Let Him lend you the strength to leap over walls and run against troops.

Jesus tells us we must be lights on a hill. There was no electricity back then, so it was all candles. What must happen for a candle to be lit? Another source of light had to be created.

Find the source for the light you shine in the light of who God is and who He’s promised us He’ll be. Whatever that looks like for you and for me, we must not give up seeking to light our lamps with the Light.

And remember: if you’ve been lighting your lamp with the wrong thing, God gives you grace, more than enough grace to try again, and He doesn’t hold it against you that you lit the lamp with something else. He loves you.

My 30 Favorite Music Albums of All-Time, and One Reason Why You Should Listen to Each of Them

The other day, I did an NCAA Tournament-style bracket to determine my favorite music album of all-time. The seedings were totally objective – there was no science or formula used to pick who went where. For the full bracket (Google Doc), click here.

I then went on to list the top 30 albums in order. Check it out here on the right.Screen Shot 2015-03-16 at 12.03.20 PM

I want to share these 30 albums with you because they’re albums that have 1) helped shape me or 2) brought me great enjoyment over my 22-plus years of life. I’m also going to give you one reason why you should listen to each of them all the way through. You can take it or leave it. I will say, you learn a lot about what kind of music you really love when you are forced to pick between two so totally different albums such as Shai Linne’s The Attributes of God and Relient K’s MMHMM: Which would you rather listen to all the way through? Are there any songs on either album you’d rather not hear?

Another thing: I ranked this taking into consideration my whole life, not just how I feel right now. Of the top 5 albums, I found two of them in high school or before and three in college. Of the whole list, 14 were high school or before and are on this list because of that.


My list.

1. Jess Ray & The Rag Tag Army – Jess Ray: You should listen to it because it’s worship at its rawest and realest, something that’s rare these days. Those of you who love Jesus will not regret buying this.

2. Cosmos – The Send: You should listen to it because it’s everything one could love in singer/songwriter-type music that also glorifies God.

3. School of Roses – Christon Gray: You should listen to it because it’s Justin Timberlake meets following Jesus, discussing relationships, romance and real-world issues while trying to stay pure over sick R&B beats.

4. MMHMM – Relient K: You should listen to it because it’s piano pop-punk rock at its finest, a crowning achievement of music.

5. Instruments of Mercy – Beautiful Eulogy: You should listen to it because it’s the gospel in every line, a tour de force of theology applied.

6. Weights & Wings – Matt Wertz: You should listen to it because it’s singer/songwriter with one of the best voices and greatest pens I’ve ever heard.

7. Forget and Not Slow Down – Relient K: You should listen to it because it takes you on an emotional journey through a devastated relationship that you might be able to relate to on some level.

8. Rebel – Lecrae: You should listen to it because you don’t want to waste your life.

9. The Attributes of God – Shai Linne: You should listen to it because you’ll learn the basics of who God is in less than an hour.

10. The Good Life – Trip Lee: You should listen to it because it hits everything a rap album should: production, lyrics, features, topics, everything.

11. 808s & Heartbreak – Kanye West: You should listen to it because it’s an emotional tour de force of AutoTune and honesty you don’t see from guys in Ye’s circle.

12. Business Up Front/Party in the Back – Family Force 5: You should listen to it because you’ll have more fun listening to music than you’ve had in a long time.

13. Five Score and Seven Years Ago – Relient K: You should listen to it because you’ll get to experience a mature kind of pop-punk piano rock that still knows when to loosen up a bit.

14. Bring Your Nothing – Shane & Shane: You should listen to it because it has some great worship tracks, including one of my all-time favorites “Faith to Believe,” and emphasizes the lack we have and the fullness God provides.

15. Critically Ashamed – FM Static: You should listen to it because I had this thing on repeat throughout high school because it was awesome.

16. ATLast – Alex Faith: You should listen to it because it’s a refreshing mix of honesty and unique production of which there’s little parallel in Christian hip-hop.

17. Heroes for Sale – Andy Mineo: You should listen to it because, like ATLast, its honesty drips through every song, and it’s a heckuva lot of fun too.

18. Anomaly – Lecrae: You should listen to it because it’s a mature mix of rap that challenges you and also encourages you to pursue Jesus more.

19. Sound of Melodies – Leeland: You should listen to it because I discovered this around the same time I found Cosmos and it has a similar vibe, but in the worship genre.

20. Rehab – Lecrae: You should listen to it because tracks like “Just Like You” and “Background” cut through the surface and hit reality.

21. The Walking In Between – Ben Rector: You should listen to it because Ben Rector is just so darn good at what he does.

22. The Altar & The Door – Casting Crowns: You should listen to it because Casting Crowns knows how to craft a worship song that’s more than a worship song, it’s a story and a challenge and a worship song all wrapped in one.

23. The Anatomy of the Tongue in Cheek – Relient K: You should listen to it because it’s Relient K at their goofy best, with hints of a worshipful, serious, Christian heart sprinkled throughout.

24. Love & War & The Sea In Between – Josh Garrels: You should listen to it because you’ll love driving to it in the mountains or at night, and it will bring you calm throughout your day.

25. Mali Is… – Mali Music: You should listen to it because the guy who sings the hook on Lecrae’s “Tell the World” has the best voice for soulful, positive R&B.

26. Weight & Glory – KB: You should listen to it because there aren’t many better debut albums out there when it comes to young Christian hip-hop artists. Only ones I’d say are better are Nos. 16 and 17.

27. Pages – Shane & Shane: You should listen to it because, like entry No. 14 on this list, these guys know how to do worship. Plus, their version of “Before the Throne of God Above” is the best out there.

28. Smile, It’s the End of the World – Hawk Nelson: You should listen to it because the opening track’s guitar licks are sweet and so is the rest of the album.

29. Closer – Shawn McDonald: You should listen to it because it’s a personal reflection on life you’ll love driving to when you need to be a little more sedated.

30. Sinema – Swoope: You should listen to it because it’s a movie on a CD.

The Worst Kind of False Teacher

I was reading in Matthew 7 this morning and ran across Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount on false prophets. Verses 15-20:

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Instantly, my mind went to people we in the evangelical subculture love to label as false teachers: Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, etc. And, to be fair, sometimes those guys, whether intentionally or unintentionally, paint themselves as such. One of the big items in the news recently was Creflo Dollar asking his flock for $65 million to buy a new plane, a fundraiser that was recently halted after backlash over the idea. Some people just can’t help themselves, can they?

Oh, I would know. Because often in my own life, I am the worst kind of false teacher I could ever listen to.

A King Knows The Best Way, Right?

2 Chronicles 14-16 is one of my favorite Bible stories because it shows me just how weak I am, just how little I know how to handle situations that come my way. It tells the story of King Asa of Judah, a king who initially is all about serving the Lord. His army of 580,000 dudes came up against an Ethiopian force of a million men, and Asa got the victory. How? He sought God to give him the victory.

His life was marked by submission to God, destruction of idols, leading the people to worship the Lord. He even kicked his mom out of being queen mother because she built a false idol! Asa was all about cleaning up the streets and leading people to worship God.

Then chapter 16 comes around. The king of Israel leads an army to build a city to make sure nothing could come in or out of Judah. Insurmountable odds? Maybe, maybe not. But not nearly as difficult, at least in my limited understanding, as defeating a million men in war with a significantly smaller force. But what does Asa do? He goes to Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. Syria and Judah have NEVER got along. Asa says to Ben-hadad, “There is a covenant between me and you, as there was between my father and your father. Behold, I am sending to you silver and gold. Go, break your covenant with Baasha king of Israel, that he may withdraw from me” (v. 3).

Ben-hadad broke the covenant, attacking Israeli cities, which distracted Baasha to stop building the city, which ended the threat against Judah. Done deal! Judah is safe, all is well, King Asa once again saves his people from being defeated by their enemies.

But wait. A seer named Hanani comes to Asa and tells him off. Verses 7-9:

7 At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him, “Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.”

Asa is chastised for his lack of reliance on God and his full weight of reliance on his enemy, the king of Syria. But one might argue: things got done! The task was accomplished! But was it really? The end result, as Hanani said, was wars that lasted throughout the rest of Asa’s reign.

What happened here? Asa trusted himself and his own decision-making over God, and in that, he was the worst kind of false teacher.

We Lead Ourselves Astray

It’s so easy for us to pick on the false teachers of our day, whether it’s those that are straight-up heretics or those that get one or two non-salvation things wrong. Joel Osteen, for instance, believes that salvation comes when you place your faith in Jesus.

But here’s where I got stuck this morning. How often do I lead myself astray? How often do I tell myself that I have the right way figured out and that I don’t need God to tell me what to do? I mean, that’s what I do every time I sin. I say God’s way is not good enough for me and that I’ve got it figured out.

When I sin, I act just like Asa: I expect my enemy (sin) to take care of needs. And perhaps it does, for a moment. But that action of sin displeases God because I’m not trusting God in that moment. God is there for me to lean on, but I tell myself that I don’t need him. In that way, I am exactly as Jesus describes in Matthew 7, walking around in sheep’s clothing but actually a ravenous wolf ready to devour any kind of consistent obedience I’ve built up. I am the worst kind of false teacher. I teach myself falsehoods every day.

Why do I listen to myself in those moments? Because I think I’ve got it all figured out. I think I know how to solve the problems that present themselves before me. I think I know what to do. I think I’m capable, when in reality I am far less capable than anyone. In those moments, I need the God of grace whose eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose hearts are blameless before Him.

And this is where the Gospel comes in. The only way my heart is blameless before God is because Jesus died on the cross, because He was not swayed by false teaching while He was on earth, because He did everything He was supposed to, because He fulfilled the law. He was perfectly obedient so I didn’t have to be. I have the opportunity to be forgiven for every time I choose myself over God because Jesus chose God every time.

I am the worst kind of false teacher.

Can I be honest with you? So are you.

Who Am I?

Who am I?

This is the most fundamental of questions I can ask myself because the answer to it tells me so much about my identity, my purpose and my destiny.

And I’m not talking about my age, job, race, gender, etc. I’m talking about things that are eternal. Not defined by any genetic trait or man-given responsibility.

My identity: child of God, co-heir with Christ, beloved by God, brother to my fellow believers, forgiven of all sin past, present and future.

My purpose: make disciples, give glory in all things to God, follow God’s commands, live by grace.

My destiny: perfect sanctification, eternity with Christ.

It seems to me, however, that I disqualify myself from all of that every day. Why?

I sin. I disobey. Deliberately. I ignore the roadblocks to sin that God has put in my life and, like King Asa in 2 Chronicles 16, choose the one who is my enemy to give me peace and victory.

It may, for a minute, give me that “peace” and “victory.” However, it is short-lived, as the conviction of the Holy Spirit, acting like the seer Hanani, reminds me that God is looking out for me always. When I ignore Him, I am shunning His help.

I could respond as Asa, mocking the Holy Spirit, saying, “You are of no help to me. Go away!” But, by God’s grace, hopefully every time, I respond, as the tax collector Jesus spoke of in Luke 18, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

And only in that response is my already-earned justification proved! It is not a response I make on my own. It is a response that the Holy Spirit plucks out of the depths of my sinful ignorance and brings to the light as a repeated phrase.

But the guilt still weighs down! The guilt is heavy, Lord! What must I do in this moment of grief?

I remember my identity. Who am I?

Child of God. Called to make disciples. Forgiven of all sins, past, present and future. Destined for heaven. Regardless of what I do. Regardless of how many times I fail.

Why? Because it’s not an identity I gave myself. It comes from God, and therefore only God can change it. I can’t change it. You can’t change it. The world can’t change it.

So with the answer to that question, I’m left with one query.

Who are you?

Would You Rather Have a Grim Truth or Pleasant Deception?

I was sitting in my office yesterday, probably reading something on Twitter, when I turned to my right and saw that my blinds were closed. I’m fortunate enough to have an office that has a window. It’s great.

But today, I opened the blinds. I hadn’t opened them for a while. I guess looking outside didn’t do me much good before. But I figured I’d give it another shot.

I looked outside, and at first it wasn’t too bad. A little dreary, but not too bad. An hour later, rain was drizzling on my window, and it looked pretty bad outside. Why did I even open the window?

I thought having my blinds open in my office would let more light in and brighten up my day. Instead, all it is doing is reminding me how dreary it really is outside. I don’t know which I prefer: the pleasant deception or the grim truth.

I like to look at things as better than they actually are. Let’s be real: it’s just rosier and it makes me feel good inside.

It’s so much easier to look at the pleasant deceptions.

I want to look at my favorite sports team – Arsenal, a Premier League soccer team who is known for its incredible talent yet struggles to fulfill expectations – and think they’ve finally got a chance to win the league title this year.

I want to look at the state of the church and think we’ve got it all figured out.

I want to look at my country which I love and think we’ll make all the right decisions in how we handle conflicts at home and abroad.

I want to look at my family and think all disturbances will be resolved and love will reign supreme all the time.

I want to look at myself and think I’m generally a pretty good guy who makes mistakes every once in a while.

However, there are a few grim truths that I’m dying to avoid.

I look at Arsenal and realize that other teams in the league are just better and our players can’t stay healthy long enough to win a title.

I look at the church and realize that we’re an imperfect vessel that will always fall short of being a perfect vessel worthy of God’s service.

I look at my country and realize that there’s a bunch of imperfect people running it who will not always make the best decisions for me and my countrymen.

I look at my family and realize that there’s brokenness and sin that tears us apart at times.

I look at myself and realize that I’m a man who has fallen short of the glory of God over and over again.

There’s a real freedom in acknowledging the grim truths. It’s in the grim truths where the grace of God is found. Especially when I look at myself and see all the grim truths about me. I sin. I fall short. I’m never going to be enough for God on my own.

But in facing that grim truth, I see the grace of God, which is most definitely not a pleasant deception. A grim deception keeps me away from the pleasant truth that is the overwhelming, unfading, eternal, never-ending, grace of God, given through Christ.

And it’s a grace born out of love that will never end. And one day, all those issues will no longer be on my plate. EVER.

And, like Roman Reigns says, you can BELIEVE THAT.