He is Always Abba, Father

Fellow travelers,

Just before being betrayed by Judas and arrested, Jesus sought some solitude in the garden of Gethsemane, where “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.  And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’” (Mark 14:35-36). Jesus knew He was soon to die.

Donald McKim notes that “In Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke, Abba is the word for ‘Father.’ It is a term that expresses the closest and deepest intimacy of the relationship of parent and child.”[1]  Jesus knew this intimacy even on the way to the cross.

McKim also quotes Philip Melanchthon, who said: “’Abba, Father’. By this he taught us that these two things are required in prayer, namely, the ardent affection of the mind and the faithful trust of children toward God: these two words testify that both of these aspects were present in Christ.”

The Father loves us always, even on our most difficult days.  Trust Him in prayer today.


[1] McKim, Donald K.  Everyday Prayer with the Reformers (2020).  P. 73.

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You – Blessed are the Meek #5

Since it’s been nearly 3 months since the last post on the topic, here’s a review of the series on meekness[1] so far.  The first two posts contrasted two characters from the movie The Matrix, Agent Smith and Neo, to Jesus.  Agent Smith was the “Malevolent Incarnation,” who used and enforced rules to keep people in their place.  Smith can’t stand the stink of humanity and just wants to be free of it.  Neo, the hero of the Matrix series, is the “Ambivalent Incarnation” who wants to free mankind from rules, but otherwise wants to let them be as they are.  However, under Neo’s no-rules philosophy of “everyone should do what they want,” there is no foundation from which to object to anything someone else does, including brutal oppression.  Any objection is also an objection to the same philosophy Neo claims to hold, and “no city or house divided against itself will stand.”[2]

Jesus, contrasted to these, is the “Benevolent Incarnation.”  Jesus is more aware of the problems that make Agent Smith repulsed by us and that make him want to control us, but He also does not leave us alone with no way to overcome our problems.  He rules us for our good, and because we cannot meet His perfect standard, He lived it in our place, then died to cover the cost of our failure.  He wants to fix our stink, not because He hates us as Agent Smith does, but because He loves us in spite of our stink.  He refuses to allow us to stink forever, as Neo would.  He is benevolent, not malevolent or ambivalent.

Meekness is the third step in the Beatitudes, an intentionally sequential series of statements that describe what’s involved in following God, like gears in a machine: “First, being poor in spirit means that we have emptied ourselves of all illusions that our plans are better than God’s.  Second, mourning the state of ourselves and our world means we are emotionally engaged.  That we care.  In the third Beatitude, being meek is where we begin to engage our will, submitting it to God as our benevolent Lord.”

He wants us to also be benevolent incarnations, however we often don’t want to engage the third gear of meekness, where “the rubber meets the road” so to speak.  But if we don’t embrace it “the first two Beatitudes alone can leave us in a place where we’re a mess and the world is a terrible place and there’s nothing we can do about any of it.  It can be a place of depression and despair.”

Martha almost found herself stuck in this place when Jesus returned to Bethany after the death of Lazarus, her brother.  Jesus found the family mourning, then: “Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days.”  (John 11:39).  Jesus intended to raise Lazarus from the dead, but for Martha the stink was all she could think of.  Patently, Jesus encouraged her, the stone covering the entrance to the tomb was moved, and Lazarus walked out of the grave alive!

Don’t Let the Stink Stop You
Does the stench of sin keep us from being meek?  Do we, like Agent Smith, just want people to behave so we can go about our way?  Or does our obedience come first?  Jesus wants us to live as He lived, but we only can if we accept His righteousness and become invested in it at all levels of our being.  If we are truly poor in spirit and mourn our sin, what’s stopping us?

God won’t tell us to move the stone from Lazarus’ grave – that was Martha’s task. It also was not Jesus’ task.  We don’t do what Jesus would do, but what He would have us do.  He could have moved the stone Himself, but He wanted Martha to participate in His work, but to do that she had to be willing to be uncomfortable.

We all are often in Martha’s place, struggling with what Jesus wants us to do.  He asks us to do things that don’t make sense to us, that don’t make sense to the world, and sometimes it stinks (sometimes literally).  Jesus wants to bring His people to life, as He did with Lazarus, but there may be a stone He wants you to move, and it will only move if you have faith in Him stronger than the stink involved.

Meekness is the Cross
Meekness means carrying the cross the Father assigns to us.  For Jesus it was taking on all the sin of the world, not just by His death on a literal cross, but also by proactively taking on the consequences of it for the benefit of others.  We stink but He did not leave us alone.  For us, carrying the cross involves taking on some of the stink of the world, stepping into the suffering of others and offering the life that only Jesus can give.  What an amazing contrast this is to what’s so common today: pointing out sin everywhere and demanding those “other sinners” pay the price, or demanding that government solve the problem somehow, or withdrawing from problems that seem too big to do anything about.

Is there a stinky situation you’re aware of, but avoiding?  Being meek toward Jesus means we’re on board with His plan of salvation and willing to do our part, whatever that is.  Sometimes all that’s needed to bring someone life is moving a stone and enduring the odor.  While the smell was enough for Martha to hesitate, to Jesus it was part of the cost of living and dying for us.  He was willing to bear it, and if we meekly move the stone, Jesus will do the rest.


Post Script
Sometimes I put off writing thinking the time is better spent on the people and situations right in front of me.  Is hiding behind a screen and keyboard just an avoidance tactic?  At other times I know that each person’s meekness includes a response to their own calling and use of their specific gifts: “if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching.” (Romans 12:7). Meekness is difficult, and I pray we all find better balance as we grow in Christ.  Do the things God calls you to, even if it stinks sometimes!


[1] If you have the time, the previous posts are here: [1], [2], [3], and [4].  But I’ll summarize here as best I can.
[2] Matthew 12:25

The Cross of Christ is History

Christians rightly focus on the historical fact of the life, death, and resurrection as the foundation of their faith.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:14 – “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.”  For Christianity to matter, these things must have actually happened.  Therefore, a lot has been written providing evidence that these events happened, and that Christian faith is not based on speculation, but on solid history.

Today I’m going to take a different angle on the significance of the “historical” part of “historical fact.”  This post is about the more straight-forward meaning that these events happened in the past.

Why This Matters
Because Christ lived in the past, the life of righteousness He lived for us, and that we inherit through faith, is unchangeable.  There is no other life that could be lived, or will be lived, that could be better or achieve more than what God intended it to achieve.  Perfection is assured because it already happened.  He has not fallen short.

Because Christ died on the cross in the past, He did it in consideration of every past, present, and future sin of His people.  Nothing you, or I, or any of His people have done, are doing now, or will do in the future, can undo the cross, because it has already happened.  He will not change His mind, and He will stand by those who have faith in Him.

Because Christ was resurrected in the past, He has proven that death cannot hold Him and that He will raise His people to new life as well.  He is alive now, and aware of everything happening not only in the global 24/7 news cycle, but also in the hearts and minds of every man.  The same power that raised Him works in His people, telling them through His Spirit that there is no better plan than the cross to create a world where man perfectly loves God and loves his fellow man.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 6:5-11

In a world full of pain and despair, “Preach the gospel at all times. And if necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi

His Story Needs No Revision

Journalism, particularly newspaper journalism, is sometimes referred to as “the first rough draft of history.”  This phrase is usually attributed to Philip Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post.  It’s a useful phrase because it is flattering to journalists to know that their work is important and meaningful, but also a reminder that their work is inherently imperfect and in need of later revision.  Particularly under deadline pressure, it is impossible to know all the relevant facts and potential angles of any story.  Unavoidable and expedient choices and compromises must be made.  The saying came to mind when I recently read Psalm 33:10-11, which says:

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
            he frustrates the plans of the peoples.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
            the plans of his heart to all generations.

As I’ve written before, total objectivity is “theoretically impossible for anyone but God Himself.”  The best any news reporting can do is cover a tiny piece of what happens in the world, screening it using whatever judgment they decide to use, and applying imperfect ethical standards.  As I’ve also written, “The dots of the pointillistic narrative are never the full picture and sometimes aren’t the right color.”  Thus is the “counsel of the nations” – incomplete by necessity, biased by choice, and morally imperfect by nature.

In contrast, what God says is true is always true, unlike the 24/7 news cycle where truth is constantly under revision.  The “counsel of the LORD” contains everything we need to know about His plans, is designed by His choice to benefit those He loves, and morally perfect because His nature is holy.  If better counsel existed, He would know about it.  His counsel reliably informs us about how He wants us to view the events of the world, rather than the other way around.  His plans frustrate and overcome the “plans of the peoples”, rather than the other way around.

When Jesus said on the cross that “it is finished,”[1] His payment for our sins was complete.  He lived a perfect life in our place, so that He could be a perfect sacrifice and atone for all the sins of His people in all times and all places.  This was not a rough first draft, but the flawless consummation of God’s plan for salvation “to all generations.”  Jesus made no flawed choices for the sake of expedience, and His work can be trusted at all times.  Whatever you see in the news today, the Good News of the kingdom of heaven is more important, more trustworthy, and provides comfort for your soul.

His Story is the first draft, but it is also the only draft because none other is needed.  His Story needs no revision.

Therefore:
Our soul waits for the LORD;
            he is our help and our shield.
For our heart is glad in him,
            because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
            even as we hope in you.” – Psalm 33:20-22


[1] John 19:30

When Bad Things Happen to the Greatest Disciples

Did Jesus fail John the Baptist?  John was identified as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’”[1] prophesied by Isaiah.  John publicly announced the coming of Jesus, and soon baptized Him, then watched the Spirit descend on Him like a dove and heard the voice of the Father declare Jesus as the Son.[2]  Was testifying publicly about Jesus and His miracles John’s mission in life?  If so, why did John find himself in prison, unable to preach in the open?  As Matthew’s Gospel records, Herod Antipas, the Roman ruler of Galilee and Perea, had John arrested for criticizing Herod’s immoral relationship with his brother’s wife.[3]  While under arrest, John began to have some doubts about Jesus and sent messengers to Him, saying “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?[4]  To John, his circumstances didn’t make sense and he reached out to Jesus for an explanation.

Matthew, in preparing his gospel message, intentionally placed this question from John to Jesus after a long section about followers of Jesus meeting opposition and persecution in the world. If you have time, read Matthew chapters 10 and 11 now, or keep reading here and I’ll quote key verses and ideas as we go, starting with these:

A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.” – Matthew 10:24
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” – Matthew 11:11

I think Matthew was making several points, starting with this: living like Jesus does not mean Christians will avoid uncomfortable circumstances, including criticism and/or persecution.  Circumstances are not always a sign we’ve done something right or wrong. In Matthew 10, when Jesus said “a disciple is not above his teacher” the context tells us that what He meant was that His perfect life and obedience led to the cross, and if we are like Him we can’t expect to be treated better than He was.  Still, we may be tempted to think that if we live the right life, if we preach the truth of the gospel perfectly, if we do everything we should, then we will not be like “sheep in the midst of wolves,”[5] but loved and admired by the world.  By moving right to the story of John in the next chapter, and saying “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist,”  Matthew is saying that not even the greatest disciple of Jesus who ever lived was exempt from the warnings of chapter 10, including “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you sin their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.” – Matthew 10:17-18

Even the very best lives and preaching meet opposition, perhaps even more opposition from those who have no interest in the kingdom of God.

Second, by placing these stories side-by-side, Matthew shows that John the Baptist is an example for us when we have doubts[6].  In prison, John had doubts, but did not give up on Jesus.  If Jesus was who he said He was, then not only the warnings of chapter 10 apply to John and us, but also the assurances and instructions:

When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.” – Matthew 10:19
What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops” – Matthew 10:27
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.  So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” – Matthew 10:31

John sent disciples to Jesus not to ask for rescue or to complain, but to confirm whether He really was the Messiah.  When we have doubts, we can also seek and find comfort.

Third, there is always more God is doing than we are aware of.  Instead of commenting directly on John’s prison situation to John’s messengers, “Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.[7]  In other words, Jesus was doing everything the Messiah should be doing, and even with John sidelined from public ministry, the kingdom of God was advancing spectacularly.  John had the information needed to believe and should not be “offended” by his unexpected circumstances. God remained in control of the situation.

Lastly, the circumstances of our lives may be what inspire others to better follow Christ, although it may be invisible to us.  Therefore, our patience and faithfulness in those times, or even the way we express and deal with doubt, can be a powerful witness.  As “The voice of one crying in the wilderness,” John saw his audience as those coming out to see Him and be baptized.  From this perspective, being in prison made John feel useless or like a failure to his calling. What had he and/or Jesus done wrong?  But God (see related post on these two words), through Matthew’s Gospel, saw John’s audience as all future generations, who could be encouraged that even the “great” John the Baptist faced criticism, persecution, and even doubt.  John may have thought his purpose was to keep preaching publicly, but instead his example benefits other believers in ways that his freedom couldn’t.

Faith Over Circumstance
Don’t let circumstances determine your faith and willingness to serve Christ.  In Matthew 10, Jesus said political and religious leaders, and even our own families, will resist Christ in us.  Often, they will appear to succeed.  Also, some will tell us that when things aren’t going our way, we need to “have more faith”, “pray harder”, “go to church more”, and convince God to improve our situation.  They argue we need to fix something we’re doing and our circumstances will improve.  But this is not the message of John’s story, and Matthew made sure of that by the way he wrote it.  There is no record of Jesus or Matthew telling John the Baptist why he was suffering and in prison, or that he could do anything about it.  Jesus only asked him to trust.  However, when John was ultimately beheaded[8], he met Jesus face-to face again, but fully glorified, and I believe John understood.  There is always more to our circumstances than we can see or comprehend, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”[9]

If even John the Baptist was not exempt from the warnings of Matthew 10, neither are we.  But also, if John could trust his Lord and Savior to love and provide for him, we can too. Odds are that nobody reading this will face what John the Baptist faced, but his story helps in whatever circumstance God asks us to glorify Him in.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”” – Matthew 10:38-39, 42


[1] Isaiah 40:3, quoted in Matthew 4:3.
[2] Matthew 3:16-17
[3] Matthew 14:3
[4] Matthew 11:3
[5] Matthew 10:16
[6] Also, I recently posted an example from the life of Jeremiah the prophet.
[7] Matthew 11:4-6
[8] Matthew 14:10
[9] Romans 8:28