I often walk in the trees. It helps me to reflect on what I'm rooted in. As I see the deep roots of the trees, I ask, "Who are you God, and who am I in light of who you are? Am I rooted in what matters to you or am I rooted in what matters to me?" And that's the big question for all of us. That's the question we're exploring via Proverbs 11–12 in this week's Jesus' Economy Podcast episode, "Be Rooted Like a Tree of Life."
In this sermon, I examine Proverbs 11–12 to show that God calls us to be rooted like a tree of life. That rootedness changes our lives and our communities. Some key verses from these chapters are:
"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. ... In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality" (Proverbs 11:30; 12:38).
That's a powerful thought. Jesus also talked about trees as a metaphor for growing in faith, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches" (Matthew 13:31–32).
The person who accepts the kingdom of heaven, God's wisdom and Jesus' message, not only finds life but becomes a person who offers life. This leads me back to that question I ask among the trees, "Who are you God, and who am I light of who you are? Am I rooted, O God, in what matters to you, or in what matters to me?" Reflect on that today.
What better way to transform our lives in 2020 than by God's wisdom? This podcast episode is a segment of the 16-part series, "Wisdom is a Choice." In this series, we are examining every chapter of the ultimate wisdom book, Proverbs. (Today's sermon was originally delivered on September 8, 2019 at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA.)
Enjoy this talk? Check out my new book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With simple, everyday choices you can make the world a better place. Learn how to live Jesus' economy, the currency of love.
What better way to transform our lives in 2020 than by God's wisdom? In this 16-part podcast series titled "Wisdom is a Choice," we are examining every chapter of the ultimate wisdom book, Proverbs. In our fifth podcast episode in the new series, we examine Proverbs 9–10. Behind these chapters is the big question, "Why fear God?" Some key verses from these chapters are:
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. ... The fear of the Lord adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short. The prospect of the righteous is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing" (Proverbs 9:10–11; 10:27–28 NIV).
Why do we fear God? To answer this question imagine this: A long time ago, in a place not that different than our own, there were two women. These two women held opposite beliefs. Their convictions ran deep. Each woman did what she could to call the inhabitants of that place to follow her. One woman was named Wisdom; the other, Folly. Wisdom and Folly dueled for followers, day in and day out. They each claimed they could bring joy. They each spoke of the fears in life. Proverbs 9–10 is how they speak. This is their story, as told by God.
What better way to transform our lives in 2020 than by God's wisdom? In this 16-part podcast series titled "Wisdom is a Choice," we are examining every chapter of the ultimate wisdom book, Proverbs. In our fourth podcast episode in the new series, we examine Proverbs 7–8. Some key verses from these chapters are:
"I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence; I possess knowledge and discretion. ... Counsel and sound judgment are mine; I have insight, I have power. ... I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity. My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver" (Proverbs 8:12, 14, 17–19 NIV).
The prevailing view of our culture is that wealth equals wisdom. There are few things that are further from the truth. Furthermore, pursuing our own desires will not bring us happiness. There are things far more valuable. The most valuable thing of all, the currency that we should seek, is God's wisdom.
It seems that learning the art of vulnerability is now a movement, thanks to people like Brené Brown and her incredible TED Talk, "The Power of Vulnerability." What if we embraced the power of vulnerability in not just our relationships, but also in our prayer lives? That's a concept that I think could transform our entire year, and potentially, our entire lives.
It’s hard to ask other people to pray for you. But asking for prayer is an opportunity to admit that you can’t do it all on your own—that you need Jesus and other people. Paul the apostle set this example for us.
In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul the apostle offers this short, but telling, remark:
“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may progress and be honored, just as also it was with you, and that we may be delivered from evil and wicked people, for not all have the faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:1–2 LEB).
After offering his prayers for the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 1:3–4, 11–12), Paul asks that the Thessalonians pray for him. Paul’s motive is simple: he desires to proclaim the saving message of Christ. Paul makes himself vulnerable because the gospel going forth requires him to do so.
Paul and his colleagues established the church at Thessalonica (Acts 17:1–9). So the Thessalonian Christians well understood the value of Paul’s words. If Paul was given an opportunity to speak the word of the Lord, amazing things could happen. Paul’s request is rooted in the reality of his struggles—people opposing him because he represents Jesus.
Likewise, the Thessalonian Christians experienced this opposition first hand, when Paul and his colleagues were in Thessalonica. Thus, when Paul asks for prayer in light of the “wicked people,” the Thessalonian Christians understand what he means. Paul is concerned about persecution from those who do not believe in Jesus. Thus, Paul's request has in mind the context of an urgent need. Urgent, vulnerable prayer is required to overcome these difficulties.
We need to pray for one another regularly—especially in the context of the gospel going forward. It’s good that we ask for prayer. When we request prayer, we make ourselves vulnerable in front of other Christians. And the vulnerability before other Christians is also an admission of vulnerability before God. Collectively, we are asking for God’s intercession and grace. We are inviting God into our circumstances.
Paul’s context is not so different from that of many Christians around the world. We need to pray for those who are regularly experiencing persecution for the sake of the gospel. We do not need to fear; instead, we must trust that God will see through his work. We must petition him to work on our behalf. We must admit that, as frail people, we need divine help.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself, as you embrace vulnerable prayer in 2020:
Being vulnerable in our prayer lives is transformative. Being vulnerable means bringing our very deepest emotions and needs before God. And in being vulnerable during times of group and partner prayer, we can invite God to speak to us as a community, to intercede in our frail and fragile lives. We can also invite other people to walk alongside us in our deepest needs. Our world needs vulnerable prayer.
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*This post is adapted from my earlier article, "Be Vulnerable When Asking for Prayer."
What better way to start 2020 than by marking our lives by God's wisdom? Our number one most-popular Jesus' Economy Podcast episode of 2019 was "How Do I Obtain Wisdom?," a sermon on Proverbs 1–2. This episode is now the launching point for a 16-part series titled "Wisdom is a Choice." We will be covering every chapter of the ultimate wisdom book, Proverbs. In our third podcast episode in the new series, we examine Proverbs 5–6. Some key verses from these chapters are:
"My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. Bind them always on your heart; fasten them around your neck. When you walk, they will guide you; when you sleep, they will watch over you; when you awake, they will speak to you" (Proverbs 6:20–22 NIV).
Most of us are not big on someone saying, "thou shalt not." When we think of God as purely the Law-giver, the command giver, it's easy to think that God is mean and angry. He is at least thought of as "not fun." But when God gives commands, his reason for doing so is not to take away from our lives, but to give life. God’s commands are not meant to remove the joy of life, but to preserve it.
Grace. It is a simple word with profound meaning. Perhaps you need some grace right now. Maybe those resolutions aren't going as you had hoped. Self-grace. Maybe you have a relationship on the rocks. Grace for others. Maybe you're having trouble trusting God. God's grace.
Multiple New Testament books end with God's grace. This is because grace is a form of blessing. God blesses us with grace. We bless others with grace. And we bless our own lives by giving ourselves some grace.
Paul could have ended 2 Thessalonians in dozens of ways; instead, he focuses on one thing alone: grace. Because grace is the most powerful concept of all.
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you” (2 Thessalonians 3:18 LEB).
Often all we need is a little grace. Grace is renewing. It reaches deep inside us. It finds the despair and pain and offers love. It says, “Yes, you may be unworthy but you are loved and forgiven.”
Paul devoted much of his writing to the concept of grace. It is the grace of God, as shown through Jesus’ death and resurrection—for our sins, so that we could have relationship with God—that drove Paul’s entire life. Grace is what Paul himself had experienced as a redeemed sinner. It is grace that I have experienced as a redeemed sinner. It is grace that we all need.
How different would our world be if we all offered people the grace we have received? If instead of holding grudges and demanding apologies, we lived with a spirit of forgiveness? If instead of hoping that people would fall on their sword, we offered grace and love? If instead of being bitter we offered hope? If instead of considering ourselves better than others, we noted the incredible and unmerited redemption we have in Christ?
Imagine what could be if the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is what we proclaimed to everyone. Imagine what could be if grace drove our entire lives and if it’s what we wished for each and every person. Imagine 2020 with grace as a key concept.
May God's grace transform your life this year. Grace is a blessing.*
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*This post is adapted from my earlier article, "Grace is the Most Powerful Grace of All."
What better way to start 2020 than by marking our lives by God's wisdom? Our number one most-popular Jesus' Economy Podcast episode of 2019 was "How Do I Obtain Wisdom?," a sermon on Proverbs 1–2. This episode is now the launching point for a 16-part series titled, "Wisdom is a Choice." We will cover every chapter of the ultimate wisdom book, Proverbs. In our second podcast episode in the series, we examine Proverbs 3–4. We especially reflect on these verses:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5–6 NIV).
Sometimes life can feel murky, like we lack all of understanding of where to go next. How do we navigate such times? In Proverbs, we find a father telling his son that in the murky and muddy moments of life, lean away from society's common "wisdom"; instead, look to the creator of heaven and earth.
In this sermon, I examine Proverbs 3–4 to show that in the murkiness of life, the key is to lean on God, not the understanding of society or culture. I provide seven reasons why we should not lean on our own understanding but instead choose God's understanding. This sermon was originally delivered on June 16, 2019 (Father's Day) at Faith Reformed Church in Lynden, WA.
Our number one most-popular Jesus' Economy Podcast episode of 2019 was "How Do I Obtain Wisdom?," a sermon on Proverbs 1–2. This episode is now the launching point for a 16-part series, covering every chapter of the ultimate wisdom book, Proverbs. What better way to start 2020 than by marking our lives by God's wisdom?
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7 NIV).
How do I obtain wisdom? This is the question behind most of the questions that pastors receive? We're all searching for wisdom, for answers to the difficult situations we encounter week in and week out. But let's be honest: We want answers quickly, as quick as a fast food restaurant stop. Yet wisdom doesn't work that way. It takes time. It is also a choice.
In this sermon, I examine Proverbs 1–2 to shows that being wise is a choice. It's a difficult one, and a daily one, but the choice of wisdom is of immeasurable worth. Think of how much better our world will be if each of us make this the year that we choose wisdom.
Each Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I reflect on Rev. Dr. King's legacy and his words. I then ask myself, "Am I willing to live as self-sacrificially as he did? Is my life measuring up to the standard that MLK believed in?"
When reflecting on Dr. King, we often think of the "I Have a Dream" speech and the movement MLK led. But what's often neglected is King's equal focus on the inward life of each individual. King believed that without inward transformation of individual lives, without spiritual transformation, that sustainable change would not be possible. This is because King believed that we are all "interdependent."
This "interdependence" of all people is articulated in one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s lesser read works, The Measure of a Man, where he says this:
"Therefore whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in the world I can never be rich, even if I have a billion dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good check-up at Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent."
"This is the way our world is made. ... We are interdependent." If only we remembered these words as we remember Dr. King and his legacy. Think of how different our world would be if we recognized that no nation, no segment of society, and no individual is more important than the whole human race.
In The Measure of a Man, King does what a good reverend would do (did you forget that he was foremost a pastor?) and preaches the Bible. From the Bible and philosophy, King speaks of three dimensions of a complete life:
King describes this as a triangle:
"These are the three dimensions of Me, and without the three being correlated, working harmoniously together, life is incomplete. Life is something of a great triangle. At one angle stands the individual person, at the other angle stand other persons, and at the top stands the Supreme, Infinite Person, God. These three must meet in every individual life if that life is to be complete."
In other words, what happens in my inward life (my relationship with myself and my relationship with God) has direct implications upon your life.
Today as we reflect on Rev. Dr. King's legacy, we can ask ourselves the three questions behind his model for measuring our lives:
These three questions are deeply rooted in a well-known interaction of Jesus:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:36–40).
It does not seem like a stretch to say that these words served as the basis for MLK's entire life philosophy. To read Dr. King without Jesus in mind is to miss the core worldview that guided his life.
According to Dr. King's The Measure of a Man, the complete life looks like this infographic.
While there are some people whose lives seem envy worthy, because they have acquired wealth and power, they lose what King calls "the breadth of life." Even a life with cultivated skills and a honed inner life will lack meaning. The cultivation of skills and the honing of gifts is essential, but a true and deep inner examination should lead a person to look beyond themselves.
Some people learn to care deeply for other people and that gives their lives "breadth," a meaning beyond themselves. And King has in mind here much more than just care for one's family and inner circle: "we are [all of humanity] interdependent ... we are all involved in a single process, ... we are all somehow caught in an inescapable network of mutuality."
The inner life then becomes something cultivated for larger purposes: it is not for my gain but the betterment of humanity.
Humanity is made by God to be interconnected. This is why the second greatest commandment is to love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:36–40). What is good for you is also good for me. What is good for them is also good for us. What is good for humanity betters my life even (and perhaps especially) when it requires personal sacrifice.
"Seek God and discover him and make him a power in your life. Without him all of our efforts turn to ashes and our sunrises into darkest nights. Without him, life is a meaningless drama with the decisive scenes missing."
In the end, life without God and his community, the Church, is lacking. It is God who moves to create lasting change and God to whom we look for the grace required to do the work of making our world a better place. It is God who can break down national, racial, ethnic, and economic barriers.
King remarks that if one is to measure a life's success at accomplishing God's purposes, we need simply to remember three things:
"Love yourself, if that means rational, healthy, and moral self-interest. You are commanded to do that. That is the length of life. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. You are commanded to do that. That is the breadth of life. But never forget that there is a first and even greater commandment, 'Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind.' This is the height of life. And when you do this you live the complete life."*
The work of Dr. King has been a deep inspiration to me. In many regards, his work inspired me to change my entire life and dedicate it to serving the impoverished and people yet to hear Jesus' name. King's views on the interconnected world and the centrality of the church influenced me as I wrote my recently released book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change.
*This article is adapted from my earlier article, "The Complete Life According to Martin Luther King Jr."
Here at Jesus' Economy, we believe that together we can make the world a better place. For that reason, our team regularly provides free sermons and talks on living for Jesus. And 2019 was no exception ...
2019 was a big year of written and audio content at JesusEconomy.org. In January 2019, we released a project that had been years in the making: the book, Jesus' Economy: A Biblical View of Poverty, the Currency of Love, and a Pattern for Lasting Change. With the book's release came a series of talks on the biblical view of missions, God's justice, and love. This turned out to be some of our most popular content of 2019. You were also big fans of some of our practical sermons on "Living for Jesus," and our talks on key biblical theology topics. Together, we were inspired to make the world a better place.
Our fifth most podcast published in 2019 is from the series, "Studying Jesus' Parables." This popular series of talks is based on the research for my book, Parables: Portraits of the Kingdom in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Jesus was fond of speaking in parables. But why did he speak in these short, often confusing, stories? In this talk, I argue that to understand Jesus' parables, we have to look at his first-century context and think of him as the rabbi that he is. We also have to make the commitment that Jesus asks us to make: We have to enter the journey with him; we have to follow Jesus the rabbi like his earliest disciples did.
Our fourth most popular podcast episode comes in the form of a sermon that focuses on the little Old Testament book of Obadiah. This sermon aims to answer one critical question: Why are there are so many injustices in our world? And will God do anything about these injustices? The book of Obadiah addresses a very real and present injustice that the people of Israel experienced in 586 BC. How would God respond? And what does that tell us about the character of God?
Behind the ideas of Jesus' Economy is the understanding that our world is more interconnected than ever before. And that changes everything about how we share about Jesus and how we alleviate poverty. With the power of modern technology, we could reasonably bring the good news of Jesus to the last unreached people groups in our lifetimes. Here's how.
This popular podcast lecture is based on the research for my book, The Resurrected Servant in Isaiah. Many have stood in awe of the Suffering Servant prophecy in Isaiah 53, either because of its lack of theological precedence or because of its similarities to the life of Jesus. In biblical scholarship, there is much debate about who the servant is, if the servant is resurrected, and the nature of the servant's suffering. I argue that Isaiah 53 undoubtedly shows resurrection and is a prophecy about Jesus' vicarious suffering on our behalf. Interpreting Isaiah 53 can also teach us three steps for personal Bible study.
This sermon on wisdom clocked in at our number one most popular podcast episode of 2019. This talk examined the question that's behind most of the questions pastors receive. How do I obtain wisdom? We're all searching for wisdom, for answers to the difficult situations we encounter week in and week out. But let's be honest: We want answers quickly, as quick as a fast food restaurant stop. Yet wisdom doesn't work that way, according to Proverbs 1–2. It takes time. It is also a choice.
Sneak peak: There are more sermons like this one coming early this year. They will be featured here on the Jesus' Economy in Action blog and on the Jesus' Economy Podcast. Join us in 2020 by subscribing to the Jesus' Economy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or SoundCloud. And don't forget to also subscribe to the Jesus' Economy in Action blog.
Our number six most popular podcast episode is on Psalm 23. And rightfully so, because Psalm 23 captures our imagination as children and does so today. We read it at weddings and funerals alike. Why? Because we all want to be pursued with a love that is beyond comprehension. This is what Psalm 23 keys in on. Listen: "God Pursues Us with Loyal Love: Psalm 23."