Holy Tuesday

holytuesday.png

As the week marches on, opposition toward Jesus ratchets up to another level. Going to youth group and Sunday school as a kid I often wondered why Jesus was killed in the first place. It didn’t make much sense to me. Jesus was a miracle-worker and clearly a great guy, so why would anyone want him dead? We are typically taught at a very early age that we live in a meritorious world – you get what you earn; bad guys die and good guys live. What was puzzling to me was why anyone would desire to kill Jesus. He gave sight to the blind, he caused the paralyzed to walk, he taught valuable life lessons, and he even raised Lazarus from the dead! If there was ever a good man who deserved to live, it was him I thought. What I didn't understand was the true depth of depravity of the human soul. Pride, jealousy, and deception could cause men to do incredibly evil things. We begin to see this side of Israelite leaders on a greater level on Tuesday of Holy Week.

Jesus is in the temple once again and the chief priests and scribes approach him with a question. Remember them from yesterday? They were the guys who wanted Jesus to rebuke the children for praising him. They also were likely offended by Jesus’ decision to clear out the temple in the first place. So, they decide to team up and hit Jesus with a barrage of what they believe to be profound questions beginning with, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?” In other words, they wanted to know what gave Jesus the right to speak against their lifestyle. Who made him worthy of telling them how they should or should not run the temple?

In typical Jesus fashion he responds to their question with a question of his own, “Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man?” Brilliant. By responding with a question, Jesus forces these men to deal with their own duplicitous hearts right in front of him. John the Baptist was one of the most popular individuals in Israel at the time. The people adored him and held him to be a great prophet sent by God. The problem for the chief priests was that John was the forerunner for Jesus. Not only was John a man who was unanimously regarded as a prophet, but he used his ministry to glorify Jesus as also having been sent by God. This reality was a problem for the chief priests. Jesus’ question completely disarms his verbal attackers. Rather than successfully painting Jesus into a corner, the scribes now have the tables turned on them.

All three synoptic gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) let us in on what the chief priests and scribes were thinking in this moment. “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet’. (Matthew 21:25-26)” These men weren’t concerned with the truth and Jesus knew that. They simply wanted to challenge Jesus and look good for the temple crowd. There intentions were far from pure. And because their intentions were far from pure they were willing to go to any lengths to rid themselves of Jesus.

Unfortunately, the same is true for a lot of us. Following Jesus has deep implications for the way we live our lives. So, rather than be honest with who he is and adjust our life accordingly, we seek to get rid of him. Maybe you don’t follow Jesus because you’re holding on to a lifestyle you prefer. Maybe you won’t follow Jesus because of the ramifications that doing so may have on the relationships around you. Either way, no one is rejecting Jesus because they researched the facts and concluded that what he says isn’t true. No one. The depth of our sinful hearts, like the chief priests, will cause us to deny the truth and embrace a lifestyle of lies just so we can keep Jesus out of it. Allow this question to really sink in if you aren’t following Jesus...

“WHY?”

Rather than answer Jesus' question about John the Baptist honestly, the chief priests and scribes slithered out of the conversation with a noncommittal, “We do not know.” And so Jesus refused to entertain them with a conversation about where his authority comes from. Instead, he tells a series of parables recorded in Matthew 21:28 – 22:14 all of which condemn the Israelite leaders of that day for their hypocrisy. Parable after parable Jesus drives home the point that the end is coming and whoever is not with him is against him. By the end of the day, the lines had been clearly drawn. Jesus wanted these leaders to know that their rituals, legalism, hypocrisy, and pride were not on the side of God. Unless they turned away from their sin, faced the truth, and followed Jesus, they would perish eternally. Many of them, however, did not heed Jesus’ warnings or take to heart his teaching. Instead “they perceived that he was speaking about them” and “they were seeking to arrest him” (Matthew 21:45-46). Rather than face the reality of how egregious their sins were, they began to plot to get rid of Jesus as if that would solve the problem!

Are you doing the same thing? Do you see Jesus and rationalize how to get out of following him? Or do you recognize him as the one, true God – the only way to eternal life?

Which side of the line are you on?

Holy Monday

balage_jesus_and_the_money_changers-t1.jpg

On day two of Holy Week, Monday, Jesus finds himself in the temple in Jerusalem. As a celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from bondage to Egypt, all of Israel would be offering animal sacrifices in Jerusalem this week. The required animals were not always easy to come by and with many of the people traveling a great distance, transporting the animals was also difficult. It was generally easier to purchase animals after already arriving in the city. Taking advantage of the predicament of these worshipers, salesmen set up shop in the court of the Gentiles outside of the temple. These salesmen set things up so that travelers essentially had no choice other than to purchase animals from them at higher price than normal. This feels a lot like paying six bucks for a Coke at a modern movie theater - no one watches a movie without something to drink and theaters are more than happy to make you pay six times more than the average price!

Jesus wasn’t having it. He proceeds to overturn the tables where the animals are being sold and chastises the criminals with words from Deuteronomy, “My house shall be called a house of prayer” and words from the prophet Jeremiah, “you make it a den of robbers!” He exposes the thievery of these supposed religious men who were taking advantage of the people. John’s Gospel also records a time at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in which he clears out the temple in a similar fashion. Some scholars have concluded that either John or the other gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) made a mistake in where they place Jesus’ temple cleansing, but there isn’t much warrant to that conclusion. Jesus actually cleansed the temple on two separate occasions. Jesus' quotation of Jeremiah 7 hints at this because Jeremiah also prophesied judgment on the temple on two separate occasions (Jer. 7:1-15; 26:2-6).

Jesus does this at the beginning and the end of his earthly ministry for a specific purpose: to demonstrate that the entire temple system of animal sacrifices and corrupt priests was coming to an end. No longer were people going to make a pilgrimage to a single location and kill animals to atone for sin. No longer were temple salesmen going to profit off of the piety of poor people. Salvation was not to be found in a place, rather salvation would come through a person: the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus makes this emphatic point just a few verses later in Matthew 21. He remained at the temple healing the blind and the lame and performing miracles, which earned him the praise of children nearby. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they shouted. “Hosanna” was a Hebrew term that meant “save,” and “Son of David” was an official title reserved for the Messianic king promised to king David centuries before (2 Samuel 7). In other words, the children were proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah who had come to save them, and this didn’t sit well with the chief priests and scribes who heard them. The praises by the children made these leaders very angry. In their mind, the children were blaspheming, or using God's name in vain, and they expected Jesus to shut that down. Rather than silence the children, however, Jesus affirms what they proclaimed and even takes it a step further.

Blasphemy is only a valid charge if Jesus was not who the children were proclaiming him to be. But he was. He is. The Jewish leaders turn to Jesus in the midst of the hoopla and ask him, “Do you hear what these [kids] are saying?” In his typical stroke of genius Jesus responds with a quote from Psalm 8, “Have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise’? Psalm 8 is a song all about how wonderful and majestic the one, true God is. In the lyrics of the song, the Psalmist describes children praising “The LORD” and this praise silencing the LORD’s enemies. Essentially Jesus has just said to the chief priests and scribes, “I will not silence these kids because they are correct. I am the majestic God worthy of all worship and anyone who stands against that is my enemy!” Mic drop.

The temple system is over not because it was simply time for a change, but because the eternal God of the universe who created all things became a man and sacrificed himself for his people. There would be no more need for the slaughtering of lambs and doves because the Perfect Lamb was going to be sacrificed. We wouldn’t need priests to make these sacrifices anymore because Jesus is not only our sacrifice, but our High Priest who brings us to God as well. Making an annual trek to Jerusalem to celebrate a feast would no longer be necessary because through the Holy Spirit, God’s presence resides in his followers, not a building. Jesus was beginning the fulfillment of the redemption of humanity.

I pray that you recognize this reality this week. Rituals, sacrifices, and commitment to religious work will never make you right with God. Only Jesus is able. We may not necessarily be taking advantage of a temple by overcharging for animal sacrifices, but we may be guilty of having the same spirit. The salesmen likely didn’t think they needed God and the chief priests thought they could appease God with their rituals. Both beliefs will get you left out of the kingdom and paying for your own sins in eternity. Focus on the only Lamb who saves you from your sin and follow him. This is the way to eternal life.

Palm Sunday

PalmSunday_SQ.jpg

In Ancient Israel, Passover was one of the major annual feasts that was celebrated. Droves of Israelites would travel to the holy city of Jerusalem to offer sacrifices at the temple and share in a meal commemorating God’s deliverance of the Israelite slaves from bondage in Egypt. Passover is about a gracious God rescuing his people from bondage. So, here at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, he begins a new week of celebrating God’s grace to his people. From this week forward the people of God would no longer celebrate the local deliverance of a small tribe from the grip of slavery to a single nation. Rather, God’s people all over the world will forever celebrate the global deliverance from eternal bondage for all who trust in Jesus – a group that spans generations and locations.

The beginning of the new Holy Week is commonly known as Palm Sunday. As Jesus entered into Jerusalem he was greeted with cheering crowds and the red-carpet treatment in the form palm fronds. Being keenly aware of the significance of the Passover tradition, Jesus rides into Jerusalem five days prior to the official Passover celebration meal. His intentions are clear. Instituted at the original Passover, Israelites were to set aside a perfect, spotless, firstborn male lamb five days prior to killing the lamb to ensure their being “passed over” and spared by God (Ex. 12:3). On Friday of this week Jesus was going to face death so that those who follow Jesus would have their sins “passed over” as well. Jesus was the "lamb" being set aside to be sacrificed for his people.

As Jesus rides into Jerusalem he is mounted on a donkey, which Matthew and John’s gospels tell us was to fulfill a prophecy from Zechariah 9:9 which says, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” This is an easy verse to either gloss over completely or put an inordinate amount of focus on one part of it. Modern day we rightly recognize that Jesus is our King. It is also right to recognize that Jesus is specifically highlighting the fact that he is a king by intentionally drawing an allusion to Zechariah’s prophecy. What is just as important to recognize, however, is what kind of king Jesus demonstrates he is. Would he be a conquering king slaying his tens of thousands like David? Would he begin an uprising by arming Jerusalem with weapons to overthrow the Roman Empire? No; Jesus' mission was far greater than a militaristic upheaval of a tyrannical empire.

Happy-Palm-Sunday-Header-Image.jpg

Zechariah's prophecy demonstrates the king coming to Israel as “humble.”  This is in contrast to the typical king who would ride into town triumphantly on a warhorse or a chariot after having conquered his enemies in battle (Zechariah 9:10). A triumphant king was likely what the people of Israel expected. They wanted a warrior to motivate them with a Braveheart-like battle cry and overthrow the oppressive Roman government. They wanted Jesus to be like T'Challa, re-emerging in his hi-tech suit to rally the Dora Milaje and overthrow Killmonger! (Go see Black Panther). What the people of Jerusalem hadn’t factored in is that God had already raised up a leader to triumph over an oppressive nation. The Exodus and the original Passover were all about God defeating a political superpower through the leadership of his prophet Moses. Biblical revelation progresses like the Parable of the Mustard Seed; it begins small but grows into something much, much larger. Therefore, the Passover and Exodus story was a foreshadowing of something much greater than a victory over a nation to come: God's ultimate victory over sin.

The point of Jesus’ triumphal entry is to demonstrate just that. He is a king full of humility – the kind of humility that would drive a perfectly innocent man to die on behalf of his people to earn them eternal deliverance. He doesn't ride into Jerusalem ready to kill; he rides in ready to be killed. His goal is to take on the punishment and death that his people deserve all so that the justice of God might be satisfied in crushing sin and he can then extend forgiveness to all who trust in Jesus. That is who Jesus is for us - a humble king who was willing to die so that we wouldn't have to. So as we cry out “Hosanna to the Son of David!” along with our fellow Christians worldwide, let’s remember that our Son of David, our King, was humble enough to endure the cross so that we wouldn’t have to. No greater king has ever, or will ever exist.

Church Planting and Weakness

Church Planting and Weakness.

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness... ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses...For when I am weak, then I am strong”  (2 Corinthians 11:30-12-10).

I don’t know about you, but boasting, let alone hearing of the weaknesses of a church planter/church planting team does not seem to be the most logical approach when trying to plant a church.  Having been around the church planting world for just a little time, it doesn’t seem that popular of a subject, or on the necessary church planting “to do list”. Quick advice is readily given for those that are in a state of weakness along with strategy, leadership, resolve, and development ideas.  However, personally having been led by Christ to help plant New Springs Church, I have found great comfort in Paul’s seemingly foolish weakness declaration found here in 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:1, 16-17, 12:11). This foolish boasting on Paul’s part, describing his hardships and dangers, serve to highlight his internal and external weaknesses while preaching the gospel and planting churches(2 Cor. 11:23-28).

It was two years ago when my weaknesses would begin to be magnified in the context of church planting. The years preceding were marked by an increasing confidence in Christ, a sense of calling upon my life and family.   Confidence though would soon give way to uncertainty. Assurance led to the unknown, and my strength faded into great weakness; all of this while in the middle of a bi-vocational church planting residency.  For those unfamiliar, a bi-vocational pastoral residency acts as a formal pastoral internship for bi-vocational adults. My bi-vocations (places called by God to work) are as 1) firefighter/chaplain for Miami-Dade County Fire Rescue and 2) working as a church planter/pastor.  Little did I know what the Lord was actually laying out for my family and I when we left our longstanding church after 10 years to join this residency and begin the church planting process.

For some 14 years, I have pursued the Lord in life, vocation, and ministry.  As a man, Christ has given me my greatest treasure in my wife Lisa, and our three sons come in a strong second.  My newly adopted goldendoodle, yes goldendoodle, ranks third, which I think even speaks again to my weaknesses as a man.

As all of this unfolded over the last two years, I felt that every day I was being made weaker and weaker by my own “thorns in the flesh” and the Lord’s unfolding circumstances around me (2 Cor. 12:7).  My marriage and family began to struggle as the Lord disciplined me in my role as a man, husband, and father. My efforts to serve another local church plant began to waiver as I couldn’t find my place of service within their mission. My discipleship efforts were marked by fatigue and frailty, as brothers, sisters, and families I was praying for began to crumble. I felt the weight of their burdens personally. I began to be advised that I quite possibly was not hearing God properly, and was even left confused as to my faith and calling. What a tough two years it really has been.

I ended up withdrawing from the pastoral residency, headed back to my home church, and began working a second job in the landscaping industry.  My dream, vision, and call seemed to die right in front of me. However, Christ through it all, subtly sustained a deep personal hope, vision, and purpose within me.  My faith remained, even though I felt like Peter when Christ protected him from Satan sifting him like wheat (Luke 22:31-32).

The graces of God in Christ during this time of weakness were so necessary to my life as much in service to his church and kingdom.  Within the landscaping industry, I became surrounded by a large Guatemalan Christian community that surrounded me with love and encouragement. You will notice some of my brothers working for JW Landscape Designs below, and second to the right of the picture is my dear friend Israel: a fellow brother, soon to be pastor, and current student at Hobe Sound Bible College.   Many fellow firefighters became inseparable brothers in Christ, with a deepening transparency and love. And in my most uncertain and weak time in life, I saw Christ save and redeem a Colombian Pizza Shop owner through a conversation and friendship. Yes, a Colombian owned Pizza shop with the best chicken parm in the city. #vitospizza.  Notice my dear friend Camilo as well. I was given the blessing of attending his all Spanish wedding to wife Nicole, and now enjoy seeing their daughters and family worship side by side with me.

What began with a strong sense of calling and conviction as my local church sent me out, seemed to end with me coming back to my local church looking for healing and comfort.   What began with prayers and tears for the city that I grew up in, seemed to end with prayers and tears for myself, my family, and my brothers and sisters in the faith. What began as an endeavor into bi-vocational pastoral ministry, seemed to end with landscaping and a pickup truck.  And after having walked through it all, I have come to treasure the sweet grace of God amidst it all no matter the circumstance. The “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” has found its proper application in my time of lowliness (Philippians 4:13). All of it, and I mean all of my last two years in following Christ was used for his purposes and kingdom.   My weakness played as much part in his work for my own life and family as it did in seeing others edified in Christ. And now today, as a venturing bi-vocational church planter, side by side with a treasured best friend from over 15 years ago, in a city where we grew up, I couldn’t have imagined what the Lord would start 2 years ago along a set path of increasing weakness.

For all this I have learned to embrace weakness, although maybe not ready to boast of it all the time, and definitely cannot fathom the extent of Paul’s journeys, dangers, perils, and pressures.  I have found comfort in my current application of Paul’s foolish boasting still. For we need not be ashamed of our weaknesses, rather look and be sure of what we already know. Christ wills and intends our weaknesses to magnify his power and glory.  Believe it, don’t question it, and don’t entertain bad advice. This is Paul’s boast.

If you are in a state of weakness and a follower of Christ, rest assured He has not left you and will not.  Like Paul, He is using your weaknesses, dangers, unknowns, fears, persecutions, all of it, to revive and fortify a continual dependence upon him and his power. I now speak of weakness as it has been formed into my heart at the present time.  What had become a tabled item in my Christian walk, has now solidified its boasting position again. When I am weak, He is strong. His working in our weakness is real power. If you can embrace your weakness, if you can boast of it, you might just feel and experience what Paul foolishly writes about: Christ’s power in you. “For my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9)  If you cannot yet, I pray that you are made to as Christ did with me.  It will be painful at times, but you will marvel at the power of Christ in you to his praise and glory alone. You will boast in the Lord only because He alone has the power to save and use you.

“Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.  For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends” (2 Corinthians 10:18).

Jimmy and Lisa Paugh, along with their three boys Jackson, Jase, and Jude are part of the New Springs Church planting team.

These Dudes and my Heavenly Father.

These dudes.
They are lucky they're cute, because wow, they have been testing this mama lately. There are moments of innocence and honesty and thankfulness, and then they flip a switch reaaaaaal quick. I am so quick to jump up and discipline my children, and cry to Jimmy saying, "Are we doing something wrong? Are our standards too high? Are we expecting too much of them? Should we let them be wild 2, 4, and 6 year olds?"

But then, I find myself being that same disobedient, testing, and just plain rude "child", and I am humbled super quickly.  My Heavenly Father sees me as that same child, and guess what? His standards and expectations are perfection and holiness.


My boys are little. They trust in us. They depend on us. They have a childlike faith in us, and yet we as adults and parents are imperfect and so broken by sin like them.  Jackson often asks if I know everything, because that is how he actually thinks of me. But we don't - we don't have all the wisdom or all the answers. Yet they trust us as their parents, and believe whatever we say.
Do we as adults, really trust and believe everything God has planned for us? Or do we disobey, and question, and doubt, and need DISCIPLINE?

Eventually, just as we learned as we got older, our kids will realize we aren't all they think us to be. We aren't fully trustworthy, we make tons of mistakes, we are as fragile as they are, and all we can do is pray that God fills in all the gaps we miss as their parents.

I was reminded today that I am no better than my disobedient children. That's why Jesus said that any disciple of his must "turn and become like children" if we are even to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).  I am the exact same person as my kids. I am in need of a Savior, in need of a Father’s grace and love. The good news of Jesus begins and ends with my childlike need for Him and his saving work on my behalf. Jimmy and I pray daily that God would grip their hearts at a young age, and that they will see that the only Perfect Father is our Heavenly Father.  The good news is that our Heavenly Father is a perfect father; perfectly holy and righteous, perfectly gracious and just. His forgiveness, His grace, His righteousness, His love, His discipline is just as much set apart for me as it is for these dudes.

David Maxson writes in a recent devotional, "The beauty of the kingdom of heaven is that it is ruled by an all-wise, all-powerful, faithful, merciful and loving heavenly Father who never makes mistakes. He always has our best interests at heart. He always keeps his promises. He will never let us down or disappoint us.”  

Read Romans 8 with Jimmy this week.

Some promises from God that comforted us:

“You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15)

“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…” (8:16)

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us…” (8:26)

“The Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (8:27-28)

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31)

20181127_163801.jpg

For a more humorous audio check out Matt Chandler’s thoughts Jimmy sent me.

Jimmy and Lisa Paugh, along with their three boys Jackson, Jase, and Jude are part of the New Springs Church planting team.