The World Has Been Crucified to Me

I had a good meeting yesterday in the park with my friend. He was baptized last summer and we continue to meet together to read the Bible and grow together as we apply what we have learned. He hasn’t had any background in the church or any prior connection to the Christian world, so there are many things that he is learning for the first time, and I am learning anew, through the scriptures and our experiences as we meet and try to walk a life of faith together.

While we met a couple of times on a video call during our red zone lockdown times, we hadn’t seen each other face-to-face over the last couple of weeks. During that time, I had watched the video with my family during our Life Lessons time that we do with our kids about boasting only in the cross of Christ. While we were watching this video together as a family, I thought of him. He is a young guy, just a few years older than the people who listened to Piper that day in 2000. In fact, as I told him, he is about the same age that I was when I first heard this message 20 years ago.

In that message, Piper says that you don’t need to be rich, good-looking, or very smart to make a difference in the world. Instead, he said that, if you truly do want to make a difference in the world, you need to be gripped by an idea that is great, that is eternal. It needs to hold onto you in such a way that you live by it, that you are consumed by the idea.

So that leads to the question: What is that idea? What do we need to know that would allow us to truly make a difference that will not only be significant now but last for eternity?

In our conversation yesterday, we went back and read through the verse that Piper used in his message that day in 2000. Ironically, in the sermon, through all of the language that Piper used in his explanation, I even found his talk a little difficult to follow toward the end as he was explaining this verse, so I thought it would be helpful to my friend to break down the verse and understand what it says, understand what it means, and think about how we could apply it to our lives. Here is that verse:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Galatians 6:14

It is a relatively simple sentence, but I suggested that we should break it down further into two smaller parts, so that is what we did:

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…

We started with the word “boast”. What does that mean? A synonym could be that we are bragging. Why would we brag? Typically, we would brag because we have something in the world that others would want, or would want at the level that we have. It might be money, fame, power, position, or a possession. These things are pretty universally desired by people in our world today. As men and women in the worldly system, we want these things and so, if we attain one or more of them, we might be inclined to boast in one way or another to other people about what we have achieved or what we have attained.

But here, the apostle Paul is writing and says, “May I never boast” unless it is in the cross of Jesus. Piper says this is like boasting that I am going to be killed in the electric chair, or I am going to be lynched. If I am boasting in the cross, I am finding myself bragging about death.

But that is the exact opposite of the reasons that we would brag to someone else in our worldly system. We brag or boast because of a sign of success that I have obtained like money, fame, power, or position, not a sign of defeat like death! Yet Paul says that he wants to never boast unless it is in the cross of Christ. How can this possibly make any sense at all?

To understand this, let’s look at the second part of the verse:

…through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Paul says that the world has been crucified to him. What does that mean? I believe he is talking about the system of the world, the pleasures of our world. The things that we believe signify and show that we are a success in this world, those are the things that Paul says have been crucified to him. Those things are now dead to him. The things that the world values no longer have any value to him.

If that is the case, what is he living for? Paul is saying that he is living only to brag about what Jesus has done and this is what his life is now oriented around. He wants to not live according to the values of our world today. He doesn’t want to be considered to be a success according to the standards of our world. He wants to be a success within the Kingdom of God and be judged by its standards. He wants to live in the way that Jesus has called him to live, as someone who is subject to the King, who is Jesus, and teach others to do the same. Only in the things that Jesus has done, paying the price for us through his blood – the price of a sacrifice to offer forgiveness for our sins – only in these things does Paul want to boast.

Together with my friend, we talked about needing to be gripped by this idea, as Piper said in his message. What would that look like to live in such a way that we don’t value the things that the world values?

My friend continues to grow in his faith and has a desire to move forward in his faith walk with God. He wants to make a difference with his life and seems to understand, at least intellectually, what we talked about. Now we will need to continue to walk together to learn how to apply these things in our lives as the Holy Spirit leads us. As he works within us, and will work through us to help others also become disciples of Jesus.

We must even go on to help even more people be gripped by these simple yet profound ideas that will allow us all to truly make a difference in this world that will last for eternity, only because what we have done, we have done for our Savior and King Jesus.

Learning the basics of money

Last night, as part of our Life Lessons, we discussed that you won’t really learn in school, at least not in K-12 school, very much about money. And yet, this may be one of the most important topics, one of the things that can be most practically used in our world today, and one of the things that we could even apply to our lives spiritually – either for good or for bad.

I told the kids that since this is not something that they are going to learn elsewhere, we are going to have to take the responsibility to learn these things on our own.

We started with an overview video, just to give them a sense of the universe of things that we need to discuss and learn together. It was difficult for them to follow because of all of the terms, so we just took three of the points at a time and talked about them, discussing the terms and the basic concepts along the way, attempting to simplify the ideas along the way to remove the mystique that comes with al of the terminology. Here is the video we watched:

So I think that we are going to, over time, start working through the concepts one step at a time. It will be a long time before we finish but we will intersperse several other life lessons along the way so we should be able to mix it up and keep things relatively fresh. Here’s to an adventure into the world of finances!

The Role of Suffering in the Kingdom of God

I was recently reading Matthew 10 with some others here in Catania. Jesus selected the 12 disciples and immediately sent them out to tell others about the Kingdom of God. There are some interesting things that I see here in this chapter, specifically related to suffering and persecution as he sent them out. Here are a few of those observations:

In verse 8, Jesus says, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” Jesus is sending his disciples to the places where there is disease and the demon-possessed.

Verse 9 – “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you…” Jesus tells them that they shouldn’t take money with them. It turns out that they must depend on the local people to make things work.

Now we go down to the heart of the matter… it doesn’t get any better!

Verse 16 – “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.” Jesus is telling his disciples that they should expect danger on the mission that he is sending them on.

Verse 17 – “Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues.” The disciples are going to be beaten.

Verse 19 – “But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it.” The disciples will be arrested and brought before governors and kings.

And if you thought that was bad…

Verse 21 – “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death.” Families will work against one another. Brother against brother. Father against his child. Children against their parents…and all to the death.

Verse 22 – “You will be hated by everyone because of me…” You will not be liked. You will be hated.

Verse 23 – “When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.” Plain and simple, you will be persecuted.

Verse 38 – “Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus tells his disciples that they have to carry the instrument of their own death on their backs. If they don’t, they aren’t worthy of him.

Verse 39 – “…whoever loses their life for my sake will find it…” Jesus calls his disciples specifically to die for him.

All of this is in the context of Jesus sending out his disciples to find the person of peace and tell them about the Kingdom of God. I think this means that if we are sent by Jesus, be prepared to suffer.

And yet, there is another part of the Bible that talks about what our attitude should be as we suffer and as we face trials. Here is James:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

I think that we sometimes read over these verses a little too quickly. So, if I am understanding James correctly, even in all of the suffering and persecution that Jesus said that we would have, we are to consider it pure joy! God is trying to help us grow and mature through these trials, through the suffering and persecution, so consider them joy as you live through these times. God wants to do something in you and through you, and without the trials and without the suffering, the Word and the work won’t go forward. But we can expect both the trials and the suffering when he does send us, and through those things, God’s Word and his work will go forward.

Milestone: Phase 2 Training Course

Over the last few months, we have been investigating the possibility of bringing people to Catania as part of a training program for new missional workers, teaching them to do the things that we do and then sending them along to other locations in Italy to engage the unreached.

Yesterday, I finished the first draft of the training course. It is a year long, and if you’re curious, the draft is here:

My teammates are looking at the course now and giving me feedback for edits and updates. We’ll then be taking this to various agencies and organizations that partner with churches to send those that are called overseas to reach the unreached. As they come, we will then train them here using this curriculum and then send people along to other cities in Italy where there are immigrants from across the world in an effort to catalyze discipleship and church planting movements in those locations as well.

For what it is worth, as a team, we discussed that just calling it Phase 2 Training probably isn’t what we want to do, so we’re considering names. I nominated a name today that we’ll see how it goes:

Tyrannus School

or in Italian:

Scuola di Tiranno

This comes from Acts 19, verses 8-10, where it says that Paul taught this disciples at the Hall of Tyrannus and then everyone in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord. Here is the specific quote from the book of Acts:

Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.

Acts 19:8-10

I think that this generally describes what we are hoping to accomplish here in Italy, and beyond. Using the school, from the one location, sending people out to share the Gospel with both the Jews and the Greeks of our time and place, so that they can offer the hope of Christ to everyone.

Boast Only in the Cross of Christ

About 20 years ago, someone gave me some DVDs from the 2000 OneDay conference by Passion at Shelby Farms. I watched John Piper’s talk from that day and his opening stories showing the contrast between the two women who died in Cameroon and those in the Reader’s Digest article hit me like a ton of bricks and stayed with me. Many times in the years following, I felt like I was on the path toward being the “shells” people. It was a rut that I wasn’t sure that I would ever be able to leave.

Thankfully, God gave me another opportunity to serve him and both my wife and I were gripped by the idea of seeing the unreached reached.

Last night, for our Life Lessons time with our kids, we watched this same talk on YouTube. It is here:

I believe that all of us want to have our lives count for something. Piper says that we don’t have to be good-looking, be particularly smart, have a lot of money, etc. Instead, we need to be gripped by a few ideas that are great. We need to allow them to take ahold of us and consume us where we can’t seem to shake them regardless of our circumstances.

Being gripped by the vision of the cross of Christ, taking our joy in the fact that Jesus bought for us every good thing that we have instead of having what we deserve, and helping others to take their joy in him, and live for him as well…those are the things that change the world. Everything else will pass away sooner or later.

The Son of Man

Writing my last post on doing your research, combined with our family’s recent reading and study in the book of Revelation, and connected with my day-to-day work where I am routinely sharing my faith with non-believers, I was thinking about a particular subject that I wanted to write about here. This subject is related to Jesus calling himself the son of man.

I’ve read the Bible with several non-believing friends here in Catania. There have been a few times when my friends clearly understood the implications of what they were reading and became offended because it was significantly different from what they had learned in their youth and as they were growing up in a different faith.

I can remember one interaction like this where they simply said:

Jesus never said, “I am the son of God. Worship me!”

Aside from the fact that I knew that they were simply repeating what they heard someone else say on a YouTube video, I also knew that they were trying to deflect from the conversation and the realities about the story from the scripture that we were reading. It was an objection that wasn’t specifically germane to the conversation but they were looking for something to hold onto their position that Jesus is not God incarnate here on the earth.

At the same time, they were right. While Jesus did say that he was the son of man and the Messiah, and confirmed to Peter that God revealed to him what he had said when he called Jesus both the Messiah and the son of God, he never did say “I am the son of God.”

Instead, Jesus called himself the son of man. In fact, he referred to himself this way 78 times in the Gospels.

But I think the important question here is to understand what that title means. I can say that I am the son of a man and it is pretty clear that I simply mean that I am a person, a man. Did Jesus mean the same thing?

There is history and background that we have to take into account, and this knowledge is, I believe, what my non-believing friends are missing. If we look back into the book of Daniel, which includes prophecies about the end times, we can see a first reference to the son of man. Here is what it says:

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Daniel 7:13-14

When Jesus refers to himself as the “son of man”, what does it mean? Here are a few things that I can take from these two verses in Daniel 7:

  • He was coming on the clouds of heaven.
  • He was worthy to approach God, the Ancient of Days.
  • He was given authority, glory, and power over the earth.
  • He was worshiped by all people, of every language.
  • His kingdom and rule (dominion) will never end and will never be destroyed.

So now, I ask myself, What did Jesus mean when he called himself the son of man? Just looking at this list, I think it should be clear to say that he is a spiritual being who was given authority by God to set up a kingdom of earth and be worshiped by people across the face of the earth. And this is precisely the story, that if we are paying attention to Jesus’s words and deeds, that Jesus is telling throughout the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and is the same story that is affirmed by the apostles that come after him and the prophecy that later comes by John in the book of Revelation.

Do Your Research

This last Thursday, our Life Lessons evening focused on doing your research, getting the facts and understanding, and knowing what you are talking about before forming opinions and making comments about particular subjects.

What led me to this topic as a Life Lesson was frequent questions conversation at our house with our kids about capitalism vs. socialism. They would frequently point out something that they saw or understood in Europe, especially here in Italy where we live, and ask if I thought that it was an example of socialism. We often didn’t have time to dive into the nuances of the conversation, so we frequently left the conversation open-ended and without a satisfactory ending.

I decided, therefore, to illustrate the need to do your research and gain understanding by watching three videos together from YouTube, learning what capitalism, socialism, and communism are and then discussing them together as a family to confirm that everyone understood, at least at the level of the fundamentals of each system if not also the implications and perceived advantages or disadvantages of each system.

Interestingly, I found that it was a little difficult to find videos on these topics that gave a simple rendering of the facts without much opinion or political background for each of the systems. I found that even those that were presenting the facts were frequently also presenting a lot of the back-and-forth that we see in political conversation, thus making it challenging to present to kids without being too confusing and getting caught up in the swirl of unnecessary political conversation.

If you are interested, here are the three videos that we watched:

In each of these videos, I simply asked the kids some basic questions to check their understanding. For example:

  • What is capitalism / socialism / communism?
  • What is the goal of the system?
  • How is it achieved?
  • What are the potential advantages / disadvantages of this system?

We tried to stay away from the political conversation although, of course, even as the kids asked questions about the advantages and disadvantages, we couldn’t completely ignore our opinions on each of the systems given that we have certain values that we have each grown up with and consider more important over another. At this point, though, my hope is that my kids have a sense of the differences between these economic systems and can begin to form their opinions based on knowledge and understanding instead of simply being caught up in a wave of political or emotional frenzy based on who they like, who they don’t like, or some other type of making decisions that lack real knowledge of the subject that they are discussing.

Extreme Ownership

A few months ago, I watched a TedX video by a guy named Jocko Willink, a former Navy Seal who commanded a unit of Seals in Iraq. He spoke about a particular experience in Ramadi where they experienced one of the worst things imaginable. In the confusion of war, two units who were on the same side started shooting at one another, ultimately killing one of the men that they were working together with.

Jocko spoke about the aftermath, thinking about whose fault it was that this happened. He said that he ultimately decided that it was up to him to take the blame. He was in charge of what was happening on the battlefield, and despite the bad decisions and miscues among the team that could be to blame for the horrific experience, many of which were acknowledged in their debriefing, Jocko decided that he should be the one – if someone were to be fired – to be blamed and fired for the problems that they experienced.

This is going to be tonight’s Life Lesson for my kids. I’m planning to simply watch this and ask some questions:

  • What happened?
  • Why?
  • Why did Jocko take responsibility when there was blame to go around?
  • How do we apply this to our lives?

I want my kids to understand the importance of taking responsibility and ownership for their lives. They shouldn’t simply be tossed by the waves of life, and they certainly shouldn’t pass ownership to someone else. That is for them to do, for them to take ahold, whether for good or for bad.

This is a difficult lesson in a world that typically does the opposite, that frequently simply points the finger at another instead of taking ownership of their own work and their own lives. My hope is that they will learn this lesson early.

Make a Budget

The next lesson in the Life Lessons series is that we need to learn to make a budget. In this time with our kids, we started with a simple budget using, as an example, an estimated starting school teacher’s salary in the US. From there, we then considered taxes, tithes, living expenses, and other ways of prioritizing the ways that we spend our money. I wanted the kids to have a sense of how this works, even though we didn’t really get into a great amount of detail on each of the items.

Here is the spreadsheet that we used as we discussed this example budget. I simply used a Google Chromecast to show the screen from my computer to the TV where the family watched and discussed the budget together.

As I think about future Life Lessons related to finances, I want the kids to think about prioritizing how to use their money, including how to manage their tax burden, where to give their money, how to invest or how to make money, etc. More to come!

The kingdoms of this world vs the Kingdom of God

This is the first of the Life Lessons that we have started with our kids. I’m posting this here for future reference for my family as well as for anyone else that may be interested in reading or using them!

First, as a family, we watched this YouTube video about the Capitol Hill riots in the US:

From there, I asked the kids a question: Why did this happen? Why are the people so upset that they spent all of their money to come to Washington DC to protest and riot in this way?

I told them that they couldn’t simply say that the people want Donald Trump to be president. They need to understand what else is happening at a deeper level.

After several responses, we discussed that it is important to remember which Kingdom that we belong to. Very often, we get confused. We think that the politicians will help us, that we can put our trust in them, especially if they align with our political beliefs. But the truth is that – and this is the Life Lesson – the kingdoms of the world are always temporary. They cannot be depended upon. We can only put our trust in the Kingdom of God. It is the only kingdom that will last forever and is truly good.

As we watched the video above together, I asked the kids about the differences between what happened in this situation vs. how we are to live as members of the Kingdom of God. Through this conversation, we read the words of Jesus which point us in the direction of understanding the nature of the Kingdom of God:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matthew 5:1-12