Josh Yaeger’s Blog

Is humility a bad word?

Humility is one of those ideas that sound good but no one really wants.  At least that is the attitude that I perceive in most Americans, specifically of the male persuasion.  We tend to equate humility with low self-esteem and a soft and pliable temperament.  We may even believe that humble people lack ambition and minimize or downplay their accomplishments.  In short, humble people are pansies. 

But this is not what is meant by biblical humility.  So what is it?  How do we define it?  Probably the best place to start is by stating what biblical humility is not. 

First, it’s not low self-esteem.  For example, look at Jesus.  He had a pretty high opinion of himself.  He believed he was the Son of God.  Yet he humbled himself and washed dirty feet and died on a cross.  Daniel and his friends were good-looking and had aptitude for all kinds of learning.  They wouldn’t have made it in the king’s palace if they didn’t believe in their God-given abilities. 

Second, biblical humility is not a lack of ambition.  Daniel and his friends had to work hard to graduate at the top of their class and be considered ten times better than everyone else.  Daniel also sought high positions for his friends as administrators over provinces in Babylon.  Notice that in Matt. 20:20-28 when Peter and John commit the mother of all momma’s boy moves and ask Jesus through their mother for positions of prominence in the kingdom that Jesus doesn’t rebuke their ambition.  Instead he rebukes them for their chosen path to get there.  You do not become great in the Kingdom of God through a prominent position, rather you become great through humble service. 

Finally, biblical humility does not mean you downplay your accomplishments.  Paul regularly speaks of his accomplishments among the saints and his position as an apostle to gain credibility, but at the same time he doesn’t do this to glorify himself.  Instead, Paul seeks to point to God through his “boasting.”  It seems to me that if we downplay or ignore our accomplishments, we are ignoring and downplaying the incredible work of God in fallible human beings.  Talking about our accomplishments becomes wrong when we try to glorify ourselves. 

So what is it?  What is biblical humility?  As we can see through the example of Daniel and especially Jesus, it is simply serving others by putting their needs and interests above our own.  It is not becoming a doormat.  It is becoming a servant.  Consider Abraham and Lot when they realized that their flocks and herds were too much for the land to support.  Abraham gave up his right as the older patriarch to allow Lot first choice of the land. 

Biblical humility is giving up our rights for the benefit of others.  I have the right to say whatever I want, but humility is knowing when to exercise that right and when not to.  What I say may do more harm than good even if what I am going to say is the truth. 

Biblical humility even calls us to serve our enemies.  Daniel served his captors.  He made their kingdoms better because he was there. 

I don’t know which of our two most recent presidents you supported.  I saw Christians on both sides of the political spectrum in the last two presidencies.  So if you were against President Obama, what would you say to a Christian who served in the cabinet of a socialistic, abortion-supporting liberal?  Or if you are against President Trump, what would you say if a Christian served in the cabinet of a sexist pig of a man whose god seems to be money and only gives Christianity props when it benefits him?

I don’t say this to attack your favorite candidate or to create a feeling of smugness in who you voted for in the last elections.  I say this because I believe that a Daniel may be heavily criticized in our Christian bubble these days because the church has more often than not adopted the practice of isolation rather than infiltration.  If something is wrong, we often stand from afar and criticize it.  And we don’t let our children stray too close because they might get infected.  Daniel humbly infiltrated the royal courts of four pagan kings.  He served God but he also served these kings and made their reigns better. 

I think it’s important that we give humility another try in both our homes and in our workplaces.  How can we follow Daniel’s example?  This is key to being people of faith who infiltrate and transform Babylon. 




Willing to Die in the Furnace

What would you die for?  If you are a father like me you would almost certainly die for your kids or your wife.  If you are a teacher, you might die for the children in your class.  There are numerous examples of teachers shielding their students when disaster hits.  Many have died for their country.  But would you be willing to die for your faith? 
In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are willing to die for their faith.  They will not bow down to an image that Nebuchadnezzar has commanded them to bow down to.  In fact, they actually get tossed in the fire before they realize that God is actually going to save them.  There’s no booming voice saying, “Stop Nebuchadnezzar!”  There’s no incredible sign showing the three Jews that they will be saved.  God is just silent until they find themselves in the fire and then they get to walk around with some kind of heavenly being.  Even their words indicate that they do not know what is going to happen.
If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.                         -Daniel 3:17-18
My question is this: How do we develop a faith that looks like that?  How do we develop a faith that stands firm even to the point of death? 
I found an interesting answer in a book by Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale called
Jesus Among Secular Gods. 
In this book, Zacharias records a conversation he had with a Muslim who had converted to Christianity.  This convert tried to describe the difference between his Muslim faith and Western Christianity (We live in a Westernized country. Look it up if you don’t know what I mean).  To describe the difference, this ex-Muslim drew two circles and put a dot in the middle of both and said this: 
As a Muslim, I believed the circle to be my faith and the little dot to be my life…To many Westerners, the circle is his life and the dot his faith (p. 11). 
This led me to a watershed moment in my faith.  I would actually use the same illustration that this ex-Muslim used, but I would define the picture this way.  The circle is God’s eternal story.  The dot is me and my story.
  When I realize that my entire life has been planted into the grand story of God creating, interacting with and saving humanity, I begin to grasp that there cannot be compartments in my life.  My faith and my God is bigger than me.  He is not in me, I am in him.  Therefore, I can die for him, knowing that the story is not jeopardized.  However, if my story is the only one I am aware of, I would surely bow to whatever idol stands before me in order to survive. 
It’s the same with my family.  I would never want this, but if we were to face a life or death situation where I had the choice of dying so my family could live, I would gladly put my life on the line because my family is bigger than me.  It is our challenge in a narcissistic, me-centered culture to take the focus off of ourselves and place it firmly on God and His story.  


Grizzlies, Walking Sticks, Safe Rooms and Possums

What do these four, seemingly unrelated things have in common? The answer: they are representative of how American Christians often respond to a culture that no longer claims to hold their values. 
Sometimes Christians respond with aggression like a grizzly bear. 
Even if we don’t respond to the extent pictured, there are still times that we react angrily to somebody pushing against our beliefs and values with an opposing set of beliefs and values.  We assemble our arguments and we are ready to respond whenever somebody makes statements contrary to “God’s laws” or our beliefs. 
Sometimes Christians respond by simply trying to blend in like a walking stick (the insect) on a tree branch. 
If you were to compare us with our neighbor who isn’t a Christian, there wouldn’t be many decipherable differences. We would live our lives with similar goals and schedules, many of which would revolve around our career and leisure activities.  The only difference would be in attending a church periodically. 
Some Christians have adopted a safe room technique. They isolate themselves.
  They try to keep all the bad stuff out to the extent that they completely lose touch with the world and have very little chance of making a difference in the lives of ordinary every-day people.  Once again, we may not be at the extent pictured, yet we may have still made a Christian bubble in which we exist.  We rarely venture past the safety of those walls into the world.  All our friends are Christians.  All of our social functions are Christian functions.  All of our activities are with people who think, act, talk and look like us.   
Finally, some Christians just give up like a possum playing dead. 
With this group, it’s less about blending in and it’s more about giving up on the Christian ideals whenever they clash with what our culture says.  They compromise whenever they are faced with an opposition to their beliefs.  Pretty soon, their Christianity is almost unrecognizable and sometimes they leave faith altogether. 
None of these responses look like Daniel.  He was not aggressive even though he had every right to be.  He did not try to blend in.  In fact, he actually stood out.  Daniel and his friends were found to be ten times better than everybody else interviewed by king Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel did not isolate himself.  Somehow he managed to serve God while also serving in Babylon.  Amazingly, during his service, we have no record of Daniel compromising on the things that mattered most, though his definition of those things may look a little different from our definition.  Daniel was a man of good faith in Babylon.  He was a man of wisdom, love and humility in one of the most godless nations to ever exist on earth.  Let’s follow Daniel’s example in America. 
Jesus called his disciples to be Salt and Light.  Can we seek to be people who live out our faith in ways that influence and change the landscape around us rather than reacting with aggression, assimilation, isolation or compromise?  


Could It Get Any Worse?

Many Christians in America seem to be all worked up these days about “the direction our country is going.”  I hear people say things regularly about some recent political event with a despondent voice and a shake of their head.
In the coming weeks as we journey through the book of Daniel in my blog posts and sermons, my hope is to show that there is a way forward.  There is a way to be people who live out our convictions without being obnoxious and there is a way to do this while actually making a difference in the world around us.  The first six chapters of Daniel deal with this very issue.  But in order to understand that, it helps to grasp the circumstances that gave rise to the work that we now find in our Bibles. 
Like every book that makes up our Bible, there was an occasion that led to the writing of Daniel.  The stories of Daniel and his friends serving in the the courts of various kings were told and retold for centuries before they were actually written down.  Based on literary, linguistic and historical evidence I believe that Daniel was most likely finished in its present form during the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, also known as Antiochus IV.  (I don’t have the time or the space to go into detail about why I think this is the case, so you can either trust me on this or do your own research and see where you land.)  Antiochus was the Greek king of the Seleucid Empire (reigned 175 -164 B.C.) who claimed the name Epiphanes which means illustrious one, or god manifest.  The simple fact that he claimed this title for himself gives us a glimpse into his personality. 
During his reign, he tried to conquer Egypt but was stopped when a Roman ambassador showed up and told him that if he attacked Egypt, Rome would declare war.  Antiochus withdrew, but as you can imagine this made the illustrious one piping mad.   So what do you do when you get mad at the big bully with bulging muscles and black belts in seven different martial arts disciplines?  You take it out on the skinny kid with glasses (that was me on the playground by the way which has nothing to do with this blog post) which in this case happens to be what’s left of Israel. 
In Palestine, Antiochus noticed that there was a feud going on between two sects of Jews.  The first sect was known as the traditionalists.  They sought to be faithful to the Mosaic laws and the old ways of the Jews.  But the other sect was known as the Hellenists (Still a thing in the NT by the way.  See Acts 9:29).  The Hellenists were trying to mesh pagan Greek culture and the Mosaic culture.  As you can imagine, this resulted in some pretty hot debates between these two sects.  Think about the debates going on between churches that hold the traditional view of marriage versus churches that are accepting gay marriage and even ordaining gay pastors and I think you will have a pretty good picture of how heated these debates were. 
So Antiochus decides to flex his muscles a bit and thinks he is going to come in and solve all this.  He made a decree, that was reportedly to avert a civil war, which outlawed all Jewish rites and worship.  This decree also stated that Jews must worship Zeus instead of Yahweh.  Perhaps this decree did avert a civil war but it also united the Jews against Antiochus.  The conflict escalated to the point where Antiochus raided the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, stealing treasures and setting up an altar to Zeus on which he sacrificed a pig.  He killed many Jews and sold many others into slavery. 
Eventually this would lead to the Maccabean revolt in which Judas Maccabaeus would lead the Jews through a series of victories and eventually to a short-lived freedom. 
It was during this time that the book of Daniel came to it’s final form.  It was probably written by a group known as the “the wise” who believed that God’s people could live faithfully in a culture that did not share their values but they also believed that God’s people could influence that culture without armed conflict.  The latter chapters of Daniel, the apocalyptic parts, were also written to encourage an oppressed people since that is often the circumstance that spawned this type of literature.  
So, can it get any worse than what we are seeing in our country right now?  I believe the circumstances that led to the book of Daniel should cause us to answer with a resounding “Yes!”  However, with the move away from Christianity that our country is experiencing, I also believe that there is probably not a better place to go for the 21st century American church than the book of Daniel.  We certainly don’t want armed conflict between Christians and atheists, but I am convinced that Christianity practiced in it’s purest form has the potential to remake this world into a place without violence and saturated with unconditional love. I hope you enjoy our journey through Daniel. 


Neighbor Is A Verb!

I saw something amazing last weekend.  I saw my church ‘neighbor’ our neighbors. 
Like most downtown churches, the majority of people that make up Tenth & Broad Church of Christ look significantly different than the people living in the neighborhood surrounding us.  These differences can be seen in a variety of ways.  Values are different.  Social and economic status is different.  Race is different.  Family units are different.  And when something is different, it often results in fear and judgment. 
When churches fall into this trap of fear and judgment, they cease to be the church.  They forfeit the opportunity to be salt and light in their neighborhoods and they hide the two greatest commands under a web of excuses.  Jesus says the greatest command is to love God and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself.  To love your neighbor is to love God.  To love God is to love your neighbor. 
We have been exploring “How to Neighbor” in a recent series of sermons where we covered racism, loneliness, poverty and orphans in an effort to prepare us for stepping out into our neighborhood here in downtown Wichita Falls.  
Reaching into our neighborhood this summer is being done in three phases.  The first phase was to canvas our neighborhood asking what we can do.  We didn’t want to arrogantly claim to know what was needed in our neighborhood since many of us don’t live here.  The second phase was to have a block party at our church.  And the last phase (yet to be accomplished) is to set up service days based on the cards that we received (we received 15 by the way and we passed them out to about 350 residences).  
The thing that touched me this weekend was our block party.  We got the word out through a mailing to the postal route surrounding our church building and a big sign in the empty lot next to our church building.  Rain threatened the event, but the weather held and we had a solid party where we provided snow cones, hot dogs, a jump house, a train to ride, yard games, kite flying, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, a dunk tank (which resulted in our only injury to our children’s minister), give-a-way baskets, and live music.  We had 20 family units sign up for the give-a-way baskets, and our best guess was that 40+ people showed up from our neighborhood.  And the most touching thing I saw, was the people of our church engaging their neighbors in the most respectful and kind ways imaginable.  I saw one of our members holding an infant for over an hour so the parents could play with their older child.  I saw another one of our members sitting and talking for an hour and a half with a man who literally walked across the street to come to the block party.  I saw person after person from our church engaged in conversation and neighboring our neighbors. 
We already had a few guests on Sunday morning as a result of the neighboring that went on and my hope and prayer is that this is the beginning of transformed lives and families. 


New Eyes In Tragedy

Tragedy is difficult.  Nobody looks for it.  Nobody wants it.  But some day you will find it.  We have had tragedy at our church in downtown Wichita Falls.  And it hit us with tremendous force.  One day we woke up and everything was normal.  When we went to sleep that night, everything was changed and a family was left mourning the loss of a 13-year-old son. 
What do we do in the midst of tragedy?  What does tragedy do to the way we see God?  Tragedy has been happening since the beginning of time.  Death and destruction are a normal part of life on this planet.  What do we do with it?   What do we learn about God in the midst of it? 
There are three options.  First, we leave our faith.  Second, we ignore it and try to continue on without thinking about it too much.  Or the third option is we change our perspective.  For me, the last option is the best option.  There are too many evidences pointing to God for me to throw my faith out the window. But neither can I pretend that this does not affect the way that I see God.  Therefore, I must change my perspective and develop new eyes.  
Did you know that eagles, hawks and other birds of prey have vision that is about 3-4 times sharper than our own?  They can spot rabbits and prey from several miles away.  They can cruise at a height of 10-15,000 feet, spot a tasty rodent and dive at over 100mph and still keep their target in complete focus! 
We will never have the physical eyes of an eagle, but I believe that our spiritual sight can get sharper as we experience life especially in the midst of tragedy. 
I think of the Apostle Paul whose life was kind of like one giant mishap after another.  He got stoned, rejected, arrested, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, and put under house arrest.  And those are just some of the things we know about! 
And yet he wrote these words in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (TNIV). 
“…we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
We must develop new eyes in the midst of trying circumstances.  We must see all of life, especially tragedy, through eternal eyes.  It doesn’t make the tragedy okay.  Neither does it make everything fine.  But it does help us see beyond our hurt to something greater. 


Christ Is Risen!

This was used as a call to worship for Easter Sunday on April 16, 2017.  The church was invited to respond to the leader with the bold phrases. 
The savior died,
They laid him in a tomb.
Hope was lost,
But now hope is found,
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
The soldiers have returned home,
One has a blood stained garment. 
The jeering crowds have dispersed,
Thinking the deed is done.
But Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
The time for grieving has ended!
Death has been defeated!
The grave could not hold him!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
There is no reason to fear!
There is no reason to withhold love!
There is no question about purpose!
Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! 
The curtain has been torn!
The relationship repaired!
We can approach the throne!
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 
Let us go into the world,
Let us leave no rock unturned!
Let us tell the story that
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! 


Why The Cross?

When I read the story of the crucifixion,
I rarely do it with true conviction. 
The unfairness and injustice are incomparable,
Though my indignations seem to fade over time and interval. 
When we frequent a church we hear it so often,
For preachers’ talk of this event is constant. 


Sometimes, however, the story catches me by surprise,
Causing mist and tears to well in my eyes. 
I really am sad to hear,
About the things Jesus was made to bear. 
But why does it matter how he died?
Why do I need to know the details that make grown men want to cry? 


Our answer to this question is sometimes less than exceptional,
Because we park in a place that isn’t very motivational. 
Oh it motivates alright,
Motivates to stop in our tracks when our thoughts are less than bright. 
Perhaps our sin has affected the situation,
And placed us in the midst of a compromising complication. 


This story may even cause sorrow after the fact,
When I have been there and done that. 
But is there more to it for me?
Is there more than simply keeping me from evil complicity? 


As we dive deeper into this story,
We must realize that it is more than just history. 
It shows us a most incredible picture,
This ancient text called a Bible known as scripture. 
We don’t read of a god who is petty and cruel,
Nor do we see one who is obsessed with his power and rule. 
Rather we see our God come down,
We see him lay aside all, including his heavenly crown. 
He loves us more than himself,
And through Jesus, he gives up life itself. 
Giving us a chance to be,
More than you and I could ever dream. 


But this story does not stop there,
Oh no, it continues on and it is without compare!
It attacks our aspirations of control and authority,
By showing us what is our Lord’s true priority. 
Jesus goes through the abuse and death of his humanity-saving plan,
When he could have snapped his fingers and ended the life of any man. 


I am ashamed when I find myself complaining,
About an offensive experience that is hardly worth contemplating. 
For when I compare it to the devastating experience of the cross,
Alas, I find that I am uncharacteristically at a loss. 
Can I trust my Lord’s design?
Even when it seems that persecution and pain are an inevitable part of the enterprise?   


It’s all starting to clear up, you’ve got no need to worry,
For my Savior didn’t come to the cross to only make us sad and sorry. 
He went to the cross to SHOW US what he is calling us to do,
And since he went first, it should make it easier for me and you! 
He says, “If you want to be my disciple, take up your cross.”
And yes it will mean that you experience significant loss! 
But when you give up your life for him,
This is when you will truly find it again. 
I hope you enjoyed this poem on the cross. 


He’s Here! (Mark 4:1-11)

He’s right next door.  The man called Jesus.  The teacher who seems to be more concerned with people’s needs than simply giving them laws to follow.

He is a different kind of Rabbi.  Jesus entered Jerusalem on a young colt with an entourage of twelve plain men.  The fanfare was not forced.  Instead, it was done at the behest of the common person when they found out who was entering Jerusalem just a week away from Passover.  Cloaks were spread out and branches were cut and placed under the feet of the colt.  Shouts of “Hosanna” or “Lord save us!  We beg you!” rang out. 

We all knew who was entering the city.  The one who had healed blind men with a touch and cast out demons with a word.

And the second day was even more spectacular!  He walked into the temple courts and stood up for me!  My entire life, when I went to the temple, I could go no further than the court of the gentiles/women.  And it was in that court that all the money changers could be found.   My encounter with God always included the smell of dung and the sounds of animals and bartering.  There was a skinny little pathway through the court-turned-market place with no place to stop and pray.

Jesus went berserk.  He yelled.  He gnashed his teeth.  He turned over tables and opened animal pens.  And when he was finished, he cried out, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations!  But you have made it a den of robbers.”

And now, he is here in Bethany, next door at Simon’s house.  A stone’s throw away.  What could I possibly give him?

So I rummage through my house.  Only the best will do.  I look at the pile of things assembled before me.  The few coins I have.  The best clothes.  The beautiful dish I purchased last spring.  But only one item stands out.  The alabaster jar of pure nard given to me by my grandmother.  It was a rare thing and she gave it to me for my wedding night.  I anointed my hair with it, and my new husband loved it.

I also used the nard to anoint the wrappings that covered my father who died last year.  Grandma said to save it for special occasions.  I could not think of a more special occasion than this.  

I hurried out of my house and into Simon’s house.  People watched me hurry by with jaws dropped.  Surely they were wondering what this next door neighbor was doing in the house.  When I reached the dining room,  I broke the jar in my haste to open it but I had already planned to use all of the nard anyway. I anointed Jesus’ head.

The smell filled the little room.  It was only then that I began to look around.  I saw surprise in the faces of those sitting around the table that quickly darkened into anger.

“Why this waste of perfume?” one said.

“It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor!” another exclaimed.

“You stupid woman!  What do you think you are doing?” said a third, nicely dressed and well-groomed man.

I began to panic.  Had I done something wrong?  Finally, I found the eyes of Jesus.  But there was no anger there, only love and admiration.  And then he spoke.

“Leave her alone.  Why are you bothering her?  She has done a beautiful thing to me.  She gave what she had.  She poured perfume on my body to prepare me for my burial.  Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

At these words, the well-dressed man got up and left in a huff.  But I stayed by Jesus. 


In order to prepare for a sermon, sometimes I go through this exercise in my efforts.  I try to place myself in the shoes of the person I am reading about and supply the details that the biblical writer does not provide.  Of course, a lot of it is simply my imagination, but I have found this exercise to be immensely useful in getting to the heart of a particular passage.  I hope you will use this spiritual discipline yourself and I also hope that you will be blessed by my words here. 
Some of my more scholarly friends could possibly be bothered by bits and pieces of this because I do not have research to support every detail.  Neither do I mash Mark together with other gospels who name the woman and have her doing different things.  I am trying to let Mark stand on his own. 






The Third Place

The church should be the third place for your family.  Now notice that I didn’t say the church should be in third place.  There is significant difference between being the third place and being in third place.  This is a great concept from Mark Holmen (Faith Begins at Home: The Family Makeover with Christ at the Center) that I want build on in this blog. 

It is natural that we are going to spend most of our time in two places.  First, we will spend a majority of our time at home doing things that include living.  The second place is work.  Work will be a close second to home when it comes to the amount of time we spend there.  For some, work is their first place and home is the second, but that is another blog! 

My concern here is with the third place.  The idea of the third place is not about level of importance, rather it is about amount of time spent.   We have many things vying for our attention, trying to take the third place.  Youth sports, entertainment, leisure activities, friends, etc.  You owe it to yourself to know what or perhaps who is trying to take that position. 

If you are a Jesus follower, the church should be the third place.  I am not talking about the building.  It’s not going to help if you show up every time the grounds keeper is there to mow the grass or set up chairs.  I’m talking about the assembly of believers—the people. 

If we decide to make the church our third place, we will put the church in the perfect place to partner with us as we seek to raise our families in the Lord.  We will be fed by the Word.  We will be able to establish mentoring relationships.  We will benefit from the events and training that seek to equip us as parents to accept our responsibility of passing faith on to our kids.  And finally, when we make the church our third place, the loving arms of Christ’s body will be there to support during times of crisis and need.  I don’t think the soccer field or the lake will do all that. 

What’s your third place?