Sunday, July 14, 2013

Three Reasons To Give Thanks for the Verdict of the Zimmerman Trial

"In everything, give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus, concerning you."  
1st. Thessalonians 5:18

Looking for God's will in the whole matter?  There it is- at least in part- give thanks.  It's a great verse of scripture, it's clarity can't be surpassed, and it's also one of the best modern gospel songs I've heard.  But if it doesn't apply in a verdict that has broken so many of our hearts, then it doesn't apply at all.  If God's word is truly a lamp to our feet and a light to our path, then it why do so many claiming this truth fail to flip the switch when in the darkness brought on by dismay and disillusionment?  But the light still shines in the darkness... let's look at three reasons to offer gratitude to God for this verdict.

1.  The reminder that ultimate truth and justice is not found in fallen humanity or its systems.  This one should be obvious but it is still worthy of meditation.   Being made in the image of God, all humans have a kind of correspondence, albeit a broken one, with eternity and transcendent truths.  That is to say, we understand that there is such a thing as justice though we can't weigh it on a scale, measure it with rulers, or find it in a microscope.  The source of justice is the immortal, invisible, only-wise God.  We are as separate from it as we are from Him.  This verdict humbles us because the truth is, when all the physical evidence that humans can muster up and all the best human reasoning is accounted for, God is the only One Who really knows the true intentions in both Mr. Martin and Mr. Zimmerman.  Because we lack true certainty of what was in either of their hearts, we recognize our need for a divine perspective, holy justice and God Who is the source of both.  Remembering this also gives us hope because we know that the "Judge of all the Earth" will bring true justice to all and for all in His time regarding every case and question.

2.  The verdict highlights the amazing grace of the God Who justifies the wicked.  Don't take this and run with it.  I am talking about a very specific and narrow slice of this case and am in no way agreeing, excusing, or white-washing the decision of the jury.  But this is what I am saying-

If you're like me, your heart sank when the verdict was read.  I'm no legal expert and I didn't follow the trial with supreme precision, but I was profoundly confused that a man with no badge kill another and be found "not guilty".  Call it what you want, but I struggle mightily to get passed that.  What's more difficult is this: that so many of us have a strong sense of what is just in the case of Trayvon Martin (where we have no absolute truth of all intentions and actions) but can't see God's right to demand full punishment for sins that we know we commit against Him!

The Bible is clear: God was never obligated to forgive sin, but that the wages of sin is death.  The only thing God had to do was to exact justice on each soul for every sin until He was satisfied.  And that would take quite a while because an infinitely holy God is infinitely offended by even ONE sin.  God Almighty, Who had every right to demand justice and had the power to perform it, chose to extend mercy and grace to those who would believe on the Lord Jesus.  Think about the anger and rage that unjust persons like you and me had about this case.  Crying out for justice on behalf of Trayvon is one thing, but God had the right to carry out justice on a vile sinners like us... and He didn't.  Consider how hard it is to get over the verdict despite our own lack of perfection.  Now consider what God did in Christ on your behalf when He absorbed the punishment for the sins of His people.

Are you grateful yet?

3.  The power of radical, racial reconciliation is found at the Cross of Christ.  It is true that this verdict has once again opened up some old wounds that were still puss-filled and bloody.  Racial issues in the U.S. are complex, scary, and wearisome.  And yet, the Christian has this assurance: the sacrifice that reconciled man with God and made Jews and Gentiles one; that same sacrifice can and certainly will bridge the gap and heal the scars from the rift between blacks and the Anglo-Saxon controlled SuperPower that they helped create but feel so alienated from.  For it is written,

"And they sang a new song saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth.'"
Revelation 5:9-10

That's a future worth leaning into.  Christ's sacrifice to reconcile us to God not only makes racial reconciliation possible but guarantees it.  God's future promise is worth honoring today by working towards honest and humble forgiveness towards all as Christ forgave us.  We are blessed to serve a God Who made man diverse, but knows how to make us unified for righteousness and not for vanity like in the days of the Tower.  All of our blessings and hopes are rooted in the work of Christ at the cross.  To be sure, the path of the cross instructs us perfectly because we see that the Perfect Man's most perfect work involved the submission of His will for the sake of His Father's will.  We are challenged, but grateful for His example and encouraged by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to live as Jesus did.

Meditations on the Cross of Christ are crucial for this hour.  Anyone care to add to my list?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Grown-Up Prayer Requests, Part 2: K Street Christians and Reverse-Lobbying

The history of lobbying is an interesting one.  As Ellen Arnold explains it, President Grant liked taking walks to get away from the stressful environment of the White House.  Looking for a change of venue/scenery, the retired Union general would make his way to the Williard Hotel (still in existence today) and smoke a cigar in lobby there.  Being a creature of habit, others began to take note of his routine and preferences.  Individuals with their ear to the street began to approach him in the lobby with his favorite kind of cigar and segue or transition into the particular legislative item they sought to influence him with.  President Grant called them lobbyists... and the name stuck.

Of course in our day, there are some other names that come to mind when someone mentions the topic of lobbying or lobbyists.  But this is to be expected since even on a good day, lobbying involves the use of education, influence, and yes, manipulation to "encourage" those with power to act on behalf of one and not the other.  Sinful and flawed humans seek to gain leverage and access to the clout and control of other sinful and flawed humans who enjoy positions of power.  The result is inevitable: sinful and flawed means will necessarily lead to sinful and flawed ends.  No matter how well-meaning, the best laws and intentions of mankind ultimately lead to yet more abuse and disorder by those willing to twist even what is good.

But lobbying the Lord through prayer is altogether different.  First of all, it is for sure that God is absolutely holy and beyond corruption.  Secondly, the Lord is the source of all truth and knowledge.  Therefore, any time we take to tell Him about our situation, requests, or condition is merely for the sake of our own need to confess our sins or to express our need for His gracious and mighty acts on our behalf.  Thirdly (yes, even in blog-posts, there's always three) and most important, the lobbying effect is reversed.  Instead of us seeking to influence God to work on our behalf, lobbying the Lord leads to a completely different goal.

We do not expect God to bow to our rights and privileges as Kingdom Citizens.  Instead, spiritual maturity leads us to submit our will to His in an effort that we might serve His purposes in the earth with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It's reverse-lobbying; He does not come under our sway, but with transformed hearts and His grace which enables, we get a glimpse of His glory and see our plans as poor and pathetic in comparison.  Then it makes all the sense in the world to lay down our agendas, putting our hand to the plow to join His.  In summary, where the typical lobbyist looks to use a politician, the Lord's lobbyists offer themselves to be used by Him for His glory.

So hopefully I've set this up well enough to start a more intense look at the scriptures.  My next blog entry, Lord willing, will begin a five-part series on Bible passages highlighting the Lord's Lobbyists and their grown-up prayer requests.  Stay tuned...

Friday, July 5, 2013

Grown-up Prayer Requests, Part 1

The last few months of fatherhood have been exciting and rewarding.  As my wife and I count down to our daughter Jael's 2nd birthday next Wednesday, its only natural to reflect on the milestones we've seen over the last 51 weeks.  One of the many milestones is the beginning of clear speech.

For sure, Jael has learned ways of getting her point across before she discovered words.  But its exciting to witness how she makes the connection between words/names and the objects and persons they describe or refer to.  I have also taken note of the first word that I have heard her use with extreme emphasis and intentional regularity.  That word?


She knows what shoes are and if I ask her to go get her shoes, she'll gladly get them.  But she won't say "shoe".  She knows what brushing her teeth means, but she won't say "brush" or "teeth".  She's aware of other words too, but she hardly uses them.  But when it comes to food and eating, she's got that locked.

It makes sense, of course, because it's an immediate need.  It's also a legitimate need.  Not to mention the fact that it also brings her great pleasure to eat just about anything that her mother lovingly provides.   Since hunger comes suddenly and is both imperative and pleasurable to address, it is all important to learn how to attain the answer for all three.  We can see then, how a child is motivated to learn how to communicate with the goal of satisfying these three things.

All this was coming to mind during the month of June for me since our church was in the midst of a month-long prayer vigil that coincides with weekly guest preachers each Wednesday to create what we call "June Jubilee", a month-long revival at the year's mid-point.  We gather every morning at 6AM to corporately embrace God's invitation to "come boldly to the throne of grace" with a unified theme each day from a provided devotional thought.  The hour-long session goes something like this: 3-4 individuals lead in prayer for the first 30 minutes, then we break up into groups of three (triads) where each person takes a few moments to pray for the other two triad members, then one big circle with a final prayer given by one person.

I learned a lot about prayer as I listened to different persons lead.  Without being overly critical of any particular style, approach, pattern, or even choice of wording, I was at times amused, appalled and even convicted by a kind of prayer that reminded me of Jael's limited verbal expression/interests. In other words, how many prayers are only concerned with the immediate, self-indulgent needs of the individual praying?

So here are the questions I'm asking:

Do my prayers reflect or gauge my spiritual maturity?

Does my praying mindset reflect a growing biblical perspective of God, myself, and my world?

Is God waiting for me to grow up in prayer with requests that go beyond immediate needs in the same way that I can't wait for Jael to start telling me about something other than her cravings?

What would my prayers sound like if they reflected the priorities of someone OTHER than myself... like maybe God's priorities?

Hmm... sounds like a good blog series coming up.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Spinach and Spirituality

In light of recent events in Boston, MA- moments before I wrote this post- I pray that all readers will pray especially for pastors and church leaders to be appropriately sympathetic and empathetic in prayer for the victims while remaining vigilant regarding the desperate need to proclaim Christ with clarity and conviction; knowing that the gospel takes precedence over sentimentality.  

At the risk of dating myself, my first memorable knowledge of spinach comes from re-runs of the old Popeye cartoons.  Much love to all my people born between the mid 70's and early 80's who can remember cartoons that weren't imported from Japan!  Yes, Popeye was corny, but was apparently a part of an elaborate conspiracy to induce love of spinach among children via animated propaganda.  After all, if you had some spinach, you could beat up a bad guy twice your size and land yourself a date with with the ever-so-fine and shapely Olive Oyl.

The problem was, when I tried spinach, I hated it.  It was slimy, stinky, and while I was born on St. Patrick's Day, I had a real problem with the greenness of spinach.  I really did.  It was a scary food for me and how I wish I had a dog for those days when my mom (who is a great cook under normal circumstances) subjected us to the evils of frozen spinach- the off brand from KeyFood or worse, CTown.  But I probably would have loved my dog too much for that. 

And so for years, I hated spinach... almost as much as Seinfeld's Newman hated broccoli.  

Until I got married.  My wife, a budding culinary genius, heard my complaints about spinach and had the answer for me: eat it raw.  Of course, I initially scoffed at the very idea.  After all, I was a married man now--I was entitled to cooking; eating food raw was for bachelors.  Fast forward a few weeks from the first mention of it and naturally, I discovered that I loved raw spinach!  These days, it's extremely rare for me to go grocery shopping without looking for the freshest organic baby spinach I can find.  I eat it with almost anything and lately, Mrs. Dolce has even had me eating it sauteed in omelets and such.  Who would have imagined that an old childhood enemy would be so agreeable to me as an adult?

As  I mused on this reality, a passage in scripture suddenly made sense to me on an experiential level:

"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.  In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food.  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil."
-Hebrews 5:11-14 (NIV)

I have found a maxim to be quite true: in the same way that children often despise needful vegetables, immature Christians have virtually no appetite for the soul-sustaining meat of biblical doctrine.  Happily content to snack on spiritual fast-foods that cannot sustain them in the long run, so many of our brothers and sisters are just looking for a sugar-high that comes from the syrup-laden, honey-roasted cracker-jack "truths" that excites the taste buds but cannot nourish them.  Like eating a .5lb brownie but only a sliver of turkey breast, they're easily excitable in the short-term but cannot find the spiritual muscle to fight the good fight of faith.  What do we do?  How can we help?

1.  Pray.  Pray for your Senior Pastor and those who preach and teach God's word in your church.  Pray that God would give them the boldness to switch up the spiritual diet of the congregation from time to time.  Pray that the Holy Spirit would empower them with creativity to preach/teach the Word with power and accuracy.  Pray that your preachers and teachers would endure the blank stares, yawning, the apparent failure to "connect" with the class or congregation.  Pray that they long for the approval of Christ rather than the "encouragement" that comes from men who don't even miss what they are desperately lacking. 

2.  Active Encouragement.  Do you simply expect biblically sound preaching and teaching every time you are in church or Sunday School?  If so, do you think it comes from the ether?  Your preachers and teachers are hopefully working for a heavenly reward... but does that mean you shouldn't express your support for their efforts to honor God here on earth?  When was the last time that you personally and directly thanked your pastor for his determination to honor Christ by preaching the truth-- whether it tickled your ears or not?

Your spiritual diet is infinitely more important than your natural diet for food and drink.  Take care not to settle for the empty calories of trite phrases, cliches, smooth words, and the like.  Seek the Lord's blessing for a well-rounded, spiritual meal that you can sink your teeth into.  Ask for help from a "chef" in your circle who knows a little more than you.  And to all my preaching and teaching friends- when you can't find a good story/analogy; when the alliteration scheme isn't working out, when 3 points and a poem just won't do: eat the scroll yourself and give it to them raw.  

"And he said to me, "Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel."  So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat.  Then he said to me, "Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it"  So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth."
Ezekiel 3:1-3 (NIV)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Looking for Lions

To set the scene, you have to envision the throngs that came bursting forth to celebrate the Jewish Passover. The feast is a few days yet, but everyone is in place, crowding Jerusalem and the surrounding areas... like Bethany.  Only 1.5 miles from Jerusalem, Bethany was still buzzing from the obvious and undeniable resuscitation of one resident named Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, who had been dead and buried 4 days.  The Man responsible for this tremendous outbreak of divine power was Jesus of Nazareth.  This Man, accredited to all Israel by miracles, signs, and wonders was now headed to Jerusalem.

The Passover, as a feast hearkening back to God's deliverance of the Israelites from Egyptian Pharoah, has both a spiritual and cultural element to it.  Spiritually, it represented God's faithfulness to His promises concerning the Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to provide their descendants with a land of their own.  But culturally, the Passover in those days was colored with nationalistic fervor and expectation for a renewal of Israel's glory days.  These people were in the moment and feeling like God's deliverance was at hand.  They were looking for a glorious King, Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  But ironically, it's the Greeks and not the Jews, according to John 12:20 who are looking for Jesus.  And this is how Jesus spoke to them,

"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be.  My father will honor the one who serves me.  Now my heart is trouble, and what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'?  No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.  Father, glorify your name
John 12:23-28 (NIV)

On the one hand, Jesus speaks of glory for the Son of Man and yet his words plainly depict pictures of death.  Not a student of Madison Avenue, Jesus makes no apology as He gives His servants a straightforward invitation to die with Him.  What else could He be saying when he says "whoever serves me just follow me"?  Make no mistake, Jesus is headed for the cross and is convinced that the cross is where both He and the Father will be glorified.

But who wants to serve a King with a death-wish? 

The favorite verse of every minister of music is John 12:32: "But I, when I am lifted up form the earth, will draw all men to myself."  Then the music gets loud and boisterous because we want to "lift him up" with glorious sounds befitting a king.  Of course, we glory in the wrong things because  seldom do we connect that verse with the one following it which says, "He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die."  Jesus is the speaker and is again promoting His death, not as the end, but as the beginning of the revelation of His glory.  When you think of John 12:32, do you glory in the cross so that you die to yourself?  Or do you get excited because the music just got hype?

John's gospel stays with this theme of mind-bending glory when in verse 41 John refers to Isaiah 6:10 to say that Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus.  But we know that there was only one vision in Isaiah 6 and that vision was of the LORD Himself.  In essence, John is telling us that the glorious vision of Isaiah was in fact a vision of Jesus.  That vision is glorious, but it doesn't add up in the human mind how that Being and His glory is the same as this Jesus and the "glory" of dying.

But what is glorious to God is not glorious to men.  To the eternal God, it is a glorious thing for men to renounce what is temporal for what will never end.  To Him, a man is glorious if he loves faithfulness to God more than he loves gratifying his failing flesh.  To Him, the man laying down his life for his friends is glorious.  God will glorify those who live and look like the Son of Man.  And as I heard in Pastor Walker's wonderful sermon today, "We have to live for Christ in order to look like Christ."  Truly, the glory of the Father is bestowed on the man who overcomes himself by the power of the Holy Spirit.  That one is crucified with Christ in the likeness of His death so that he/she will be raised to life in the likeness of Christ's resurrection.

But just like the throngs in Jesus' day, if you look for the kingly lion on this earth, you will miss the lamb.  If you miss the lamb, you will miss the sacrifice.  If you miss the sacrifice, you will miss the Christ of the sacrifice.  No cross, no crown. 

In his vision on the Isle of Patmos, John saw a scroll in the right hand of God Most High.  The scroll had seven seals on it and no one anywhere could open it.  John wept because no one was worthy to open the scroll.  But at that moment, an elder said to him, "Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals".  But when John looks for the Lion, he sees a Lamb that looked like it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.  It's an amazing vision because who would expect a lamb when a lion has been announced?  Who would have guessed that they were one and the same?  So it is on earth as it is in heaven.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Certified Forgiveness, Part 1: Extreme Measures

Whatever your philosophy or faith tradition may be, every human alive has to answer this question, "How do I handle my own guilt?  When I know I have done evil, what do I do with these guilty feelings I have?"  While there are dozens and even scores of common methods to deal with guilt, they fall under a handful of categories.  Let's look at one of them:

Method #1: Even out the scales by a deed or deeds I commit.  This is often expressed in terms like, "try to make sure your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds".  In Islam, we find passages in the Koran/Quran (I'm using Sahih International) that some Muslims believe justify the actions of the few who choose to become suicide bombers according to their understanding of what pleases Allah.  One of the less inflammatory passages that is sometimes used to support that idea is found in the following verses or ayat as the most clear rendering of that perspective from chapter or Sura 61:10-13:

"O you who have believed shall I guide you to a transaction that will save you from a painful punishment?  [It is that] you believe in Allah and His Messenger and strive in the cause of Allah with your wealth and your lives.  That is best for you if you should know.  He will forgive you your sins and admit you to gardens beneath which rivers flow and pleasant dwellings in gardens of perpetual residence.  And [you will obtain] another [favor] that you love- victory for Allah and an imminent conquest; and give good tidings to the believers."

Note the word "transaction" in ayat 10.  In trade and financial terms, a transaction implies an exchange that is agreed to between two parties because the value appears comparable and favorable to both sides.  So here, I don't mean to highlight suicide bombings so much as I mean to discuss the concept of "works righteousness".  For the Christian who is faithful to biblical teaching, the idea that a mere human could do enough things to earn a status of righteousness in God's eyes is repulsive.  But consider this: if a man believed he had no assurance of forgiveness apart from dying in a struggle on behalf of his god, is it really extreme for him to do just that?  Or, is it the logical conclusion once one has considered the current temporary life and the eternal state to come?  If by cutting in half your 70 year life expectancy to 35, you could guarantee the eternal rewards of your god... what would you do?


Here's the main point to consider: the so-called suicide bomber goes to extreme lengths to secure forgiveness believing that he has power to please his god by what he does.  But the gospel of Jesus Christ teachings something even more radical:  It is not man, but God Himself Who takes on flesh and human nature to die on behalf of believers.  God is the extremist: extremely holy, extremely just, and extremely gracious.  He takes extreme action because no mere human can, by their own ability, be counted holy enough or righteous enough in the sight of a perfect and transcendent God.  So in doing this, Jesus, the Perfect Man fulfills the unyielding demands of the only True God.  Not only that, the same Jesus absorbs the wrath of God against sin.  In this way, God and God alone is glorified for there is no boasting of our works before Him for it is written,

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law, rather through the law, we become conscious of sin.  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known to which the Law and Prophets testify.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through  the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood....
Romans 3:20-25

Monday, March 25, 2013

Love, Dying, and Life

(I'm grateful to Melissa Fredericks and Marie-Marthe Samuels whose FaceBook statuses alerted me to the existence of this video, and of course, to Todd Friel and the good people over at Wretched TV)

Did you watch the video?  It's a very touching depiction of a husband's undying devotion to his wife.  If you watched just the first 40 seconds of it, you already know what you need to grasp what I'm trying to say in this post.  What struck me was that this man didn't simply deny any burden associated with the care of his wife.  He went on to positively describe the daily, meticulous caring for every need of his wife as "a great privilege".   I'm thinking, "sacred duty"--yes... "because I love her"-- yes... but privilege?  Great privilege?  Well, I guess that's the difference between a man going on 5 years of marriage and a man going on 50, huh?  I have hope that, because of the Lord's mercy, I'll get there.

Once I saw the video, my first thought was to my church's Young Adult Bible Study page on Facebook.  My purpose was to encourage the group to consider the reality of grueling love, consistent self-sacrifice, and perfecting patience that marriage calls for in the long run.  I was also trying to make a statement that this kind of love is not likely to be found in some night club or other places/crowds where the aforementioned character traits are not exalted and openly praised.

But then I thought about this video again and I began to wonder just how much this man really loved his wife.  I mean, she has Alzheimer's and is apparently at a stage where she doesn't know or can't perform normal functions for self-care.  That's tough, but she seemed pretty agreeable and appreciative towards her husband.  I guess that doesn't really minimize his efforts for and love towards her, but it does help when your spouse is at least happy about their treatment.

What if, however, she was not pleasant?  What if she wasn't thankful?  What if she didn't cooperate with him when he's bathing her?  What if she spit out half of the food that he fed her?  What if, despite her weakened condition, expressed disdain and attempted to refuse his choice of clothing and efforts to dress her?  Again, I don't want to take anything away from this man, but I wonder how he would handle a wife whose attitude was totally contrary to the way his is portrayed in the video.

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
-Romans 5:6-8

This is Holy Week, also referred to as Passion Week.  It is a sacred time in the life of the Church when we recall the depth of Christ's devotion to do God's will and redeem His own from their enslavement to sin.  And while we can and ought to affirm this husband's love for his wife, we must recognize that even this great human expression of love is impoverished and impotent by comparison with the love of Christ, the True Husband.  We are supernaturally blessed to have such a Spouse considering we were utterly contentious and at enmity with Him at first and even now we are often faithless despite His faithfulness.

If you think that I've turned an "inspirational" story into one that robs you of your self-esteem or fails to affirm you, I'm not apologizing.  But consider this: a high view of what Christ did on Good Friday depends on a low view of man.  If you think too highly of yourself, you will inevitably think too lowly of the awesome love of God the Father, in Christ, for those who trust in Him by the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration.    

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Missing The Moment

(The following is a piece I wrote for Palm Sunday in 2010)

“The people wanted Jesus to be a revolutionary. He was-- but not to overthrow the Roman government. Jesus was to overthrow the kingdom of darkness!”
-Pastor Patrick J. Walker

Every now and then, we experience moments of clarity. Sometimes those moments explain new things to us, revealing knowledge that had been previously hidden. At other times, a moment of clarity sheds new light on an old topic. The quote above, taken from today's sermon entitled “When Stones Speak” helped me appreciate something I already knew but in a concise and crisp statement with penetrating power. I was inspired to re-examine the events of the Triumphal Entry.

Putting on a historian's hat, we will discover that there was not one, but two “triumphal” processions on the same day. The Roman governor, Pontiffs Pilate, had his official residence in Caesarea which was about a day's journey north of Jerusalem. Knowing that the nationalistic pride of the Jews would be a fever-pitch during the Passover Feast, Pilate knew he had to make the presence of Rome felt that week. Scholars such as Mark Borg and John D. Crossan have put together a very strong case that Pilate would have come riding into Jerusalem from the West at the Gennat Gate.

Given the purpose of his arrival, it's not hard to imagine what that entrance looked like. Nothing was more important to the Romans than displaying their empire's glory. No doubt, Pilate was elevated on some sort of platform above the heads of all that would have seen him. The horses were elegant, the soldiers were fierce with their shields gleaming in the sun. They most likely made their way to the Antonia Fortress with all the pomp and circumstance, pride and power that would rival any military parade of our modern era.

Think of the contrasts. Jesus made His entrance from Bethany in the east via the Golden Gate. Instead of a horse, our King rides on donkey- a borrowed one. No leather for a saddle, He rides on the robes of His disciples. Not elevated above those who sang songs for His sake, He is eye to eye with them. No armor, shields, or swords in the hands of His followers- only palm branches waving wildly.

The crowds sang their songs and laid down their cloaks... but they missed the moment. The revolutionary they wanted did not exist. But the revolutionary they NEEDED was in their midst. He was not aiming at Pilate's seat or the throne of Emperor Tiberius who ruled Rome at that time. No, these men were under no threat from Jesus for in fact, He came to save men like them from a tyranny greater than any Caesar: the tyranny of the Kingdom of Darkness! Hundreds of millions waved palm branches today- but how many truly know Christ and have their sins forgiven, are born from above and walking in the newness of life? If you don't know Him, you too, have missed the moment.

At His entry, armed only with justice and dripping with mercy, the humble Son of God was redefining what it meant to rule and what a kingdom really was. Jesus had set His face to Jerusalem so that even when the crowds disowned Him, He fought on to Friday. His final triumph was at the intersection of Holiness and Grace. That intersection is the cross itself for where man lacked the holiness required to please Him, God gave grace.

Jesus left Jerusalem the way He came in: completely confounding the ways of this world and forever challenging our views of winning and losing. His death redefined victory, not as something where one takes all but where one gives all. For the Christian, the Triumphal Entry of Christ illustrates how radically different our lives ought to look when compared with the world around us. What a challenge- what a moment! 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Bigger Than Worship

Seriously?  What could possibly be bigger than worship?  The eternal activity of angels is worship.  The never-ending energy of the redeemed will be devoted to worship.  The book ends of time, eternity, and all points in between whisper, speak, call, and shout the priority of worship.  In Psalm 150 when the psalmist had run through all the known instruments of his day, he finally concluded, "Let everything that has breath, praise the LORD."  Is there a higher priority than worship?

"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."
Matthew 5:23-24 (NIV)

The above passage is offered as the conclusion to Jesus' teaching on the connection between murder and the sin of hatred/wrathful anger.  Our Lord's warning is that persons are not innocent of murder simply because they haven't carried it out physically.  If we are found with the loose disregard for a human being, who, although they are made in God's image, we dare to call them a "fool" or "good for nothing" (raca), then we are worthy of judgment and even the fires of hell.

So, in verses 23 and 24, Jesus explains that if we are in such a position where the sin of anger resides between ourselves and another, then we ought to postpone everything- even worship- in an effort to make things right.  But how many of us do that?  And exactly why should such a resolution among men trump worship towards God?  I wondered about this for a while and here's what I came up with:

Reconciliation trumps worship because true reconciliation precedes and is logically prior to true worship.  Unless a one is reconciled to God, there is no worship that they can offer that is acceptable to Him.  Only those who live according to the Spirit and have their minds set on the things of God are able to worship because we acknowledge that those controlled by the flesh and sinful nature are unable to please God.  If it is the case that worship pleases God, then it follows that in order to worship God, we must first be reconciled to Him (see Romans 8:5-8).

If this is the case between God and men, then we understand that God's forgiveness towards us  overflows into love towards our fellow humans.  None of us will ever have to extend mercy and forgiveness at a greater cost than God.  If He, being sinless, could forgive us at the price of Jesus' life, He will most certainly require that we forgive fellow sinners (see Matthew 6:14-15).

At the point that a man refuses to forgive another, he has lost touch with his own fallen condition.  His pride, self-righteousness, and anger are blinding him-- he cannot worship God because he is too full of himself.  Forgiveness requires humility because it means we relinquish our right to be angry and offended.  Certainly, Christ demonstrated that kind of humility on the cross. The call to pick up one's cross and follow after Him necessarily includes a life marked by forgiveness.  One forgiven by God can and will forgive others by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The imagery in the following verses are meant as a warning to all who have not yet "settled matters" with the Judge.  Do whatever it takes to be reconciled to Him.  If not, you will face imprisonment until you have paid the last penny.  Be advised, however, that your sin has incurred a debt to God that you cannot repay; you are facing an eternal punishment. Don't look to yourself and don't think that righteousness comes from your attempts to keep God's law.  Instead, look to Christ Who alone can say with respect to paying sin-debt "it is finished".  


Friday, March 1, 2013

Kumbaya, Off Key and Corrupted

How would you answer that question?  Anyone who's been on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for longer than a day has seen this type of image and message.  No doubt, this image stirs up a sentiment that has some staying power.  The idea could be expressed in a sentence: "Hey, if we're all looking for the same thing, why hasn't anyone found it in an ultimate sense yet?"  It's a powerful question, but one would need to remove the emotional desire for "peace" in order to answer it with some honest clarity.  Let's begin addressing the question starting with the simple fact that...

1.  Religions don't define peace in the same way.  I would say that's a major stumbling block to the idea that "all religions teach peace".  If peace means different things to different religions... and each one has a different way of attaining their understanding of peace, one thing is clear: there's no true sense in which all religions teach peace.  That's like saying all "all animals eat food" without considering that lions don't graze and are strictly meat eaters but cows exclusively eat grass/grains and when they eat meat, we get "mad cow disease".  It's not the word "peace" that matters.  What's crucial is the way peace is described in that faith.

Ask a Muslim how to get peace.  At some point, the idea of submission to Allah comes up and you discover that for the Muslim, the world is divided into the Dar al-Islam (the house of Islam) and Dar al-harb (the house of war)... and the house of Islam is to grow until the house of War is no more.  Well... so much for peace, by peaceful means.  Of course, there are Muslims who will say that the house of Islam grows without necessitating violence.  That may be so, but it is clear that they (Muslims) are not all in agreement.  And besides, that only proves my point to a greater extent: different faiths have different definitions of peace and even within any particular faith, there exists disagreement.

The Wiccan practices intimate interaction with nature but the Buddhist insists on looking within for peace even while both have aspects resembling pantheism.  Hindus promote Karma and reincarnation and while a Buddhist may agree with Karma to some extent, there is radical disagreement because the Buddhist does not subscribe to an eternal soul within a person while Hindus do.  It is true that the great monotheistic religions of the world are primarily concerned with finding "peace with God".  But even that agreement leads us to our next point of unalterable dissimilarity.

2.  Religions don't seek peace in the same way.  This only makes sense.  If I don't agree that water is a liquid, I'll laugh at your crazy notion that I can find it in a river instead of mining for it.  People don't seek for peace in the same way because they disagree on what it is.  If peace comes from earth, why should I seek it in the heavens?  If it comes from within myself, why would I look to find it with you?  If I make peace according to my own wisdom and/or moral goodness, why wouldn't  the gospel be foolishness to me?

The Way, rooted in the teachings from Jesus of Nazareth, true peace is from above because it is said of mankind that "the way of peace they do not know" (Rom. 3:17).  Therefore, it had to be God, through Jesus that was reconciling rebellious humanity to Himself.  I make no pretense here: only the Christian who is living out of gratitude for the fact that Christ died for him or her while they were still sinners and therefore unworthy--only that believer will have a life that expresses the overflow of God's peace and grace toward them.  In other words, we extend the message of reconciliation (the gospel) towards all persons with the same love in which it was extended to us.  We, who were unworthy, were made worthy, not by our own efforts, but by God who is rich in mercy.

Yes, peace comes from God.  And peace comes through faith in Christ as announced in the gospel.  That is the biblical understanding of it.  And I am a Christian because God has so convinced my heart that apart from His Spirit's power to make me faithful to Him, I could not live according to God's law consistently enough to ensure peace with Him.  For the non-Christian reading this, I have a question: do you really believe that you are good enough to earn peace with God and others based on your own efforts?  For the Christian reading this, I have another question: When was the last time you truly reflected on the difference between striving for peace with your own power and receiving peace from God Himself in Christ?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Peace When Possible, Truth No Matter the Cost

As the saying goes, “Doctrine divides”.  Indeed this is true.  In light of this fact, many have viewed doctrine as a hindrance to Christian love and shy away or even rebuke those who desire to probe deeply into doctrinal matters.  However, some things merit division.  That is to say, we are not under any biblical or godly obligation to maintain unity at the expense of truth.  "No Compromise" was the theme of last week's Ligonier Ministries National Conference; a ministry that has been a great blessing to me and I am better for having attended it for a second time.  

The Bible is full of stories where God sent prophets to demand that His people “come out and be separate” based on the word of God.  The Bible is the basis of all sound teaching and Christian doctrine is nothing more than all things that God has revealed concerning Himself, the nature and destiny of mankind, our need for God, what God has done in Christ for all who believe, and what God demands from believers by His Spirit.  Doctrine, therefore, is not something reserved for the cold calculations of stuffed shirts in an academic ivory tower.  Doctrine is God’s safeguard for mankind, a light for the true believer, and the growing passion of everyone who is in Christ.  And since the time of the Apostles, no one has exemplified a God-honoring zeal for doctrine quite like that great North African: Athanasius of Alexandria.

As a young man, Athanasius attended the Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.), acting as the secretary to his bishop.  Forget whatever you've heard about that gathering if it didn't also include the fact that these participants were mainly priests and bishops who bore in their bodies the proof of their devotion.  This was not some pristine assembly the affluent, arrayed in golden garments and finery.  No, these men were the scarred and mutilated representatives of Christians and whole churches that had been tortured, looted, and martyred because they would not trade the truth of God’s work in Christ on their behalf for the temporal pleasure of “peace” with the Roman Empire.  This scene deeply influenced young Athanasius who saw firsthand the price of devotion to the Christian faith and a refusal to compromise even a “jot or tittle” of the Holy Scriptures.

Athanasius was eventually made bishop over Alexandra and served for 45 years.  However, 17 years of his tenure would see him exiled—not once or twice—but five times.  He was not forced out of his church and city for misconduct or moral failures.  His “crime” was that he faithfully proclaimed the doctrine of the Incarnation (that Jesus was God in the flesh) at a time when many who called themselves Christians did not believe the scriptures on that issue.  Athanasius believed in the deity of Christ and taught on the doctrine of the Trinity when it was unpopular to believe that Jesus was truly and fully divine.  Because he believed that only God could save sinners and that Jesus was God, he suffered as members of his own church and churches in his home city went back and forth between two doctrines.  But Athanasius was resolute in affirming scripture and refused to compromise.  He was known, therefore, as Athanasius Contra Mundum “Athanasius Against the World” and I am indebted to him for the name of my blog among other things. 

Athanasius deserves a spotlight because the very doctrines that we take for granted in our churches today are the very ones that God strengthened this man to defend and preserve at a time when false doctrine might have overcome the church entirely.  For sure, we recognize that Christ is ultimately the protector of all truth entrusted to the Church.  However, it is proper to recognize that God, through the Holy Spirit, uses human agents to achieve that goal.  Athanasius’ example has been a lighthouse for the Church throughout every generation since.  The much-celebrated generation of the Reformers like, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli sit on the shoulders of a mighty African giant whose example of Christian courage inspired them to stand firm during the great doctrinal struggles of their day. 

May the Lord grant us grace to stand as Athanasius did in his day and three Hebrews before him, Contra Mundum, “against the world” and for the doctrines that honor Jesus the Christ.

(A great book on early theologians and their contributions to the faith is the work edited by Bradley G. Green's Shapers of Christian Orthodoxy published by IVP Academic).  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Haiti Missions Trip Recap 03: Now the Circle is Complete

It’s been about two months since my missions trip to Haiti via the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Missions Board.  The memories are forever etched in my mind as are the faces of families that were blessed by God through our efforts.  The video clips recently uploaded to Lott Carey’s YouTube channel have inspired me to write one last time from a more personal angle than previously shared on this blog.  For those who don’t know…

Both of my parents are from Haiti.  So, although I was born in New York City and am a U.S. citizen, I am also 100% Haitian-blooded.  I was raised in a Haitian-American section of Queens, NY named Cambria Heights which to this day remains predominantly inhabited by persons of Haitian descent.  According to the wisdom and providence of God, He saw fit to have me spend my high school years in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital city, between the years of 1988 and 1992. 

The first few years were extremely difficult for me.  I remember even when boarding the plane from JFK with almost every stitch of clothing and possession I had, I was still in denial about the move to Haiti.  I could not come to grips with the idea of moving.  “People want to move from Haiti to the U.S.”, I thought to myself.  “Who would want to move from the U.S. to Haiti?”  I was sure that my parents would see the folly of their thoughts and sometime in August, I’d be back in Queens getting ready to attend Archbishop Molloy High School.  But instead, I was stuck in Haiti. 

People who visit Haiti often return to the States and tell everyone how being in Haiti made them feel so grateful for all that they had previously taken for granted.  But living in Haiti proved a very different mindset for me.  I hated Haiti.  I was embarrassed by the half-completed home I was living in.  Mortified by the lack of consistent running water and shocked at the idea that I could flip a light switch or press a button on the TV or radio and nothing happened (we had daily blackouts lasting 12-18 hours on average), I hated my life. 

Although I was already a professing believer in Christ, I hated Him too.  I was disillusioned by the God that I thought loved me: how could He love me and let me go through all of this?  Why was I surrounded by so much pain and poverty?  I was in what appeared to be a lose-lose proposition: I hated the fact that I had left so much in New York to live with so little in Haiti.  But at the same time, I knew I couldn’t complain too much because by comparison with the misery around me, I should be feel fortunate.   I wondered as I wandered in circles in my nearly pitch dark room with no light but the moon and the far away flickering lights on the mountains, “Does God really care?”

To be sure, there were some bright spots here and there.  My friend David Prosper kept me sane with faithful friendship, insightful thoughts, and brilliant imagination. And then there was a loving community of missionaries that took a liking to me, first among them was my high school principle, Mr. David Bitner.  

I was taught the scriptures in school and while it fascinated me to learn directly from scripture (I went to Roman Catholic schools prior to QuisqueyaChristian School (QCS) and only had religion text books), it increased the gap between me and God in a weird way.  The God I read about in the Scriptures was transcendent but imminent.  Like the sun in the sky, He was actually so far above and beyond me and yet just as present as the heat around me—especially the Haitian sun!  But my experience in Haiti between June of ’88 and January of ’91 had me believing that I was experiencing the eclipse of God’s love. 

Somewhere in the middle of my junior year, a true Godsend in my life, formerly Rebecca Nelson (a daughter of missionaries herself) had shared a scripture passage with me:  Jeremiah 29:11-13, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

It was at that time that things started to make sense.  I realized that my time in Haiti had forced me to truly seek God out in ways that a comparatively comfortable life in the States probably wouldn’t have.  Somehow, in the middle of my anger at God for engineering or at the very least allowing the circumstances of my life, I hadn’t stopped believing in Him despite my confusion about His ways.  When I read all of Jeremiah 29, I realized that the chapter itself was a letter from Jeremiah to those Jews who were in exile.  “I’m in exile too!” I thought to myself.  It was the first time that I could see the God speaking to my life directly through the pages of scripture.  Although I was in another country that I didn't want to live in, I had the assurance that God did care.  After all, He had one of His prophets write a letter to persons who were in my shoes.  And He cared enough to ensure that the same letter would be preserved to the very day that I needed its instruction and encouragement.  
My assumptions about God and my expectations regarding how He would govern the life I handed over to Him were wrong.  To be truthful, I’m not sure I really understood God’s rulership over my life as a Christian.  I knew He was saving me from Hell… but that was about it.  The idea that God would radically rule my life without any attempt to appeal for my consent never occurred to me.  I never thought to myself, “Why would an infinitely wise God need my advice as to what I thought was good for my life?”  Instead, I assumed that God should do the things that I wanted Him to do and be for me whatever I thought He should be so long as I was a good boy and was basically moral. 

What a joke.

My basic problem with God was a lack of trust.  I didn’t truly believe that He was out for my good.  I looked at circumstances and made the common but drastic mistake of trusting my own calculations.  When I did the math and the numbers didn’t make sense, I assumed that God was wrong.  It never occurred to me that the way I was looking at my life was wrong… or that comfort and pleasure were wrong goals… or that the Christian life shouldn’t include a cross to bear.  I was “wise in my own eyes” and had the nerve to accuse God of wrong doing.  It’s a testament to His grace that He didn’t kill me.  Trust me, if you knew some of the things I said to Him and thought I had about Him in those dark hours, you’d agree.  But God is so merciful.

The team I traveled with to Haiti saw firsthand and I was reminded of the spiritual giants that the common Haitian believers are.  Often with holes in their shoes and unbearable heat, these people trust God with a faith that shames those of us with climate-controlled sanctuaries and padded pews.  They sing with fervor and easily listen to hour-long sermons with great intent because they are wise enough to cling to God.  Their difficult circumstances have made them wise beyond our learning and it was good for me to be reminded of that.

I think it was Wednesday, December 5th that I saw my brother John in Haiti.  He came to guide me on my way to visit my parents for a few hours with permission from Kathi Reid and Team Leader Tony Taylor.  But on my way to see my parents, I had the pleasure of seeing my old Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) colleague (Robbie Pruitt) and the honor of speaking to his 12 grade Bible class at QCS.  The experience was surreal.

I was standing in clothes I had packed for construction work that were sullied with the dust from transferring between 3 Haitian buses or “tap-taps”.  I was speaking to the Senior Class of 2013 almost 21 years since I had been a senior in what was Miss Sharon Bressler’s classroom where I had both Civics/US Government and Bible class from Mr. Bressler (the Epistle of James).  I was challenging the class to total commitment to God and faithfulness to His word and the pursuit of godly mentors and Christian fellowship.  And I was sharing my own struggles while in Haiti with my reflections on Jeremiah 29 and how God used that one chapter to completely revolutionize my walk with Him. 

I look back on that day and those few minutes with awe and fondness.  Symbolically, it represented a completed circle: the faith of those missionary families like the Bitners, Bresslers, Shingledeckers, etc. was is now fully transferred to me in that I had the opportunity to serve the same nation where they were serving when the Lord used them in my life.  I know that the work of my hands will glorify God by encouraging the faith of a family in need that is calling out to God for the bare necessity of shelter.  My teammates and I will always share the comfort and honor that comes from being used by God in that way.  But those moments back at QCS reminded me of how much the Holy Spirit has impacted my life through self-sacrificial believers in Christ who abandoned their own comfort for the glory of God amidst suffering and extreme inconvenience.

Monday, January 21, 2013

President Obama and the Blessing of Abraham

I looked at my 18-month-old daughter today and realized that she was among the relatively few persons who was completely clueless as to the historical moment we all witnessed: the inauguration of the 44th President's 2nd term.  As her father, I know she'll have questions down the road about the times that she was born in.  I'm responsible for letting her know several things about the president that was in office when she was born.  First, that God is sovereign and that He chose President Obama for these years.  Secondly, that this man's racial make-up makes a very strong statement about the status and potential for ethnic minorities in this country.  The list could go on, but for the sake of staying on topic, I won't.

Thanks to internet archives, I know my daughter will hear other things about this presidency:

The "prophecies" from MLK and RFK re: the future presidency of a black man in America.
That Obama isn't just a president, but the "messiah"
Obama's unique ability to bring excitement to certain members of the national press
The president's widespread generosity in extending telecommunication privileges to the least and left out

But what do the scriptures say about this man?  I would say that the Bible says nothing at all different than what is said for all who have been or ever will be in his position:  pray.

"I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone--for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quite lives in all godliness and holiness"
1st Timothy 2:1-2

And I know that many are happy to pray for a president that they voted for.  However, millions who did NOT vote for this President, while praying about him, are not particularly "moved" to pray for him.  As a member of a predominantly black church that I am very proud to be in affiliation with, I personally know dozens of people who will fervently pray for President Obama's safety, his family, his success as a president, wisdom to avoid the various pitfalls plaguing the presidency, etc.  For sure, all these are good requests to bring before the Lord in the name of Christ on behalf of the leader that the LORD Himself ordained for the nation at this time.

Can I suggest another?  Pray for the blessing of Abraham to overtake our President's heart and life.

"And you are heirs of the prophets and of the the covenant God made with your fathers.  He said to Abraham, 'Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.'  When God raised up his servant, He sent Him first to you TO BLESS YOU by turning each of you from your wicked ways."
-Acts 3:25-26 (emphasis added)

I'm a man happily associated with Obama lovers and Obama haters-- both groups can be found within the various churches that proclaim Christ and His gospel.  But because of some racial, political, ethnic, and other  less important lines of division, these groups rarely intersect in meaningful ways either on the topic of Obama or his presidency.  But since so many on both sides generally agree on doctrine and practice, they would be more prepared for partnership if they could first partner in prayer.  Certainly, within the body of Christ, we can agree that this president would be more effective if blessed with an ever-increasing love for God that flows from a heart of repentance.  To be sure, the blessing of Abraham is Jesus Himself, the true Seed of Abraham through Whom we can all find forgiveness and His gospel commands our repentance.

For all my friends who love Jesus first and are sincerely grieved over the obvious violations of scripture either continued or enacted by this president, I simply ask, "Have you prayed that God would grant him repentance?"  I don't complain about your continued cataloging of his each and every public offense against the word of God through policies he supports.  I stand with you on that.  But in all your justifiably righteous indignation, have you sincerely prayed for God's mercy on your president such that he would renounce evil both in national government but also in his heart?  Or have you committed God's appointed man over our nation to utter destruction forgetting that the king's heart is in the LORD's hands?  If you're convinced "he ain't saved", pray for his salvation!  If you think he is a believer, at the very least, pray for repentance.

For all my friends who love Jesus first and can't understand how anyone could deny this President's faith, integrity, and greatness, I simply ask, "Are you blind?".  Do you truly believe that Obama's complete commitment to "protecting" children from assault rifles but failure to protect the unborn is a thoughtful and consistent with a biblical perspective?  When he openly embraces homosexual unions, thus betraying traditional marriage as outlined in the Bible, do you think that this pleases the God you serve?  If you are so eager to see Obama exalted, then you must know that he must first be humbled before the Lord.  Pray, therefore, for his repentance.

I openly confess that I have not truly prayed for President Obama these last 4 years as I should have.  But I have been convinced and convicted of my sin before the LORD and am determined to pray for his repentance even as I repent of shamefully weak intercession for him and his profession of faith in Jesus Christ.  Who is with me?

Monday, January 7, 2013

What If I Don't Feel Like It?

A Christian alive in the year 1513 met a Christian alive in 2013:

1513 Christian:  Man only proposes, but it is God Who disposes.
2013 Christian:  The Bible only infers, but We do what we prefer.

Isn't that the agenda and temptation of today's believer?  We know what God's word says, but we just don't feel like it.  It's not that the 1513 Christian always did God's will.  Far from that-- Christians of every age have failed God and have "preferred" their own way.  The difference is many of today's Christians openly rebel and refuse to blush.  Completely unashamed and even offended by any call to repentance, so many in our churches are most happy when expressing what's on their heart and most bored when challenged to discern God's heart as expressed in the text of scripture.

So how do we get past ourselves and do what we know is right to do?

Webster defines discipline as, "training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character... orderly prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior."  So if we're disciplined, it means we've been worked on by some outside force and have been through enough drills such that, with the proper attention to correct thinking, we overcome our emotions and we do what is right.  So the answer is discipline, right?

I don't think so... at least not entirely.

Discipline is cold.  And unlike other cold things such as ice cream and cash, discipline rarely makes a person smile.  Many of us have worked hard at becoming 'more disciplined' only to find our disciplined selves defeated yet again by the boiling, red-hot passions that rage within us.  I'm not saying that discipline isn't part of the answer to doing what is right.  I'm just saying that it's not the whole answer.

Re-programming isn't enough.  What we need is a new passion.  We need a new love.  We need to embrace a goal and craving even bigger than self-satisfaction.  Being disciplined is good, but it's lifeless compared to being driven.  I met the LORD on my knees back in 1986 and over the last 26 years, I've become convinced of this one thing: knowing what's right is not the problem... a love for doing what is right-- THAT'S what's missing.  

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  
-Hebrews 12:2

Remember Gethsemane?  Jesus was not a cross-lover.  It was on His "to do list", but it didn't have little hearts dancing around it.  He didn't endure the most shameful kind of death ever invented because He was disciplined.  Scripture does not deny the shame of the cross and in fact, a few bible verses actually highlight and emphasize the shame of crucifixion.  But Jesus got past the shame by embracing another emotion: joy.  He was driven by the end product of the painful circumstance and therefore counted the displeasure a small thing in comparison.  Can fulfilling my own desires take me further than fulfilling God's will?

Forgive my enemies?  I'd prefer not to.  Pray for someone who hurts me?  I'd prefer not to.  Look after the needs of people who can't help me in my worst moments but swore they would?  I'd prefer not to.  Well, look at the Cross and consider the One on it: He did all these things and more, although He "preferred not to".  And the more cross-centered our lives are, the more we stop making our emotions/goals into gods, the more we desire Christ-likeness more than what we like... we'll be doing all kinds of things we don't want to do.  But I'm betting my life that there's more joy in that than anything else.

May God give me a pure preference for His pleasure and not my own.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Holy Ambitions > New Year's Resolutions

We've all heard Einstein's definition of insanity, "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."  Sure, we've chuckled but have we really taken stock of how well we've proven ourselves insane based on this definition?  When it comes to New Year's Resolutions, how many more years in a row will it take to demonstrate our weakness and inability to truly change ourselves in God-honoring ways that last?

It's not that NYR's themselves are bad.  It's the background and purposes we have for them that determine their value.  How many times will we repeat mantras like these to ourselves:

"I want to be a better me."  (Isn't that really a "different" you?  Who will you be other than you?)
"This year, I'm taking myself more seriously." (Umm... do you know what you sound like right now?)
"New Year, New Me!"  (You start getting old tomorrow...that phrase has BEEN old...)
"This is MY year!"  (You and 7,000,000,000 other human beings just as selfish as you... good luck.)

The problem isn't so much the desire for change.  The issue is the source we often look to and depend on as we search for that change.  Think about it: if we recognize ourselves as flawed enough to need change... why do we assume ourselves adequate for the power and direction needed for that change?  Wouldn't that just lead us to the same issues next year?  And then more NYR's in 2014?  Kinda like 2011?  And 2010?


Here's a possible solution: Holy Ambitions.  I've written somewhere else on this blog about that topic so if you're wondering how the idea of "holiness" jives with "ambition", check here.  But for those of you already in the know, here's the basic breakdown on the difference between NYR's and Holy Ambitions:  NYR's generally focus on self-advancement and self-improvement by the power of, well, self.  We've already seen the futility of that.

A Holy Ambition is the abandonment of self for something greater for love of Someone Greater.  Holy Ambition means that I stop chasing things that I think are important so that I chase after God Himself.  Specifically, it means being zealous for the same things that God is excited about: the revelation of Himself, His glory, the promotion of the Kingdom of His Son, the propagation of His written word, obedience motivated by love for Him and stimulated by sincere trust in Him and His ways.  Once I chase after Him and  His purposes, He gives me p-l-e-n-t-y to do while He assumes the real work: changing and conforming me to the image of His Son.

So this year, if you really want to try something different, try this: stop chasing your own tail.  Stop making so much of yourself and thinking that someone other than the One Who made you can re-make you.  Instead, why not stop running from the Lord, return in repentance, and humbly accept the gospel message that can save you.   Not only will you have life-enriching goals to achieve, but you will know the power of God's Spirit to produce the change that you know you need but can't make on your own.

Anything else would be insane.