Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A desperately neglected one....

Marriage...it's a word that carries layers of understanding and expectations.  When someone tells you they are "married," it immediately calls to mind a wealth of information.  In it's ideal, God-given state, saying this means, "I am committed to someone outside myself.  I love and cherish another human being above my own well-being and happiness.  In fact, my happiness comes from putting this other human first in my life.  Every decision I make impacts directly and intimately another human being, and so every decision I make necessarily takes into consideration that person and the potential impact on them.  Everything I do takes into consideration that other person, their wants and desires, their joys and sorrows.  This inherently means I will not do things I might have done as a bachelor because my relationship with that person has realigned my priorities.  My desires must be tempered by the knowledge of the other person in my life."

In the same way, the word faith is not a word that stands alone.  Faith is not an end in itself, nor the object of our attention.  Faith describes a relationship, a relationship that is deeper, longer-lasting, and more powerful than even the relationship contained in the word marriage.  When you say "I have faith in Christ" or "I am a Christian" or "I am growing in my faith," you are saying, "By the grace of God, I am committed to someone outside myself.  I love and cherish this man/God, Jesus, above my own well-being and immediate happiness.  In fact, my happiness is defined by putting Him first in my life.  Every decision I make directly and intimately reflects upon this object of love and passion, Jesus.  Therefore, every decision I make necessarily takes into consideration Him and the potential impact it has on our relationship.  Everything I do takes into consideration my Savior, His wants and desires, His joys and sorrows.  This inherently means I will not do things I might have done before I found out about His love for me because our relationship has realigned my priorities.  My desires must be tempered by the knowledge of Jesus' presence in my life."

So in the church, when we say that being a "Christian" is about more than checking your name on the metaphorical attendance roster for Sunday or simply paying lipservice by saying, "I'm a Christian," that's what we mean.  We aren't saying your lifestyle and priorities in any way determine Christ's love for you or provide for your salvation; what we are saying is they say a lot about whether there is a relationship.  Remember what I said about marriage?  How long will that be the definition of your marriage if that other person is the focus of your life for a mere hour a week, no matter how desperately your neglected spouse continues to pursue you?  It will end, not because they walk away... but because you did.  People should be able to tell if you're married.... and they should be able to tell you are in love with Christ.
"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."
 -Galatians 5:22-25(NIV)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

I'll give you everything....

In the events of Matthew 4:1-11, Jesus was hungry, starving, exhausted and hot, wandering the wilderness of Judea.  For forty days, he had nothing to eat... and in that moment of absolute physical weakness, Satan believed he had an opportunity to derail Jesus.  He wanted to cause Jesus to stumble, to sin.  After all, it would take only what we would think of as the "smallest of sins" on Jesus' part to annihilate any hope for mankind.  The only reason Jesus could die on the cross and take away all our sins, and the punishment that came with them, is because He is sinless.  One misstep and humanity has lost salvation and the chance to be defined, not by our failings, but by God's perfection.  It had worked with Adam, so Satan thought he could swing it again with Jesus.

I find his third, and final, attempt to cause Jesus to sin particularly interesting:

"Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  'All this I will give you,' he said, 'if you will bow down and worship me.'" 
- Matthew 4:8-9(NIV)

Satan promised to give Jesus all the kingdoms of the world - that means he offered Jesus Rome in the height of its power, the Chinese empire under the Han dynasty, the Kushan Empire, the 3 Kingdoms of Korea, Yayoi Japan, all the tribes of Africa and North America... essentially, Satan offered the whole of the world to Jesus, just for the "teeny-tiny" price of worshiping the Father of Lies.  

What I find interesting is that Satan offers Jesus something that is not his to provide.  Genesis 2:4(NIV) states that "the LORD God made the earth and the heavens," i.e., God made everything.  That means everything is His and all that we might perceive we "have" is something God has given to us.  So how can Satan offer the kingdoms of this world?  Jesus, who states "I and the Father are one" in John 10:30(NIV), already possesses all the world.

But isn't that how Satan always works?  He offers us ANYTHING and EVERYTHING so that we will go along with his little whispered suggestions in our ear.  He offers you FUN; he offers you JOY; he offers you LOVE; he offers you SATISFACTION; he offers you PEACE; he offers you MEANING; he offers you PLEASURE... he suggests that a life in Christ can't give you this.  "Jesus is boring; Jesus isn't fun; Jesus can't give you the love you need; if you follow Jesus you can't HAVE what you really want and need; Jesus only makes demands, He can't give you peace..." Satan whispers... and over and over again we buy it.  With our words and actions we bow down and worship the things of this life, convinced they will give us fun, joy, love, satisfaction, peace, meaning, pleasure... but these are things that are not Satan's to provide.

"Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
- James 1:16-17(NIV)

This world can never provide you with the desires of your heart.  The things that are offered here are pale, weak imitations of the life God wants to give you, of the life Jesus died to give you.  You know what Jesus said to Satan's offer?

"Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 
- Matthew 4:10(NIV)

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Life is darkness....

"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters."
- Genesis 1:2(NIV)

Formless... empty... darkness... When I read these words, the thought that comes to mind is: isn't this the human condition?  Let's look at each word:

Formless: without a clear or definite shape and structure.  Isn't this often what life feels like?  You get up in the morning earlier than you want, try to wake up before you get to work or school, spend all day trying to learn something new or be effective at your chosen activity, try not to upset your friends or coworkers or teachers or coaches or bosses, finish school or work and go to the next activity until you finally get to go home, where you have to try to maintain your relationship with a family you may not entirely get along with, and if you're a student you STILL have school to do in the form of hated homework before you can go to bed to start the process over tomorrow.  In the middle of all this process, as you're trying to be the best worker or student or athlete or musician or performer of WHATEVER you do... you may find yourself wondering what the purpose of it all is.  What is really the purpose and meaning of your life?  It all seems to just be BUSY, without any direction.

This may lead you to the sense that life is EMPTY: having no value or purpose.  You may think, "I do all this stuff, but what does it really do?  Is all of life just to work to eat, so I can work and eat and work and eat until I eventually retire and die???"  The author of Ecclesiastes frames our thoughts well when he laments in chapter 2, verse 17:

"So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me.  All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." 

Ultimately, though, I think the thing that tatters the corners of our thoughts and eats away at our hearts is the tiny, little voice in the back of our mind that whispers so convincingly, "Life is darkness.  There is nothing but darkness inside of you and other people."  And we find ourselves believing it, being filled to vomiting with darkness, because we see darkness all around us.  We see friends contemplate suicide and can't help but admit we've been there, classmates cut their bodies because they don't want to die but they can't deal with the pain inside anymore, we fight with our parents to the point we wish we didn't know them, our so-called friends whisper lies behind our backs or spit disrespect right in our faces, our parents walk out on their marriage and shatter our families, our boyfriends or girlfriends promise us love but leave us empty or just plain leave, our coaches or conductors or teachers or bosses abuse us emotionally no matter how hard we work to earn their approval, friends and family are eaten from the inside by cancer... and that's just in our personal lives.  Then we look into the world and see starvation, the threat of nuclear war, children shot in schools, girls raped at parties, children molested... and how can we see anything but darkness?  It clouds everything with despair.

But what happened next in creation, in the very next verse, in fact?  Genesis 1:3(NIV):

"And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light."

The first thing God did to a formless, dark, and empty nothingness... was to infuse it with light.  What does that sound like?

"the people living in darkness have seea great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."
- Matthew 4:16(NIV)


"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
- John 1:14(NIV)


"When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.'”
- John 8:12(NIV)

Just as the spoken WORD of God into the EMPTINESS before creation brought LIGHT and LIFE... so did Jesus ("the Word of God") when He came bursting into our world as an infant in that cave in Bethlehem.  So does Jesus when He comes bursting into your heart and life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now... that doesn't mean there won't be hardship in your life.  As the world descended into sin under the influence of Satan, despite the light that God had given to it, so you will face trouble in your life, even as you walk in faith:

"Be alert and of sober mind.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
- 1 Peter 5:8(NIV)

But in your suffering, remember the following verses 9&10(NIV):

"Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

The darkness, remember... is only part of the story, and a temporary part at that.  The ending is "eternal glory."

"Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. "He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'"
- Revelation 21:1-5(NIV)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

A nod to the month: Knowing Love

For Americans, February is the month of love.  However, in a culture where love seems so quickly labeled and disposed of, I want to dig through the pile of candied hearts and remember what God intended love to be.

1 John 3:16a(NIV) states, "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”

If we want to find out what real love is, we need to look at who Christ is and how He loved.  We need to not only look at His death, which is overwhelming for anyone to think about, but before that, before even His birth as a man.  To begin to understand His love, we need to understand our beginnings, when with mere words, God brought life rushing forth from nothingness.  In this time of humanity’s dawn, it was through Jesus that all things were made (John 1:3).  Imagine that power, that authority, to send whole galaxies spiraling out of the darkness, to light the cradles of stars in the expanse, to send the waters of the earth rushing forth in their millions of gallons, to rear mountains up from the plains with a crack and roar… to weave together the form of man from particles of dust, and with a breath give life through his nostrils. 

Now imagine what it was for him to become a human being.  Imagine lying aside the power to shape the universe and then coming screaming into the world in the cold of the night, into the care of two flawed human beings who did not even have the authority to protect their children from the sword of their government.  Imagine going from the object of worship, to the object of scorn: the questionably conceived child of a teenager from a region of the world that caused others to wonder, “Can anything good come from there?”(John 1:46a)  He would later be called a lunatic, a blasphemer, and even Satan, himself.  Eventually, the very people to whom He had been for centuries promised… would turn Him over to the government they hated to be brutally beaten and hung on a tree to die… a significant act, as in Jewish society a man killed this way was “cursed by God” (Deuteronomy 21:23).

And yet, as Jesus hung dying on the cross, carrying the sins of all mankind personally, alienated from God and tortured physically, Luke records Jesus saying in chapter 23, verse 34, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Love, then… is more than a feeling of passion.  It is treating others better than they deserve.  It is acting lovingly, even when it is not felt.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The worst could be worse...

" And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. " - Romans 8:28(NIV)

Reading this passage, we know that as Christians... we have a pretty sweet gig.  No matter how bad things get, no matter how impossible our lives may seem or how horrible everything around us may appear... the miraculous is moving beneath the surface of things.  God is not stagnant or off somewhere beyond our comprehension, but He is present right in those situations, twisting the work of the devil into an image of beauty, taking evil and forcing it to serve the good of God's people.  It's actually really humbling to thing about, isn't it?  The God of the UNIVERSE, the maker of EVERYTHING, the knower of ALL THINGS... is personally invested in your individual life.  He's looking at that horrible thing coming down the road and making it into something that will make you into someone that blesses everyone around them.

Now... imagine if that wasn't the case.  Stop and think about those horrible situations, the ones you're afraid to face, the ones you can't imagine having to go through again.  Imagine the divorce...the car accident...the broken heart...the shattered dream...the stolen innocence... without God.  Imagine those situations left as they are, untouched by an all-good, all-poweful God whose whole existence is bent on protecting and loving you.  When I look at my own history under those terms, I can't even imagine what I would be like, now.  The change would be so drastic that it's impossible for me to comprehend.  I can tell you right now I wouldn't be married, or have finished college, or have married parents, or be in church work, or...or...

That is what Hell is like.

"They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might"
-1 Thessalonians 1:9(NIV)

Scary thought, huh?  A lot more scary than the "eternal fire" and the little red dude with a pitchfork and mustache.  I don't know about you, but physical agony is a lot less scary than having to go through all the psychological and emotional suffering the world puts us through without God as a filter.

That is not the future you face with Jesus.

Matthew 5:8(NIV) reads:

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

When Christ reigns in your life, you are "the pure in heart."  When you are given faith in Christ, all the things that corrupt your heart are GONE.  In a moment, in a flash, they are no more.  All that's left is the pure, unbroken heart that Christ gives you, no matter the mistakes you may regret.

And that means... you will never stand outside the presence of God.  You will never face a time where God is not constantly involved in all that happens to you, changing things to serve your good and the good of al Christians.

You will never be unnoticed.

You will never be unvalued.

You will NEVER be not good enough.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Not like nature....

The last time I typed a blog entry on the beattitudes, I discussed the concept that those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness...will be filled" by Christ, in whom dwells all the characteristics of God.  Those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" will be satisfied by the life of Christ in them, who gives Christians the very righteous nature of God, separate from whether they deserve it or not.

It is from the filling with the righteousness of Christ that we are able to understand the next beatitude:

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." - Matthew 5:7(NIV)

I don't know about you, but when I was child, I hated and loved the nature shows.  I loved them because I loved animals!  I loved learning about them, seeing them going about their lives in the wild, interacting with nature and one another.  But it was in that very interaction of animals that I found what I hated about nature shows: watching animals brutalize and kill each other.  I remember watching a show where a stallion killed a foal in his herd because it was dying and the mare wouldn't leave it, slowing down the whole herd.  I remember vividly watching a show about orcas and witnessing a pack of orcas terrorize a grey whale and her calf for six hours, before the calf was so exhausted that the orcas were finally able to cut it off from its mother and drown it.  The worst part was after killing this calf, they only ate the jaw meat and left the rest of the body to float in the middle of the ocean.

As an adult, to a certain extent, I can look at and understand these things.  It's the "circle of life."  This side of the Garden of Eden, animals survive by killing other animals.  By feeding themselves, they feed their own offspring and ensure the continuation of their species.  By killing other animals, they participate in an unintentional "population control," as well as eliminate from the gene pool all but the very best of what a species has to offer, ensuring that the next generation of a species will be stronger than the one that proceeded it.

Yet... animals represent, in this way, the bare minimum of existence.  Kill or be killed.  Look out for number one because number one is all you have.  Stick to your own.  Kill your enemy before they kill you.  Yet, Isaiah 11:6-9(NIV) prophesies that life after Jesus' coming will look much different:

"The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
    their young will lie down together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
    and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea."

Just because it works, doesn't mean it is the highest good God has to offer us.  And it is in that thought that I understand the beatitude of Mark 5:7.  Colossians 1:21-22(NLT) reads:

"This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.  Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault."

In other words, Jesus acted AGAINST the law of nature by SAVING human beings, who in their very nature were opposed to all the goodness of God and had no desire to know Him.  He showed us mercy, not killing us (as He easily could have), but showing us love, to the point of His own death.

Because of that mercy He showed us... we are able to show mercy to others.  We, as human beings, are empowered by Christ's actions to act against the laws of nature, which tell us to only be nice to people who are nice to us, which tell us to only do things we want or like to do, which tell us to leave behind anyone who gets in our way or slows us down.  Instead, we understand life like this:

"This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another." 
-1 John 4:10-11(NIV) 

Friday, January 11, 2013

The fullness we hunger for....

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." 
- Matthew 5:6(NIV)

Reading this verse can only be understood in the context of the previous three beattitudes:
  1. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5:3(NIV)
  2. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."- Matthew 5:4(NIV)
  3. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." - Matthew 5:5(NIV)
As we walk through life and see how broken the world is, as we, ourselves, are broken by the cruelties and horrors human beings commit against one another, as we look into our own hearts and see how often we fail to be the good sort of person we would like to be... we recognize that we, and the world, are incapable of creating paradise on earth.  We are entirely unable to intrinsically and permanently change this world... or ourselves.

The word "righteousness" in Matthew 5:6, is not the same kind of understanding of the word "righteousness" that we have in the English language.  The English understanding of this word makes righteousness a quality that we create within ourselves.  I choose to have good moral character.  I choose to do the right thing.  The English understanding is "self-righteousness," where good behavior is entirely dependent on me.  But wait... don't the previous three beattitudes fly in the face of this definition?  They say we, and the world, are entirely corrupt and unable to change things for the better. 

They do indeed, but the Greek understanding of this little, yet significant, word... has a very different implication.  "Righteousness," from a Biblical understanding... has nothing to do with you.  Righteousness is a characteristic which can only describe the total goodness, justice, and mercy that God, Himself, embodies.  It is, in a word, perfection.  To truly be righteous is to stand before this completely perfect being, who is God, and be absolutely blameless.  God would be unable to find a single fault or character flaw in one who was righteous.

Wow... what a daunting prospect.  When I stand in front of the mirror and look at myself, I don't see a person who would withstand that test.  I see a person who consistently fails to treat others with the respect they deserve, to love others as Christ loved them, to the point of death.  I see a person who never lives up to the standards they have set for themselves, no matter how much they desire to.

Yet what does the second half of verse 6 say?  

"They will be filled."  

And Colossians 2:9(NLT) states:

"For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body."

And Ephesians 3:16-19(NIV) states:

"I pray...that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

When we "know this love that surpasses knowledge," which is all that Jesus is and has done... we are filled fully with the righteousness we "hunger and thirst" for.  When God looks at us, He does not see the failings and darkness and filth of our less-than-perfect ways of living... He sees perfection: the perfection purchased by the death and resurrection of Jesus.  It is not something we do... but something that Jesus did.

So, rest in peace... and remember this:

"Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.  God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure." 
- Ephesians 1:4-5(NLT)