Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"I Couldn't Help But Notice...You Seem To Be At War With Yourself"

My beautiful wife and I recently watched Tangled, the Disney cartoon about a princess who escapes from the confines of her tower only to wrestle with herself over the great disappointment she will cause her "mother" in leaving. It's a funny scene of dichotic emotional extremes - the great joy freedom, mixed with an air of utter despair. How funny... how true. Maybe the spiritual life looks a little something like Tangled in each of us?

How often I find myself in this place where what my mind hates most and what my heart yearns continually for - is present: Total dependence. Loss of control. Hanging by a word from you. The dichotic extremes of intense joy in Christ, entangled with the the entourage of logical questions and demanded proofs.

My intellect attempts to console and persuade my heart, and my heart in return attempts to communicate the incredible joy and confidence of the Lord's word to me; and neither fully understand or speak the other's language.

Like Peter, following HOPE in a world bereft of hopefulness, I say "To whom shall we go... You have the words of eternal life." (Jn 6:68) So it is, be still oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you (Ps 116:7).

Friday, March 18, 2011

I Carried You

Probably everyone has seen the poem "Footsteps In The Sand" pinned on the bathroom wall or down the hallway of one of our relative's homes. It's the one about a man who has a vision in which Jesus carries him, unbeknown at the time, through the darkest and most desolate times of his life. It has become almost a household standard in the United States, surely for anyone over 30years of age. But there is something special about it - something that stirs our hearts. It's one thing to be encouraged and challenged by those you love, it is entirely another thing to be lifted and carried through your greatest times of trial. That type of sacrifice resonates in us - even beyond our understanding.

I was just struck by the passage in Matthew 8:14-17 where Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law. The last verse in that section leapt off the page at me. Verse 16 says, "When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. V.17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 'He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.'" The contrast lay in this: Jesus is healing people and driving out demons, as we see throughout the New Testament, but here Matthew interprets Jesus' action through the lenses of Old Testament prophecy as one who carries our diseases. So often we read through Jesus' miraculous acts as if he were only a benevolent dictator, destroying the works of those he hates, and going on about his business of pleasure. But Isaiah paints a different sort of rescue.

Isaiah says that Jesus didn't just remove our burdens, he lifted the burdens from us - AND PLACED THEM ON HIS OWN SHOULDERS.

Once there was a village of people that were forced to leave their beautiful valley and take flight to the mountain peaks above because their land was being flooded with ravaging torrents of rain. Each carried what they must in order to survive on the heights above, less they avoid the floods only to starve on the mountaintops. In short time, however, it became apparent that the journey up the jagged peaks was too much for even the strongest among them. Yet the waters rose ever nearer. One by one they would be swept away in the torrent. To leave their burdens would mean death above, but to carry them would mean death below. When all seemed utterly lost, suddenly one appeared running down the mountain. He had no burden. He leapt past those highest on the peak and made his way down to those nearest the water's tumultuous fury. With tremendous power and skill he lifted their heavy loads and carried the burdens himself - all the while moving the exhausted people up the mountain to a precipice of safety. As the waters rose, he worked ferociously, exhausting ever ounce of his energy in the rescue. In a final selfless act, he heaved the last person over the edge to safety. As he did so, his body - utterly depleted of strength - sank back into the waters and was lost. The people looked at one another in utter and solemn amazement. Not only had he rescued their lives, but he'd made complete provision for them to live, having carried their loads and bringing them all to safety. They all noted that the man himself had left the protection of the heights above to enter their struggle, carry their burdens, and sacrifice his life so that they might now live.

Perhaps our gratitude and affection for Christ would be different if we realized that before he destroyed our sins, he first carried them where we could not. And having nailed them to the cross, he made provision for us through his death - and resurrection, to be forever called sons and daughters of the most high God.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Don't tell anyone!

Matthew 8:1:4 records Jesus healing a man with leprosy. Not an out-of-the ordinary kind of act for Jesus, but this situation is different. After healing the man, Jesus says, "See that you don't tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them." I was curious, why would Jesus tell him NOT to tell anyone, but to go to the priest. Perhaps had the man stopped and began to tell others they might have answered him, "Jesus who?! That carpenter... I doubt it" or maybe "yea sure, we'll see how long this lasts." Perhaps the stopping along the way might have hindered the man's own confidence in his experience with Jesus. Perhaps by the time that he had arrived at the priests - the very ones to whom Jesus sent the man to testify - his message and belief would have been stale at best, or maybe bereft entirely of the passion and zeal he'd experienced only a few hours earlier. Then I began to think; 'What thing has Jesus done in me - and who has He commanded me to tell?'

I shudder to think how often I have experienced some incredible sense of His working in my life, bolted out the door, and within a few hours lost the passion of that revelation...defeated by apathetic hearers or my own questions plaguing the truth and reality of what He had done. Worse yet, I have sensed something that was once hot within me, long since squandered on indifferent hearers, that I knew was for a particular people. The pain of realizing there was no zeal or conviction necessary to communicate that truth in the moment it was needed was almost unbearable.

He has done a mighty thing in redeeming us. We now must realize that His ongoing work in our lives is to be the greatest testimony to those for whom we have been sent. Do not think, oh dear heart, that His work in you is for you alone. You have become His living testimony. His very love in you is validated as love because it reaches beyond you to others.

Lord Jesus, help me to revel in awe at what you have done in me, and help me to then carry that directly to those for whom you designed my witness should be given, that they too may come a saving knowledge and worship the living God.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Great Crisis of Christianity In Us...

The great crisis that Christianity produces in us is not usually when we're presented with our own death. The indomitability of pride and our human will to survive constitutes enough for us to sacrifice our own lives for something we hold to be true. That is the case of many belief systems and ideologies. A Kamikaze pilot, Islamic extremist or death bomber all hold the same commitment to die for their beliefs. The great crisis that Christianity produces within us is that our obedience may require sacrifice in the lives of those around us. It is one thing to die for what you believe in, it is entirely another to watch the ones you love suffer torture, disdain, mockery and death for what you hold to be true.

This crisis produces a tremendous tension between what we want to believe is true about God, and the capacity we have to respond to that truth - and - rescue the lives of those we love in that process. This is where a dissonance between the intellectual ascension of ideas and the allegiance to a person begins. We must realize that every Scripture and Biblical admonishment we received is on a continuum of understanding. Philosophy, ideology and intellectual ascension stand at one end of the continuum - where man's ability to theorize and assimilate information allows him to remain above circumstance and ultimately to have the last word. On the other end is a personhood - God, an infinite and self-sustained deity who holds all things in His sovereignty, who understands with simplicity those things which man deems mystery, and who ultimately has the last word in all things. On every issue, we filter our beliefs and interpretations somewhere along that continuum.

If we arrive nearer the end of man's intellect, then in a crisis saving the lives of those around us will trump our personal obedience to God on the rationalization that He knows our truest intent is to serve him and that rescuing lives is something that even He would have the grace for us to do. In fact, since He is a gracious God he will forgive and understand our trouble in compromising personal declaration for the chance to intervene in the destruction of another's life. Beware. When our will to save lives stands above our obedience to Him who created and gives life, we are in grave danger.

If, however, our reception of Biblical truths finds its understanding at the opposite end of the continuum, where He - the personhood of God - sovereignly reigns, exercising His will and having the the last word, then our response will be different. Until we understand that the consequences of our obedience lies in His hands, we will continue to try and intervene and run damage control in other peoples lives.

True Christianity will produce a powerfully destructive force in our own lives, until we understand it rightly. This IS the great joy and triumphant freedom, coupled with the gruesome end of our flesh that we face in surrender to Jesus Christ. For He who alone who can produce right standing in us first requires total surrender from us - even when others are drawn into our own perilous circumstances.

Imagine the Apostle John in the first century church, last of the twelve of the inner circle with Jesus. He's now talking to young men, women and children that are daily faced with circumstances where their faith could demand their lives. Imagine him turning to young men and saying, "Listen, if you are arrested and put on trial for your faith, make sure that the authorities believe that it is only you who are a Christian...your wife and children do not know about your secret Christian beliefs, and you have deceived them. In this way, they too will not be thrown to the lions."

Contrast the above with endless stories of saints who have been at deaths door, their own families drawn into their peril on behalf of their own faith. At the end of their defense and moments before torture or death, a father unapologetically and with great compassion looks to his son, a mother to her little girl, "No matter what - stand strong! Jesus is with us - He'll never let us go! If we do not deny Him, He will not deny us". The trigger is pulled. The blade is dropped. The lions are loosed. And the One name that is above every name, is as much glorified in the lives of the ones who suffered on another's account as it is on the one who testified.

Let us not become amateur deities in the lives of other people. Let us not look upon their peril as a condition for our obedience to HE who alone gives life. Instead, let us fix our gaze steadily before us and have such resolution by His Spirit that He is worthy no matter the cost. For we reckon that HE who demands life can raise it again. For when the fear of death is defeated within us, then no more remains to dissuade us from our unwavering obedience to Him.

All glory be forever to Jesus Christ, Amen.