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.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Despair or hope; what do you see?

I had the privilege of a long talk with a good friend yesterday morning at Olivers delicatessen. Our conversation ranged across many topics, not the least being the recent political struggle for senate office in Colorado. A host of predictions and possible forecast about our country's future ensued, some positive and others not so positive.

As I drove home I began to think out loud before the Lord, and specifically about how easy it is to become disheartened at times with the political maze of injustice, squandering and manipulation. I then felt the Lord impress on my heart:

JOE, MEN HAVE DESPAIRED IN EVERY GENERATION. MEN HAVE ALSO HELD UNSWERVINGLY TO HOPE IN EVERY GENERATION. THE DIFFERENCE IS WHERE THEY'VE PLACED THEIR TRUST. Immediately Psalms 147:11 blazed in my mind, "The Lord delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love."

Those who fear Him, i.e. consider Him with awe, wonder and in submission in all their decisions - those find a special place in His delight. Furthermore, their hope is in His unfailing love; there is no power - even unto death - which can withstand the power of Love. It is mighty, it dispels darkness, it causes the weakest to become the strongest warriors and invigorates the strongest to live, and if necessary die, for a cause far greater than themselves.

My wife and I were also reading from The Lord of the Rings trilogy last night... There is a solemn part early in the The Fellowship of the Ring when Frodo (our young and unlikely hero) realizes that he must bear the responsibility to destroy the evil ring of power and save the world of Middle-Earth from the ugly aggression of Sauron. He turns to his elder counselor and companion in Gandalf and says, "I wish that it need not have happened in my time". Gandalf responds, "So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us."

Later in the book, Frodo reaches a safe place - at least for a time - and a great counsel of revered leaders has convened to discuss what must now be done with the ring of power. Finally a resolution is reached to destroy the ring, but it must be done in the mountain of fire from whence it first came - a perilous and almost certain destruction for those upon whom the task is laid. One of the leaders remarks that the plan is most assuredly one of despair. Galdalf, the old wise one, again speaks. "Despair or folly? It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not. It is wisdom to recognize necessity when all other courses have been weighed, though as folly it may appear to those who cling to false hope."

Once again my mind turned to the many generations of upright and brave people who have face perilous times in history. I thought of the million man invasion on the shores of Normandy in WWII... every one of those men having a family - a mom and dad, possibly brothers and sisters, or a wife and children of their own. All sent on the hope of defeating Nazi Germany and ridding the world of the evil power that existed there. I thought of sons and daughters, young men, fathers, farms, livestock...homes and all that was risked in America's Civil War for the hope of bringing the dreaded practice of slavery to an end in these United States. I thought of the many families that loaded their lives into tiny boats on European shores to cross uncharted seas and face a harsh new world of perils, all for the hope of beginning a new life, free to worship and conduct their themselves in way that reflected the values that they'd come to share. I even thought back to a group of men in Jerusalem whose dreams and lives had been given birth to and then suddenly destroyed through the body of a young itinerate preacher. A few short days later there was a knock at their door and a couple of women told them that all of their hope had not been in vain, in fact their hope lived!

Then I thought back to the circumstances that surround us now in this generation. And though at times I feel like Frodo, wishing that many of these times had not come to us... I remember Galdalf's words, and realize that though to others our hope may seem as folly, and though we do not know the immediate outcome of every battle we'll face, this one thing we know; our hope is in His unfailing love. The very reason that His love is "unfailing" is because it has never failed. It cannot be defeated. Our hope is sure.

We may see unclearly now (I COR 13), but He is working all things together for the glorious end, and thereby beginning, a world made new - deplete of evil powers that roam and raze the good place that He once created. Let us then stand, in every circumstance and precipice to which we have been called to stand in this - and every generation - for the great glory and hope that is in Christ Jesus. For to this, we have been called.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Faith...Phew, It Worked Again.

I have come realize that faith, in the end, is entrusting yourself to the character of God.

For many years I have been taught and heard and yearned to be a man of faith and walk in it as one approved by God. I have studied and prayed and continually asked for more faith, and while seeking to exercise it, have often been disappointed.

It seems that there is some mystery between asking what I think is of God, and hoping that He actually intends to answer my request. After enough disappointments and seemingly unreturned or unheard request...I often feel my faith is more like a stubbed toe on furniture in the dark than a clarion call as a Patriarch of Christianity.

If you've ever gotten up to go to the bathroom or get a drink of water in the middle of the night, then you know what I'm talking about. Somehow the inanimate furniture seems to have crept across your path and is waiting, bated with evil intent as you come clumsily along in the dark down a path that is seemingly well known. The next step is fatal - ouch! You run headlong into the coffee table, the corner of the dresser, or heaven forbid the doorjamb. Suddenly that which you thought you knew all too well comes to a startlingly painful end.

Remember the time after that time when you got out of bed in the middle of the night? Every step was painfully slow, every move calculated, muscles tense and aware of even the slightest shadow that may indicate a deadly blow to your toes. After a journey that usually takes fifteen seconds has now take forty-five, you finally reach the bathroom, flip on the switch and deeply exhale a well-earned breath of relief. You wiggle your toes and snicker just a little. All's well, no damage done, you've beaten the odds.

That is how my faith has often seemed for years. I set out to do what I believe is the path along His will. A route I presume all too simple and familiar - at least that's how it sounded in Sunday School and the other books I've read. Somewhere along the way I find an obstacle - a pitfall, a relationship, a conversation, something that says I've gotten it all wrong, and my belief suddenly feels train-wrecked against the iron circumstance at hand. Or if otherwise, having seen my request answered, I take deep breath of relief and let out a sigh...phew it worked that time.

I've been wrong.

Faith is not a matter of exercising enough sheer willpower to move things in the spiritual realm. Faith is yielded obedience to the character of God. I cannot trust hard enough. I cannot muster enough belief to bring about change. I cannot grit my teeth and slug my way to success. Oswald Chamber says of the human will in My Utmost For His Highest, "The preaching of today tends to point out a person's strength of will... The statement that we so often hear, 'Make a decision for Jesus Christ', places the emphasis on something our Lord never trusted. He never asks us to decide for Him, but to yield to Him." And what yielding to Him really means is yielding to His character.

God is not the finicky spiritual being we sometimes make him out to be. We imagine him totally unpredictable like a little child happily playing one moment and throwing a tantrum the next. Are we really to believe that the same God who set planets in motion so perfectly that we can predict their exact location a thousand years from now, is not so perfectly calculated when it comes to matters of responding to His own children?

Faith is confidence in the character of God. The more that we know God, the more that we ask of Him according to His character. The less we know of Him, the more our faith looks like stumbling around furniture in the dark - it's only a matter of time before we're severely disappointed. And the devastating outcome of that experience is that we move away from God in our hearts. Then, because we do not understand, we rationalize our experience and say something spiritual like, "well, God just moves in mysterious ways". No, there are reasons. There are always reasons. Our digress lies in one of two things; we do not know His character, or other circumstances are at play. But we must never allow ourselves to arrive at the conclusion that God is ultimately unpredictable, incongruent or otherwise temperamental in His ways. In fact He says that He has exalted His word (the consistent integrity of His creative power being released) even above His name. And those are the most predictable things in all of creation.

All of us have been met with disappointments in our faith, and usually our reasoning leads us to believe that we simply didn't have enough faith to begin with. But the emphasis is all wrong; while we're looking to amass a greater degree of willpower, He's beckoning us to meditate on the steady unchangingness of His character. While we cannot choose to mandate His ways or even understand - at times - the temporal outcomes, this we know; there is no one more pure, just, wise or good than He. In fact these are merely attributes that we're humanly acquainted with and then elevate them to the N'th degree and call them God. It is not true. He is wholly other and beyond even what those words can ascribe to Him.

Even when I do not fully understand - or even have the strength in my own mind or body to do something - I can still choose to yield to Him. And faith is yielded obedience to the character of God - even when we cannot understand His ways.

Lord Jesus, help me be renewed in the knowledge of my Creator - in His character and trusting in His wisdom and goodness. I want to walk in yielded obedience to you. Help me to know and obey you and to share in the sweet intimacy of laboring with you in your kingdom.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Can't Help But Say So...

Precious Lord Jesus, sometimes I wish to live out in experience what only my heart can describe, and at other time my heart yearns to describe what only I can live out in experience... but here goes... 

Praise be to the Almighty Maker of Heaven and earth! There is none like You! 

Robed in splendor and majesty, high above every name - every power, every circumstance - every thought - You are God. You make public spectacles of Your enemies, while lifting the head of the widow, the fatherless, even the adulterer. You are not in king's palaces, but in the hearts of kings that fear You; You make yourself known to the hungry, the thirsty, the impoverished. And while You love so much that You - for a time - allow the grievious consequences of True-Love's free will to be experienced here on earth, still constantly reveal Your mighty arm on behalf of those who fear you - and their children never lack bread.

You are returning and will gather Your bride to Yourself, even as she has longed for your appearing. Arrayed in light, heat, glory and fire, and with eyes like limpid pools of living love. Hands that worked, labored for a time in a natural father's house, but that labor for eternity -unto rest - in Your Heavenly Father's house. Robe dipped in blood, an olive branch at your side, fury and compassion interwoven into a single man of righteousness that rises with healing in His wings. 

A final gathering - of shepherds, adulterers, doctors, pilots, priest and peasants, business men and moms - the throngs gather in unending satisfaction, in captivated gaze on the One who alone is victorious...not in imagination, not in teaching, not in fairy tale worlds, not in coffee-shop conversations, not dimly or through a veil - REAL, right here, right now, present, He stands before you - the One who was and is and is to come! And all Heaven, all hell, all of creation, in awe, bow their knee for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Lamb that was slain and has received the reward of His sufferings...for HE alone is worthy.