Sunday, April 29, 2018
Freedom and Humility: A Repost
1 Peter 5:6-7
6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. (NASU)
“Be not anxious! Earthly possessions dazzle our eyes and delude us into thinking that they can provide security and freedom from anxiety. Yet all the time they are the very source of all anxiety. If our hearts are set on them, our reward is an anxiety whose burden is intolerable. Anxiety creates its own treasures and they in turn beget further care. When we seek for security in possessions we are trying to drive out care with care and the net result is the precise opposite of our anticipations. The fetters which bind us to our possessions prove to be cares themselves.” From The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself. (NASU)
What does it mean to be free? That isn't really a rhetorical question.
In America we talk of "Freedom" as if it is a birthright or an entitlement. We all want our "rights" protected so that we can pursue whatever petty little thing it is that makes us feel better.
Is this freedom?
I mean, look around us--we are tied to our cares and our anxieties, we are chained to our possessions. We run around anxiously trying to protect the very things that often hold us in the very chains of bondage.
Why do we do that?
Why do we think that a new job, spouse, relationship, haircut, car, movie, boat, home, location, etc. will free us into some kind of blissful realm of happiness?
I don't know that I can answer that, but I am aware of a remedy.
It doesn't come cheap, and it isn't easy to maintain, but humility will help us break free from bondage.
Look at the Bonhoeffer quote above, then read the passage from Philippians underneath it.
Paul tells us that our citizenship is in another country besides this earthly domain. We don't belong here. Since we don't belong, why do we waste our time buying into the stuff of this place? Why do we bind ourselves to the stuff of earth?
Those who are Christ followers have a home that is not primarily located in this mundane, temporary place. We have a home that is not fully realized yet (to be sure), but one in which we can live to some degree right now. We don't have to wait for Independence Day or Christ's return, we can live in the gracious and overwhelming abundance/liberty of our King now.
Okay, enough preaching. Here's the deal. We were meant to be free with heavenly freedom. We were not meant to be chained up here. Jesus didn't live, die, and get out of the grave just so we could have the latest laptop or so that our kids could enjoy the newest video games.
Jesus lived so that he could grant us true freedom. The freedom he grants liberates us from hanging too tightly to stuff, too selfishly to our own expectations and dreams; and this freedom offers us the chance to be real, to be authentic, to live as we were meant to live. Christ's gift is to free us from chains of ego and selfishness so that we might live in the liberation of humility. He puts us all on the same level, and then he loves us with the same gracious and holy love. Shouldn't we follow his example of humility and love?
When the the light of Jesus shines into our darkness and illuminates the world around us, I think things become more "real" for lack of a better term. We can see things as they are. Some of those things may scare us a bit, but with God's help even the broken things can become benefits. And I admit, there is a part of me that LONGS for that to become reality. Even so, Lord Jesus, come . . .
Tonio K sings a song that may be appropriate here. The song is entitled "You will go Free."
you've been a prisoner
been a prisoner all your life
held captive in an alien world
where they hold your need for love to your throat like a knife
and they make you jump
and they make you do tricks
they take what started off as such an innocent heart
and they break it and break it and break it
until it almost can't be found
well i don't know when
and it don't know how
i don't know how long it's gonna take
i don't know how hard it will be
but i know
you will go free
you can call it the devil
call it the big lie
call it a fallen world
what ever it is it ruins almost everything we try
it's the sins of the fathers
it's the choices we make
it's people screaming without making a sound
from prison cells in paradise
where we're chained to our mistakes
well i don't know when
and it don't know how
i don't know how much it's gonna cost you
but i know
you will go free
you can't see your jailer
you can't see the bars
you can't turn your head round fast enough
but it's everywhere you are
it's all around you
and everywhere you walk this prison yard surrounds you
but in the midst of all this darkness
in the middle of this night
i see truth cut through this curtain like a laser
like a pure and holy light
and i know i can't touch you now
and i don't want to speak too soon
but when we get sprung
from out of our cages baby
god knows what we might do
well i don't know when
and it don't know how
i don't know if you'll be leaving alone
or if you'll be leaving with me
but i know
you will go free
Thanks for reading!
Saturday, March 31, 2018
Repost: Easter--What did we really Expect?
The week before Easter is commonly called "Holy Week" by Christians. During this week we celebrate (is that the right word?) the last week of Jesus' life on earth. People will make pilgrimages to Israel and retrace Jesus' final steps, they will pause at the "rock of agony" and cry where Jesus cried out to God in Gethsemane, they will go to the pit where Jesus was interrogated, they will pause where Jesus supposedly stumbled under the load of his cross, they will visit and contemplate Golgotha, they will visit the empty tomb, and they will weep and cry and mourn.
Rightfully so . . . this was THE WEEK for which Jesus lived his entire human life, and it was a rough one for him. On Sunday before his crucifixion he entered Jerusalem with cheers ringing in his ears. The (usually fickle) populace embraced him for all the great miracles he performed, and they hailed his coming as though a conquering warrior had entered the city. Like paparazzi following a Hollywood star, they trailed behind this carpenter from Nazareth and looked for ways to become part of his entourage or to at least get a "piece of the action" as Jesus came to town.
Some of these same folks will probably yell "Crucify him!" in just a few days, by the way.
When Jesus offered them something tangible to grab, they wanted to be a team player, they wanted the fishes and loaves, the healings, the wonders, the mighty signs.
How soon their tune would change . . . how quickly they would turn on the one who was innocent of any sin except the failure to live up to THEIR expectations.
How like them we are today . . .
When things are going our way, we look to heaven and sing God's praises. We celebrate and sing and run to join the band as God rides triumphantly over all our "enemies." But as soon as Jesus fails to live up to OUR expectations, what do we do?
I know the spiritual answer--"though he slay me yet I will praise him."
Do we really? Will we? Will I?
I'm struck with how Jesus routinely challenged the popular expectations of the crowds who showed up hoping for another demonstration of heavenly power and flash. In John 12, just after the people have celebrated his "triumphal entry," Jesus tells them that the way to jump on his bandwagon is for his followers to hate their lives in this world. Just think how that must have sounded to the celebrants rejoicing in the coming of their conquering hero!
"You want to be a part of my movement, a part of my thing?" Jesus asks, "Then you will have to regard your life in this world as a dead man would. You have to become the least, the slave, the dead one, in order to get in on my movement."
Come and die.
What an invitation!
Of course, Jesus knew that in just six days he would literally fulfill that invitation. The innocent would die for the unquestionably guilty . . . and he would die horribly.
I can just imagine how this conversation must have put a damper on the celebration in Jerusalem. Jesus took a party and turned it into a wake. The next thing we know he is engaged in theological discussions with the people and with the Jewish leaders. He created a controversy that caused folks to take sides. All he had to do was accept the adulation and promise to "win the war that must be won," but Jesus decided to go against expectations again. He decided to allow God to get the glory through humility and death.
Hasn't this happened to us? Just when we think we have God's agenda all spelled out like it ought to be, He throws us a curve ball that reminds us we aren't in charge! We have a hard time "boxing Jesus" into a neat package.
What's the point then? The point is that we should reverse the procedure. Instead of putting expectations on God, we should look for HIS expectations for us. What has He required of us? What does He want? How should we respond to His voice?
The week of Easter we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. In the process maybe we should participate in a funeral of our own. Maybe we should let die our selfish expectations about how God "ought" to act towards us. Bury them, and let God resurrect them in His image.
As we contemplate the price of our salvation, let us willingly become slaves to the one who has paid such a price to purchase our freedom. Like Jesus, let our prayer be "Father glorify your name." Remember, if a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it will yield much fruit. It is, however, pretty useless in a bag with other seeds. Let's allow God to plant us where he wants so that our service can produce fruit for his glory. Let's follow our crucified Lord by living cruciform lives.
What would the world look like if we did?
I'd really like to find out!
Thanks for reading!
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
The Long Winding Road to Emmaus: A Twice Told Tale
Job 13:15a "Though He slay me, I will hope in Him." (NASU)
Luke 24:21 "But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened." (NASU)
Sometimes in the midst of the trials and burdens of life, we lose sight of our anchor. We feel tossed and thrown as on a wild and restless sea. Our emotions tell us that things will never be good, all will be despair and loss. Our hope seems shipwrecked, our desire to go on in life sinks into depression. We see nothing good, only evil all around us. Our enemies (both physical and spiritual) seem to have the upper hand, they seem to be winning the day. Things are just not working out the way we expected! The victory we felt sure would come has not yet manifested itself, and we feel ourselves sinking ever deeper into a pit in which we cannot get the proper traction to climb. The clock is ticking down, our hope is gone, our day is over, and Christ has not come.
Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, we had hoped that Jesus would be the one who would rescue us. We had fervently prayed that maybe, just maybe, today would be the day when we would “live happily ever after” and find our dreams coming true. We shake our heads and go out for a walk. Maybe some fresh air and a quick walk will clear out the cob webs in our minds. Still, the topic of our recent failure hangs like a cloud over our heads, raining down doubt and fear.
We chat quietly together, commiserating a bit in our sorrow, in our recent loss. We try to remember all the "good reasons" we came to this time--like the first time we heard the story of Jesus, or the first time we met him, or even when we experienced firsthand some of his mighty works. Still, sorrow clings to our soul like a wet coat in a sudden thunderstorm. We can't get rid of the sense of sadness, it is drenched on us and sticks to our bodies. We wonder why we even brought the subject up and continue to make our journey in silence. Maybe time alone with our thoughts will help.
Suddenly, a stranger approaches. He seems rather ignorant of our experiences, and besides that he has a fairly sunny disposition. He is definitely someone we want to avoid at this moment. No pie in the sky false hope will satisfy us. We fear that he will say something like, “Cheer up! Keep a stiff upper lip! Things will work out in the end!” We try to avoid the stranger, yet he resolutely comes our direction. He seems determined to interrupt our brooding, our despair. He is on a mission, and we seem to be his primary targets. We try to ignore him, but then he speaks.
“So, what’s going on? Why the sad face?” he inquires. Out of pure human kindness we try to explain our pain in as brief a manner as possible. We do not want to burden strangers with our “little” concerns, after all. The stranger hears our story and stands tall. Looking at us he says boldly, “Foolish ones, slow of heart to believe what God has said!”
The force of his accusation causes us to stumble in our walk. How dare this stranger tell us our business? How dare he interject his thoughts into our moment of pain, our sorrow? Just who does he think he is to interrupt our musings with his “pollyanna” announcement? We look at him with disdain and think that he likely has nothing of real value to offer.
Then, he begins to speak to us again. Starting with the beginning of our story and bringing us pretty much up to date he tells us things we knew but somehow in our anguish had forgotten. As he speaks, our hearts get a bit lighter. We can literally feel a burning inside that slowly (painfully slowly) begins to purify our thoughts and hearts. His words seem to dry the wet sorrow drenching us. Like sunshine after a thunderstorm, we begin to feel a bit of relief. Spring may yet come! We even feel encouraged (a little at least) .
We invite the stranger to eat with us, and he offers to say grace. As he prays, we realize his true identity. He is Jesus, our Lord, the one who was beaten brutally, was painfully crucified, who died with the full weight of our sin upon his broken and bruised body. He has been there all along, listening to us, sympathizing (or is it empathizing?) with our pain and anguish. He has been waiting to comfort us with his presence. He loves us in this way, even when he seems silent.
We beg him to stay. Oh, the situations of our life haven’t changed dramatically. We still have problems, and those problems seem just as depressing and burdensome as before. The difference is that we have Jesus in the house, and the light of his love gives us courage to press on, he becomes an anchor for our souls. Why? Simply stated—“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Through him and his love we may not have better situations or circumstances, but we can still be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” in the trials we share as his joint heirs. How? Talk to him. Let him talk. Trust his character. He is faithful even when we are faithless. We genuinely matter to him.
He longs to say to you "Keep pressing on, I have not forsaken you. I love you."
As we walk our soggy paths of life, we should pause and wait for the Lord. Let him catch up to us in our musings. Listen to his words (even the ones that gently rebuke). Get in his presence, let him pray for us and with us. Let his words and actions encourage and empower. Remember, he walks with us whether we acknowledge him or not. Why not sit in his presence for a minute and acknowledge his concern for us?
Thanks for reading!
Thursday, February 22, 2018
An Empty Story and a Life Affirmed
It wasn't the way he said it that attracted my attention, but it was his demeanor. This was a person who was in some sense utterly defeated. Everything about him echoed his words. Worthless. Useless. Empty.
I wasn't sure at first how to respond. Sitting before me was a shell, an empty person who felt as though he had absolutely nothing to offer.
I tried to help. "You're not worthless, just look at all you've accomplished."
The words sounded hollow, almost accusatory. His eyes flashed, but it wasn't "life" coming in. It was genuine anger. I had misunderstood him.
"No, you don't get it. I have nothing to offer. I am worthless. I am done."
The words hung in the air like heavy fog, demanding an answer. I honestly didn't know what to say.
If you knew this man, you'd be surprised at his self-evaluation. He earned several degrees (some from prestigious universities and with well known professors). He taught thousands of people, and he mentored many who would ultimately follow in his academic footsteps. He had traveled to a variety of places. He married well and his children were healthy, intelligent, and well behaved. He had rebounded from a moral failure and rebuilt his life and reputation. He was respected by his peers. He "had it all" in a country where such an existence was supposed to be the "American dream".
I wanted to remind him of these things, but he sat there glaring. His red eyes and sad look reminded me of an old derelict building left standing too long that now leaned and threatened to fall over. The supports were gone, the shell was hollow, there was nothing left. How do you rebuild on such a foundation?
The person sitting before me was an encourager. Many times I saw him take last place so that others would be acknowledged and even honored. He prayed that his students would accomplish more than he, and they did! Oh my, how well his students had done! The man went out of his way to make sure others were served, to make sure that others had affirmation, that others were encouraged. He was a Barnabas, and people would flock to him to receive his ministry of encouragement.
Yet here he sat, downcast, done, empty . . . How do you encourage the empathetic man of encouragement who has run dry? Who is worthy of the task?
And then I had an idea. I looked into his eyes and his sad face, and I said, "You know, sometimes I wish I had your life."
He gave me an incredulous look, but I continued. "I can't count how many times I wished I could treat others as well as you treat them." Then I said, "I love you, and I can't imagine what this world would be like without someone like you."
The eyes that were wet with tears showed a few signs of life. A wry grin appeared on his face. Life was returning, and for a moment the derelict building began to look a bit like a stately home once again.
He didn't need a history lesson. He didn't need me to recount his glorious deeds. He simply need to be affirmed. He needed appreciation.
I didn't write this story to get you to feel sorry for this man (okay, maybe just a little), but I wrote this to be a reminder to us all. We need to be appreciated, we need to be affirmed. We all cry out to be loved.
You see, this person's story could be your story, it could be my story. Life has a way of draining us, and sometimes we aren't sure how to refill the well. Feelings of worthlessness can pile up, and we begin to compare ourselves to others (often unrealistically). "I'm not good enough. I don't have the stuff. I'm not needed."
Yet the truth is probably bigger than we realize, and a little affirmation can go a long way.
Take a moment today. Give some affirmation to someone who has encouraged you. Let people know that you appreciate them, and that you are thankful for their contribution to your life. Who knows, it could restore life . . . maybe even yours.
Thank you for reading!
Sunday, January 07, 2018
A Communion Meditation at Epiphany
Isaiah 60:1-5 (HCSB) “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD shines over you. For look, darkness covers the earth, and total darkness the peoples; but the LORD will shine over you, and His glory will appear over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your radiance. Raise your eyes and look around: they all gather and come to you; your sons will come from far away, and your daughters will be carried on the hip. Then you will see and be radiant, and your heart will tremble and rejoice, because the riches of the sea will become yours, and the wealth of the nations will come to you.”
Matthew 2:1-11 (HCSB) “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of King Herod, wise men from the east arrived unexpectedly in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ . . . ‘In Bethlehem of Judea,’ they told him, ‘because this is what was written by the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah: because out of you will come a leader who will shepherd My people Israel.’ . . . After hearing the king, they went on their way. And there it was--the star they had seen in the east! It led them until it came and stopped above the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed beyond measure. Entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother, and falling to their knees, they worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their own country by another route.”
Monday, December 25, 2017
Advent 2017: The Mystery of Christmas (Annual Post)
I started this blog several years ago, and every year I have posted a piece I wrote around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of Christmas" as I meditate on the Incarnation and its implications for humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming "one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me. God, the creator of all things, humbled himself, became of no reputation, and entered his own creation so as to renew and to redeem and to rescue us (and, ultimately, to do these things for all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all things, became flesh so that he might accomplish the plan to make his grace and glory known in humans and in all of creation. The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would become sin for us. He would break the power of sin, condemn sin in his own flesh, and provide for all of us the rescue we need to become the people God always intended us to be. What an amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the advent of our King Jesus the Messiah, I hope you enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.
A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born in less than optimal conditions. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique and amazing on several levels.
First, the life of this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world. His life and abilities would have such an impact on generations of others that a brand new movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the earth (sometimes for good, sometimes not so much). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his own humble beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.
The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous yet somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human breast for sustenance. Humble yet awesome, is how some folks would no doubt recall this child.
A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest, most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around Joseph’s home, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting food, and touching things with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”
God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness and mercy, out of his inexpressible love for humanity he acted in this manner.
God humbled himself. In a sense, he took on our insanity so that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we might walk in his Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he asks of us be too difficult?
Lord, during this Christmas season, remind us of your sacrifice and love so that we might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach us to live a life of humble service like your Son did on our behalf so many years ago. As we celebrate the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine through us towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God and the peace of Christ rule in our families and our lives.
Thanks for reading!
Merry Christmas! May you know the blessings of the God who humbled himself and served!
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Advent 2017: Have Yourself a Humble Little Christmas
“Christ Jesus . . . made himself nothing.“He made himself nothing, he emptied himself—-the great kenosis. He made himself no reputation, no image.“I can recall my father shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself, ‘If only I knew what this meant. There is something powerful here. If I only understood it.’ Maybe that is why this Scripture has glued itself to my mind and equally disturbs me. Reputation is so important to me. I want to be seen with the right people, remembered in the right light, advertised with my name spelled right, live in the right neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, wear the right kind of clothing. But Jesus made himself of no reputation.”
“Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly? Whoever finally lays down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger; whoever remains lowly and lets God alone be high; whoever looks at the child in the manger and sees the glory of God precisely in his lowliness.”
What can you do this Christmas season that will bless others and produce no reputation for you? Who can you serve that can't repay you? This year let's commit ourselves to serving, giving, and loving as Christ did. Let's look for opportunities to bless others in a way that does not give us recognition. Instead of asking for things for ourselves, let's give to the needs of others. Instead of expecting gifts, let's give our lives away in blessing others.