Search This Blog

Monday, February 27, 2012

MY SHORTEST POST EVER!!

Warning: This post, using Steph’s term, is “brutal.” I do not apologize for that. That was the call God gave me years ago for this blog: To be challenging. To be confrontational. Christians can become very complacent in their walk with God, and that contentment is a faith-killer. I should know, and that’s what all readers need to understand—these posts are not me preaching to you, they are God preaching to us…and that was never more apparent (to me) than this week.

Time.

Just the word causes knots in your neck and shoulders, doesn’t it? Time is the great burden of our world. “If I only had more time…” “If there were only more hours in the day…”

I believe that God blesses us all with certain gifts, and we are to use those gifts to best glorify Him. I have a gift with words—specifically the written word. Until recently, I talked a good game, but I put forth very little action when it came to serving God. I was a sleeping Christian. Almost two months ago, I woke up. Big time. In my thirty-three years on this planet, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more electrified. I said to God—I’m ready to go to work, what would You have me do?

God answered with a test: Okay…you want to serve? Start here—talk to fifty teenagers about your faith. When that was finished, I asked, “What’s next?” God responded: It’s time to start that blog I wanted you to do years ago. And so it began.

Each week, I pray for guidance on a topic. When that is clear, I pray for the words. Then I sit down and deliver His message. I’m no biblical scholar. I read Joe’s blog daily, and many times his post flies over my head. That’s okay…while I’m on the same path as him, we’re at different locations. If Joe’s the varsity, I’m the jayvee. My target audience isn’t the same as Joe’s. Right now, I am sending God’s message to those who are just getting to know Him…those on the fence…those who, like me, just woke up (or are needing to wake up). Every week, I am in awe of His message and thank Him for trusting me with it.

I am jacked up every time I finalize a post. I check back frequently—whether here or on Facebook—wanting to see what people are saying…how they’re responding…how God’s word is moving in their lives. Yet in the brief duration of this blog, what is the number one comment I’ve received? “It’s really long” (or some variation of that statement).

I’ll be honest—that annoys me. In my head, I translate “It’s really long” to: Well…I want Jesus in my life, but only if it doesn’t take up too much of my time. This past week, I had had enough. I was fired up. I wanted to hop on here and write this post and call everyone out. I wanted to scold. I wanted to lecture. I wanted to stomp my foot and throw a tantrum. I, I, I.

Last night, as I prayed for peace on this issue, God responded with two words. They were the only words He needed:

You fool.

We live in an ADD world. Everything is centered around time. Walking into McDonald’s was too much…we needed drive-through. Carry-out was too much…we needed delivery. (*And to combine those two, in some locations, Burger King now does delivery.*) Dial-up drove us insane, so we switched to broadband. Snail mail became email became IM became Facebook became Twitter. Rotary dial became push button became cordless became cell phones became texting. “You” became “u.” Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie became Brangelina.

At my old church, the previous pastor had a saying whenever his lesson would go long. He came up with it during football season. He called it “Overtime.” There were a couple of occasions when he was reaching “Overtime” that he mentioned (light-heartedly) how the elders of the church had had multiple discussions with him about doing a better job of keeping to the clock. You hear this and think, “Man…what are we talking about here? Two hour services? Three?”

Folks, we would sing a song, greet each other, someone would do announcements, we’d pray, sing three more songs, pray, take the offering, pray, the pastor would give his message, pray, and sing one more song…in one hour, fifteen minutes. If the pastor’s message—God’s message—ran five or ten minutes long, the elders (and members of the congregation) would start tapping their watches. Apparently there’s a time limit for God…and that limit is 75 minutes.

We are rarely as selfish in our lives as we are with our time.

I wanted to get in people’s faces with this message, but God would have none of it. Instead, He called me out…and He was right to do so. I am such a hypocrite. I’m the worst at all of this. I am obsessed with time. I look at the clock a hundred times a day. When those church services were over, I didn’t stick around to visit with people. I bolted for the door. Why? Football was about to start and I had to make sure my Fantasy team was ready to go.

I hate…no, that’s not strong enough…I super-mega-loathe shopping with Steph. It’s not that I hate spending time with her, it’s just that shopping takes so long. I don’t want to shop with Steph…so she either doesn’t go or goes without me. Instead of being with her, what do I do with all that time I’ve saved? Usually…watch some sporting event on TV. Last week, I had Monday off of school. A friend asked if I wanted to hang out. I said no because I wanted to get a jump start on grading essays. While that was truthful, I ended up not grading nearly as much as I could have because I got caught up in a Band of Brothers marathon on TV.

Three examples, all resulting in me passing on the chance to spend quality time with fellow Christians, friends, or even my wife in favor of the false god television. I tell my students that I hate wasted time, yet in my personal life, I am the king of it.

…and then I’m annoyed when others can’t or won’t give me their time.

Pathetic.

Time is precious. There is no questioning that. But maybe it’s time for us to question how exactly we spend it. Is every moment of the day being used productively? Watching TV is fine…as long as it doesn’t become the master of your time. Facebook…games…those are fine…as long as they don’t become the masters of your time.

How are you spending your time? Could your time be better spent? Has TV or the computer become your true church? I’m going to keep track of every minute of this coming week so I can see where my time goes. I am not going to change anything that I currently do because I want a true assessment. This week will be a little skewed because I will not have any essays to grade, but it will still give me a good indication of how I spend my time. For full disclosure, I will report my results in a comment to this post in one week. I challenge you to do the same. You can post them if you want, or just look at them yourself so you know where your time is being spent.

Most of you—maybe all of you—won’t do this. Why? It’s time-consuming, which means it’s annoying. I’m right there with you. I don’t want to do this. Honestly—I think this idea is God’s way of punishing me for wanting to point out the splinter in your eye without dealing with the plank in mine…and that’s okay because it’s a challenge. How can I grow without challenges?

God wants my time, and I need to do a better job giving it to Him. However…He’s willing to wait. He wants your time, and you need to do a better job giving it to Him. However…He’s willing to wait. Why? Because He loves us. In the famous 1 Corinthians 13:4 scripture, how is love defined first? “Love is patient.”

Why is God entrusting these long messages to me? Because He knows I’m patient enough to write them. I love all of you. I want you to hear His message…all of it…and I will be patient for that to happen. God’s love and grace humbled me into that realization. His love and grace also provided you with my shortest post yet. You now have more time this evening than normal.

What are you going to do with it?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Hidden In Plain Sight

1…2…3…4…5…6…7…8…9…10…

During my sophomore year in college, Steph studied for a year in Germany.  At one point, she was back home for a couple months—and by back home, I mean with her parents near St. Louis.  We had just begun a relationship (yes, while she was in Germany…another story for another time), and I wanted to see her before she returned overseas.  The problem was…I didn’t have a car, and St. Louis was a good 3-4 hours away.  Fortunately, a good friend of mine did have a car, and Steph and I lured him into driving me down and back for a weekend.

Jim and I were on the road—specifically, on I-155.  Now…if you know your Illinois interstates, you know that I-155 runs between Peoria and Lincoln, and is—as Steph and I like to call it—forty-five minutes of nothing.  About halfway through this “nothing,” a thought occurred to me.

I asked him, “Did you fill up before we left?”

Jim’s eyes grew wide, and he looked down just as the gas light came on.  He turned to me, panic growing on his face, and yelled, “What are we going to do?”

“Stay calm!!” I screamed back in equal panic.  “My God will get us through this!!”

(*Side note: Jim was most assuredly not a Christian.)

Just then, a road sign appeared for a town aptly named Hopedale.  We took the exit, loaded up on gas, and had a funny story to tell for years.  Drive I-155 sometime…try and find any other town or exit that has a place to fill up.  Hopedale is about it.  If I had not asked about his tank at that exact moment…had the gas light not come on at that exact moment…we would have been in a lot of trouble, as neither of us had a cell phone (c’mon…it was 1999…most people still didn’t have them), it was getting dark, and it was a chilly evening.

11…12…13…14…15…16…17…18…19…20…

This sounds like a great story of a man trusting his God to come through for him in the clutch, doesn’t it?  A chance to witness to a non-Christian that if you have faith, God will bless you.

Read it again.  What did I do in our moment of crisis?  I just expected God to be there.  In fact, I flat-out said that He would do something.  What if we had already passed Hopedale?  What if we didn’t make it?  What would Jim think of my God then?  What would I think of my God?

I fell into a trap that many other Christians are guilty of: Demanding God.  We act as though God is our personal butler and will just appear at the clap of our hands.  “Give me a sign!!”  Then we sit back and wait for some booming voice or a bush to catch fire and tell us what to do.  We think: If God wants me to do ‘this’ or ‘that,’ He’ll push me in that direction.  We sit back and wait…and expect…and sometimes even demand that God make Himself present to us.  If He doesn’t, we think God has abandoned us, or He has better things to do than deal with us, or in extreme cases question our faith altogether.

21…22…23…24…25…26…27…28…29…30…

Don’t you see what we’re doing?  By behaving this way, we are demanding that God prove Himself to us.  We demand that God prove Himself to us.  Leaving alone the “demanding of God” part for now, do you realize what has happened when you start expecting God to prove Himself to you?  To show Himself to you?

You’ve lost Him.

Now the hunt begins.

31…32…33…34…35…36…37…38…39…40…

Once you’ve lost God, how do you find Him again?

It’s funny.  I have wanted to write on this subject pretty much since I started the blog.  It’s been on my heart for some time.  However, for the last three weeks, God has said, “Not yet.  I want you to write about something else right now.”  This week, I received the nod of approval, and excitement hit me.  I sat down at my computer, ready to fire away.  And I sat there.  And I sat there.  Finally, it hit me…I didn’t know where to start.

In my ever-present quest for irony, you can imagine how happy I was with the following: I didn’t know how to find the words on how to find God.

So what did I do?  Turned to Google, naturally.  Google would know what to do!!  And Google did not disappoint.  It provided me with a link to WikiHow, where in just eleven easy steps, you can find God.  Google also linked me to eHow, where it did the same in a seven-step program.

Obviously…I did not find what I was looking for.  So I turned to the most Biblical person I know: my brother, Joe.  Alas, He did not respond to my request for information.  (Do not judge…his non-answer fits perfectly with my point.)  I looked for quotes from Christian writers.  Messages from Christian speakers.  I searched high and low for information that I could share with others about how to find God.  Then it dawned on me—what was the one source I had neglected to use?

G-O-D

41…42…43…44…45…46…47…48…49…50…

Here I was, trying to write about finding God, and I didn’t even think to use to greatest source of all time:

Deuteronomy 4:29 “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
Proverbs 8:17 “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”
Lamentations 3:25 “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him
1 Chronicles 16: 10-11 “Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.  Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.”

51…52…53…54…55…56…57…58…59…60…

If I want to talk with a friend, do I sit back and wait for him to call me?  Of course not.  If I want to talk with a friend, I call him.  If I’ve lost my keys, do I sit on the couch and wait for them to magically appear?  Of course not.  If my keys are missing, I look for them.

My error with Jim on the trip to St. Louis was not trusting God—we’re supposed to do that—it was not going to Him in the first place.  I did not seek God.  I did not go to God.  I just demanded that He prove Himself to me/us.  God is not some genie in a lamp.  You cannot summon Him whenever you wish.  You must go to Him.

61…62…63…64…65…66…67…68…69…70…

While He expects us to seek Him, the awesome thing about God is that He promises that those who do seek Him will find Him.

Acts 17:27 “God did this (create) so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.”

See…God is not some call center with an automated response system and music while you’re on hold.  God is a phone call away…and He picks up on the first ring every time.

71…72…73…74…75…76…77…78…79…80…

“You find what you look for” rings true in all facets of life.  If you look for the bad in the world…if you search for the sin—you’ll find it.  You’ll find it, and it will anger you, depress you, darken your heart and cloud your soul.  If you look for the good in the world…if you search for God’s love—you’ll find it.  You’ll find it and your heart will lighten as your soul overflows with joy and peace.

Let’s choose to be glass-half-full people.  Let’s choose to see the good around us.  Let’s choose God and seek Him in our everyday lives—yes, in prayer, but also in the world He has given to us.  Look around…He’s everywhere.  That beautiful sunset?  He made that.  A baby’s laugh?  He made that.  If you seek God, you will find God.  You don’t need eleven steps or even seven, either.  You can find God in one single step:

Prayer.

Here is my challenge for all of us this week (and hopefully beyond):  Find God.  Go to Him in prayer.  Ask Him to open your eyes to His love around you.  Then, find God in at least one area of your life.  Do this every day.  Share it here or on my (or your own) Facebook page.  Share God with others.  Help people find God in you.

81…82…83…84…85…86…87…88…89…90…

One of my favorite movies is The Usual Suspects.  At the end of the movie, Kevin Spacey says, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.  And like that…poof…he’s gone.”

91…92…93…94…95…96…97…98…99…100!!

The devil likes to play games.  He’s good at them.  God doesn’t have time for games.  In this ultimate round of hide-and-seek, while Satan disappears behind every nook and cranny of our lives…God is standing right in front of you.  All you need to do is open your eyes.

Ready or not, here I come!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Baby, Don't Hurt Me

What is love?

“Love is that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”  Robert A. Heinlein
“Love is absolute loyalty.  People fade, looks fade, but loyalty never fades.”  Sylvester Stallone
“Love doesn’t make the world go round.  Love is what makes the ride worthwhile.”  Franklin P. Jones
“If you have love, you don’t need to have anything else, and if you don’t have it, it doesn’t matter much what else you have.”  Sir James M. Barrie
“A life without love in it is like a heap of ashes upon a deserted hearth, with the fire dead, the laughter stilled, and the light extinguished.”  Frank Tebbets
“Love is staying up all night with a sick child—or a healthy adult.”  David Frost
“Love is a game that two can play and both win.”  Eva Gabor
“Love is a force more formidable than any other.  It is invisible—it cannot be seen or measured, yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a moment, and offer you more joy than any material possession could.”  Barbara de Angelis
“Love is patient, love is kind…”  1 Corinthians 13:4-8

That’s just a sample of what’s out there.  Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was an easy answer to the question, “What is love?”  Actually…come to think of it, that wouldn’t be awesome at all.  If there was an easy answer to that question, think of how many movies we’d lose.  The majority of art, music, and poetry would be wiped away.  Teenagers wouldn’t have anything to distract them from homework.  Hallmark wouldn’t exist.

The horror!!

There is no easy answer, just one that comes in many forms.

God:
“The best way to know God is to love many things.”  Vincent van Gogh
“Love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person.  Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.”  Erich Fromm

Some believe that you have to love yourself before you can love others—including God.  To an extent, they would even have a decent point.  One could argue that if you don’t love yourself, it is impossible to love anyone else.  However, before you are even capable of loving yourself, you have to ask, “Where does love come from?”

God.

1 John 4:7-8 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does, not love God, because God is love.”

God has graced us with the ability to love; therefore, it is impossible to love ourselves without accepting His gift.  How selfish would it be if we accepted that gift and first used it on ourselves rather than the Giver?

That last question applies to all things.  God has given us everything.  He didn’t have to, but He did.  Praise Him for those gifts.  Praise Him at all times, good or bad.  Love Him at all times, good or bad.  Besides, it is commanded of us.  The Bible is full of commands, but which one is the most important?  We all know that story:

Mark 12:28-31 “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating.  Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

“‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  There is no commandment greater than these.’”

I love you, O Lord, my strength. –Psalm 18:1

Self:
“The more anger towards the past you carry in your heart, the less capable you are of loving in the present.”  Barbara de Angelis

Yes, you should love others before yourself, but I will tackle that fun area later.  You have to love yourself.  Some believe that is arrogance.  I disagree.  God made you, which means that you are good.  How can you not love that?  Not loving yourself is telling God that you don’t love His gift.  He saw you as good, but you despise the package?  Loving yourself isn’t arrogance.  Loving yourself to the point that you insist others be like you is.

That being said, while you can love who you are, you should never settle.  I constantly tell others how amazingly awesome I am.  It is always said in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, but the truth is—I love who I am.  However, I cannot grow complacent with who I am.  I must look at who I want to be, and strive to reach that level.  I can honestly say that I am a better person today than I was yesterday, and my desire is to be a better person tomorrow than I am today.

That persistent drive for improvement is what I love most about myself. J

God saw you as good when He made you.  He still does.  Yes, you have flaws…who doesn’t?  Love yourself.  Look at yourself and see the good.  See God’s good.  Yet at the same time, acknowledge that we were made from clay and are in constant need of reshaping.

Jesus says in John 15: 10-11 “‘If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.’”

Spouse:
“At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet.”  Plato
“Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.”  Arthur Pinero
“The sweetest of all sounds is that of the voice of the (one) we love.”  Jean Bruyere
“You know you are in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.”  Dr. Seuss

It’s cliché to say that there is no “sign” when it comes to falling in love.  You just…know.  Well…it’s cliché for a reason.  It’s true.  If you have to ask if you’re in love with someone, then you’re not.  The biggest trap people fall into when it comes to loving a potential spouse is believing their feelings are love when they are really feeling infatuation.

How can you avoid this trap?  Let’s size them up:

Infatuation                                                Love

You see the other person as perfect
You see the other person’s flaws and still love them
You spend all of your time with the other person
You still spend time with others
You quickly “fall” for the other person
You take time to allow the relationship to grow
You experience jealousy frequently
Trust and understanding results in NO jealousy
Distance puts a strain to the relationship
Your relationship survives and is strengthened because of distance
Your quarrels seriously damage the relationship
Your quarrels result in a stronger relationship
Sex (or the possibility of it) drives the relationship forward
Sex is not the present focus because you know you will have a lifetime of it with this person


Infatuation is dinner and movies and making out in the car.  Love is burnt popcorn and old reruns and holding hands on the couch while discussing the future.

“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupery

When you’re in love with someone, you have the big talks about your future.  You can’t just keep trekking forward if your goals will eventually take you in opposite directions.  There’s a line on How I Met Your Mother that fits perfectly here.  In one episode, roommates Marshall and Ted are discussing who gets the apartment when one of them gets married.  Ted says, “Who cares?  That’s future-Marshall and Ted’s problem, let them deal with it.”  Applied here: That’s infatuation talking.  If you want children, but your potential spouse does not—that needs to be a discussion before you get married, not two or three years into marriage.  Your individual future plans matter, but not as much your future plans together.  You need to be on the same page.  You need to be on the same road.  You need to be heading in the same direction.

“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”  Aristotle
“We were given: Two hands to hold.  Two legs to walk.  Two eyes to see.  Two ears to listen.  But why only one heart?  Because the other was given to someone else for us to find.”  Unknown

Sehnsucht.  It’s a German word that doesn’t have an exact translation.  “Yearning,” “craving,” and “intensely missing” come close.  CS Lewis described it as a longing in the heart for “we know not what.”  Basically, a sehnsucht is something you are constantly searching for, even if you aren’t consciously aware that that’s what you’re doing.  It’s not until you find it that you understand just how lost you were without it.

Your spouse is your sehnsucht.  Your heart is longing for someone, you just don’t know who that is right now.  Without that person, you feel incomplete.  When you find them, a hole that you didn’t even realize was missing from your life fills to the brim.

When God made man, He quickly realized that man needed a partner, so He made woman.  That’s how we became complete.  Alone, we are one.  Together with our spouse, we are One.  Whole.  Talk with happily married couples.  Most will tell you the same thing: Where I am weak, my spouse is strong.  Where my spouse is weak, I am strong.  Together, we are capable of anything.

A man in love mistakes a pimple for a dimple. –Japanese proverb

Others:
“The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others.”  Vincent van Gogh
“The one thing we can never get enough of is love.  And the one thing we never give enough of is love.”  Henry Miller
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”  Mother Teresa

Why is it we mistake a pimple for a dimple on our spouse, yet are so quick to notice the splinter in the eye of everyone else?  What did Jesus say the number one commandment was?  Love the Lord.  Number two?  Love your neighbor.  Not yourself…not your spouse…not your friends…everyone.

A lot of people don’t like that part of the verse, so they apply it as they see fit.  They believe the Golden Rule and an “eye for an eye” mean the same thing.  “If someone does unto you…you may return in kind.”  Wrong.  You are to love everyone, even if they have hurt you in some way, because what else was said earlier?  “Whoever does not love, does not love God, because God is love.”

What else did Jesus say?  Matthew 5:43-44 “‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’”

Loving your enemy does not mean hugging them and thanking them for their misdeed.  If someone has wronged you, pray.  Pray for them.  Pray that you can forgive them.  Do not seek vengeance.  Do not pray, “Dear God…get them!”

Let’s look at this another way: Are you so naïve and arrogant to think that you have never wronged someone else?  If we despised everyone that wronged us, and everyone that we have wronged despised us, we would constantly live in hate.

Who is the master of hate?

Not God.  God is love.

1 John 4:9-12 “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  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.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

And so we pray for, sacrifice for, work for, weep over, laugh with our enemies.  When we do, we show the world what Jesus is all about. –Dan Wolgemuth

God’s Love for Us:
I have spent the early stages of this blog dealing with grief.  I have talked about how being a Christian is hard work.  How you will endure pain and suffering in your walk with Christ.  But make no mistake about it—God loves you.

God loves you.

God loves you.

It doesn’t matter how you phrase it, what an awesome feeling.

How do we know that He loves us?  As Christians, we are promised a one-way ticket to Heaven.  Eternal glory.  The ultimate gift.  We do not deserve this gift.  We are unworthy of eternal glory.  Why?  Because of sin.  I’ve talked a lot about grief, but why does grief exist?  Sin.  Before sin, there was only happiness and love.  God gave us life, happiness, and love…and we screwed it all up.

Get it?  We wronged God.  You get all pissed off when someone cuts you off in traffic.  You flip them off and shout swears.  They wronged you, and you will have your pound of flesh!!

Um…WE WRONGED GOD.

Yet He forgave us.

How?

Love.

He demonstrated this love by sending His only Son to die.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Galatians 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.  The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
1 John 3:16 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

“A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave.”  Mahatma Gandhi

In the history of time, who better illustrates that than Jesus?

His resume:
·        One of His friends sold Him out, telling the cops where they could find Him.  Another friend would later deny that he even knew Jesus.
·        Jesus Christ lived the only sinless life here on earth, yet was arrested and sentenced to death.  Think about that: How can He be guilty of any crime if He has not even sinned?  *Side note: Jesus healed the ear of the man that arrested Him.  That’s love.*
·        He was scoured.  This is a whip with nine strings, each with a piece of bone or glass attached to the end.  It would literally shred the skin off a person’s back.  The Romans learned that 40 whips would kill a man…so Jesus received 39.
·        He was then blindfolded and slapped/punched in the face by pretty much anyone that wanted a shot.
·        They spit on Him.
·        They took a crown of thorns and placed it on His head.  To make sure it stayed there, they hit Him on the head with sticks so the thorns dug into his scalp.
·        He was forced to carry His own cross to His crucifixion.  Now…from what I’ve read, it was more likely just the cross beam, and not the whole thing…still, that’s like someone making you dig your own grave.  Plus, it weighed about 40 pounds, He would have had to walk anywhere from two football fields to half-a-mile (I couldn’t find exactly how far He walked with it), and He would have been severely weakened from the hours of beatings he endured.
·        Finally, He was crucified.  Nails the size of railroad spikes were driven into each wrist and feet.  When one is crucified, one often dies from a lack of oxygen.  Basically, you’re hunched over, which prevents enough oxygen from get into your lungs.  In order to receive enough oxygen, you have to straighten your spine.  In order to straighten your spine, you have to push up on the spikes driven into your feet.  Eventually, exhaustion sets in, and you can’t push up any longer.

The only sinless man in the history of the world went through all of that—for us.  For me.  For you.  For the man that arrested Him.  For the soldiers who scoured Him.  For the people who punched Him.  Spit on Him.  He loves us so much that He died just so we—a world who had done (and continues to do) nothing but wrong Him—could know the glory of God.

What is love?  I have quoted many scholars who have provided a variety of reasonable responses to this challenging question: Gandhi, Plato, Mother Teresa, and Aristotle to name a few.

Last week, my five-year-old niece said to her dad, “Nails didn’t hold Jesus to the cross.  Love did.”

Maybe the answer to that question isn’t so difficult after all.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Be real

The Bad News:
·        A high school football player with a lot of promise signs with a national powerhouse college.  While that promise remains, he loses out on the starting job.  He’s frustrated, but continues to work.  Whenever he does see the field, he performs okay, but never well enough to permanently win the job.  Year-after-year, he’s mired behind a guy who most believe will be an NFL superstar, but nothing is really expected of him anymore.  He considers leaving the school, but doesn’t want to give up.  Doesn’t want to quit.  Finally, he wins the starting job.  He’s good, but not great.  When the NFL draft occurs, this kid who once had so much promise, isn’t taken until the end of the 6th (out of 7) round.  People drafted this late rarely even make the team.  This kid works hard, though, and wins a spot on the team…as a third-string scrub.
·        A no-name kid from Missouri leaves college two credits short of graduation to live the dream in California of being an actor.  This works out well for him.  Jobs he earns: Refrigerator delivery man.  A driver of strippers to their destinations.  The guy in the chicken suit handing out restaurant fliers on the sidewalk.  These are not acting jobs.  These are actual jobs.  He finally lands a commercial here and there before scoring his first credited role in a movie…where he earns a total of $38.
·        A writer is frustrated.  He has only sold short stories to various magazines for no more than a few hundred dollars.  Novels have been rejected left and right.  He’s teaching to make ends meet.  He, his wife, and his first child are living in a trailer park.  The novel he has been working on sucks.  He can’t get it to work.  Finally fed up, he throws the manuscript in the trash.

Who are these people?  Does it really matter?  We’ve heard stories like these before.  It seems everyone has one.  “Person” struggled through a life of trials and suffering before making it big.  “Person” was never good enough growing up, but kept working and became a star.  “Person” started at the bottom of the industry before working their way to the top and owning the business.  We applaud these people for their perseverance and hard work…because that’s what it takes to do these great things.  Hard.  Work.

No professional athlete is a pro by accident.  Yes, their athletic ability is genetic, but their talent comes from hard work.  Yes…actors, bands, writers, etc. usually catch a “lucky break” in order to hit the big time, but almost none of them arrive there without numerous bumps, bruises, and hits to their self-confidence.  Most millionaires started at the very bottom and worked their way to the top.

There’s a misconception to the “American Dream.”  Americans today believe that they’re entitled to fortune and glory.  That’s not what the American Dream ever was, is, or will be.  In the American Dream, we are allowed to work.  The harder we work, the closer we get to fortune and glory.  Quitters need not apply.  The people that give up when things get hard will never see that reward.

Many Christians carry similar misgivings about their walk with Christ.  They believe that once they accept God into their hearts, they’re entitled to a free and easy life.  That’s not what the Christian life ever was, is, or will be.  Christians will encounter hardships.  Those that fight through those hardships will be rewarded.  Those that turn their back on God when times get tough will not witness His grace.

James 1: 2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”


The Ugly Truth:
Wait…WHAT?!  Consider it JOY when life sucks?

Yes.

“You learn from your mistakes.”  “You grow up when times are hard.”  We hate this line of thinking.  We hate it because we know in order to learn or become a better person, bad things have to happen to us.  Who wants to sign up for that?

Here’s the thing…nothing that’s worth having comes easy.  Nothing.  You have to work.  No joke…as I typed that last sentence, a Gatorade commercial aired in the other room.  In it, you see star athletes like Dwyane Wade and Serena Williams working their BUTTS off…in the gym.  In the weight room.  Lifting, running, training.  Sweat is POURING off of them.  The narrator says, “In life, you get what you put into it.”  Then it shows them schooling opposing players on their respective courts.  You have to endure pain and suffering in order to reap the riches at the end of the road, and as I’ve said in past posts, that road will be bumpy.     See…here on earth, others want those same riches, so they’re going to do everything in their power to knock you down in order to get it themselves.  Spiritually, the closer we get to those riches, the more Satan is going to try to blow up the road.

I mentioned a great blog last week—Jenn Roth’s.  A few days ago, she shared a video entitled “Suffering and the Mission of God” by Francis Chan.  If you have 34 minutes, it’s amazing stuff.  Powerful stuff.  At one point, he says, “If you’re not suffering, you shouldn’t be at peace.  You should be thinking, ‘How come no one’s attacking me?  Why isn’t Satan attacking me?’  Probably because he doesn’t have to.”

If we’re not living a God-centered life, Satan has little interest in us.  Some may think that’s great.  If he’s not interested in us, then he won’t attack us.  If he doesn’t attack us, we won’t hurt.

I return (briefly) to that third-string NFL player.  You think anyone is worried about him?  Think the other teams are game-planning for him?  His life is easy.  He’s on an NFL team.  He plays only during practice…which means he’s rarely hit.  No pain.  Plus, he gets to cash a decent paycheck every week.

Yet ALL he wants is to be the starter.  He WANTS teams game-planning ways to beat the crap out of him.  He WANTS to get hit.  He WANTS the pain.

This makes sense to us because it’s sports.  Because it’s the “American Dream.”

Most of us are willing to work hard for the things we want, if we want them bad enough.  As kids, we wanted the newest toy, but our parents wouldn’t buy it for us.  Instead, we were told that if we did a whole bunch of chores that we hated doing, they would give us the money needed to buy the toy.  So we worked.

In high school, we were told that if we wanted to go to college, we had to have “these” grades and “this” ACT score.  So we worked.

In college, we were told if we wanted to good job, we had to take “these” classes and do “this” well.  So we worked.

In our career, we were told that if we wanted promotions and pay raises, we had to come in early and stay late.  We had to out-perform our co-workers.  So we worked.

Yet in our faith, we want it to be easy.  We want God to just hand us everything.  When He doesn’t, when trials and pain and suffering come our way, what do we do?  Do we smile and say, “Nice try, Satan, but I’m going to come out of this bigger and stronger than ever!” or do we throw our hands in the air and say, “What the crap, God?”

Another great line from Francis Chan: “Almost every book in the New Testament talks about suffering, yet we’re surprised when the trials come.”

Being a Christian is supposed to be easy?  Easy?  Have we read the Bible?  Have we studied the men of God?  Very few of their (earthly) stories end happily.  Nearly every one of Jesus’s disciples was arrested, tortured, and executed for his beliefs.  You want to complain about your trials?

My sister-in-law was a strong, Christian woman.  She died on Jan. 9 from a brain tumor at the age of 29.  She left behind a grieving husband and two children (5 and 3).  Earlier this week, a friend of a co-worker died in her sleep of a suspected heart attack.  She was 35.  She left behind a grieving husband and three children (the youngest of which is in kindergarten).  Another Christian co-worker has been battling breast cancer all year.  My wife’s Christian grandmother had a pretty severe stroke this summer.  My Christian grandfather has been suffering from Parkinson’s for years.  My Christian dad hasn’t been able to land a steady job for three years.  My Christian wife and I are unable to have children.  You want easy?  It would be easy for me or any of these people to have their faith rocked.  To turn our backs on God.

It would have been easy for Jesus’s disciples to quit.  The people back then thought up forms of torture the sickest minds alive today could never dream of…and performed them on these Godly men.  All they had to do to make it stop?  Renounce God.  Reject Jesus.

Think about that for a second.  The backbone of faith is believing…not thinking, not suspecting…believing in something you cannot see, hear, or touch.  These men had never seen God.  They had never spoken with Him.  They had never touched Him.  They spent a lot of time with Jesus, who said that He was the son of God.  They didn’t have to believe Him.  They didn’t have to believe.

But they did.

And they died for it.

Makes our issues seem pretty small, doesn’t it?

You want to talk suffering?  One word: Jesus.  Who, in the history of time, has suffered more?  Think of how heavy the weight of some of our days can be.  Stress.  Over-worked.  Gossip.  A fight with a loved one.  Scolded by the boss (or parent or spouse).  It gets heavy, and it weighs us down.  Jesus carried this weight (and more) for all of mankind.

Scoreboard!!

When I watched the Francis Chan video, there was a moment about 17-18 minutes in that was an absolute gut-check for me.  I’m paraphrasing here, but he said, “What do we, as Christians, always say?  I want to be like Jesus, I want to be like Jesus, I want to be like Jesus.

“Yet we don’t want to share His sufferings.”

Ouch.

Trials are a part of life.  If we are serious about following God, then Satan is going to do everything he can to throw us off the path.  If you have Satan’s attention, then you’re doing something right.  If you’re doing something right, God has all kinds of glory waiting for you.


The Good News:
·        During the next season, the third-string nobody moved his way up to second-string by out-working everyone else.  The team had a special parking spot next to the building where the winner of the “Hardest Worker in Practice” was allowed to park.  This guy won that spot twice.  When the starter was knocked out of a game with an injury, he stepped in…and never let the job go.  He has gone on to win three Super Bowls and is considered one of the greatest quarterbacks ever.  His name is Tom Brady.
·        After a couple of bit roles in movies, the actor landed a small role in “Thelma and Louise.”  The role only paid $6,000, but he stole the scenes he was in, which paved the way to his first starring role in the movie “Kalifornia,” where he earned $500,000.  This role caught a lot of people’s attention, and soon he was rejecting star roles to play in his choice of movies.  His next role was in “Se7en,” where he earned $5 million.  His name is Brad Pitt.
·        The author, depressed, fell asleep.  Little did he know that his wife walked in, saw a manuscript in the trash, and started reading it.  When he woke up, she handed it back to him and told him to keep working.  There was a good story on those pages.  He went on to finish it and shopped it to publishing companies.  Meanwhile, his small family was to the point where they couldn’t pay the bills.  The electricity would be turned off for a month so they could pay the water bill.  Water would be turned off for a month so they could eat.  Finally, his editor called him.  A publishing company had decided to publish his story…and paid him $400,000.  That book was “Carrie.”  The author has gone on to sell a few more books since then.  His name is Stephen King.

These are all earthly treasures for hard work and perseverance.  Imagine what God has in store for us spiritually for struggling through pain and suffering and coming out stronger on the other side.

There’s more to the chapter of James quoted above.  Verse 12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.”

I won’t type it all here, but read Romans 8: 18-27.  Amazing.  Amazing.  How do you not get fired up when reading something like this?  The Bible promises suffering to anyone that follows God.  Got that?  Promises suffering.  At the same time, God also promises grace and glory to all who persevere through that suffering.

One last quote from Francis Chan:  “Sometimes we need to suffer just so we can look at our lives and know if we’re for real.”

I love, love, love that line.  Life is full of tests.  You’re always preparing for the next one.  At school.  At home.  At work.  In your relationships with friends, family, and God.  The only way you know where you stand is by taking those tests and seeing how you respond to them.  Are you for real…or just talk?

I am a teacher.  A lot of people think that a teacher’s job begins and ends in that classroom.  Real teachers believe differently.  My students are going to learn how to become better writers by sitting through my class 170+ times a year…but they’re going to learn more about becoming an ADULT by watching me for five minutes when they bump into me at Wal-Mart.  I am not saying this with arrogance, I am saying this with truth—I am a role model for my students.  I should be.  Every adult in their life should look at their roles the same way.  For some of these students, I see them longer during the day than their own father will.  Sometimes it’s because he’s not in the picture at all.  Sometimes it’s because he works late.  Regardless, some students will look at me in order to see what a grown man is supposed to be like………so when they watch me, what will they see?  I am always conscious of this, and I act accordingly.  Whether I see a student or not, I always act as if one is watching.  Because one always is.

This mindset is especially true for Christians.  Non-Christians watch Christians like hawks.  Some are curious about the Christian life…so they watch.  Others are watching…waiting for when we screw up, so they can pounce.  So they can call us frauds.  These people are not paying attention when our lives are happy-go-lucky.  Anyone can be a good representation of God when times are going well.  Non-Christians are watching, waiting to pounce when we hit a bump in the road.  They want to see how we deal with the rough patches life throws at us.

Imagine:  You are not a Christian, but your best friend is.  He gets an A on his test…and praises God.  Is that going to draw you to God?  Your friend hits the game-winning shot…and praises God.  He gets married…he has a child…he gets the promotion at work.  Praise, praise, praise.  Are you drawn to Him yet?  Now imagine that he fails that test…he is cut from the team…has his heart broken…wife has a miscarriage…is let go from his job………and still praises God.  Are you more drawn to Him now?

Someone is always watching.  When they watch you, do they see God?  Even in times of pain?


So…Now What?:
John 14: 25-27.  Jesus is talking.  He says, “‘All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.’”

God will not abandon you.  Do not believe for one second that when you are suffering, He has turned His back on you.  Quite the contrary.  He’s suffering with you.  See…we don’t want to share Jesus’s suffering, but He willingly shares ours.

So…what do we do?  When pain strikes us, what do we do?  Bite our lip and take it?  Say thank you?  No…we’re still human, and it’s okay to hurt.  It’s okay to accept that pain.  But instead of turning away from God, instead of taking it on by yourself, turn to God.

My brother wrote this last week and I loved it.  “Rather than questioning God’s intentions, petition Him to reveal His character in the situation.  ‘Lord, help me see Your goodness in this.’  ‘Father, show me Your love through my trials.’  ‘Holy Spirit, be my Comforter.’  This honors Him and benefits you as you ‘meet trials of various kinds.’  Then, request that He use what you have learned about Him to encourage not only yourself but also the people with whom you interact.  You will be blessed, others will likewise be blessed (thus doubling your own blessing), and God the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit will receive all the glory.”

The world can be scary.  You will be attacked.  You will endure hardships.  Bad things don’t happen to good people…bad things happen to all people.  It’s the good people who step out into the world and meet this suffering head-on, showing God all the way.  Be.  Real.  Do not let your hearts be broken and do not be afraid.