Thursday, February 18, 2016

I Give You Back to God

This week, a short clip, and a short encouragement. First, the clip:

This is a fairly well known clip in many circles. If you have not seen it, I encourage you to take the 3 1/2 minutes of your day it will take to watch it. Then, I ask you to consider what I have to say.

The question to be answered is very simple: do we as Christians treat those who have wronged us in this way? I ask because it is the Biblical answer is very simple to come up with. In Luke 6:27-31 Jesus states:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you."
Is this how we live our faith? In giving and forgiveness so extreme that it changes those around us? Is this how we treat those with different ideas? Is this how we treat our enemies?

It is to this extreme lifestyle that Christians are called. I once read in a commentary something along the lines that it is only common sense that what Jesus is speaking about here is an ideal and not an actual expectation. But there is nothing in the context that shows that, and much of what Jesus said defied and continues to defy the "common sense" of our world today.

So the second question is this: will we as Christians going forward live our lives with such a radical faith that it cannot help but change those who it comes into contact with? Valjean in the clip above was changed by an extreme act of both mercy and giving. How many more could be reached if we, in our actions and reactions to others, did the same? It is what we are called to.

So let us live it, and in so doing take those who we win and give them back to God.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Eustace the Dragon

Eustace as seen in "Voyage of the Dawn Treader" movie.

I have just started trying to finish the Narnia series of books by CS Lewis. I have really enjoyed the ones I have read, but for some reason I have never seemed to be able to complete the whole series. This time, however, I am trying to read them with the worldview that Lewis wrote them from to see the deeper meanings behind the stories that are told.

Right now I am in the middle of Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In it there is a horrible, nasty boy named Eustace who is close-minded, cynical, narcissistic and arrogant. It is only by accident that he ends up in Narnia, but it does not change him at first. Despite the magic, wonder and newness of everything around him, he continues to be a brat who believes he should be the first and most important consideration in any situation.

Needless to say, I'm not really a fan of Eustace, or at least I wasn't.

Trapped on an island after a hurricane leaves their ship in terrible shape, Eustace sneaks off by himself in a fit. He ends up lost, only to see a dragon die apparently from old age. Now the boy, being a close-minded realist, did not even know what a dragon was. He simply saw it as a frightening beast. Upon entering the dragon's lair, however, he discovers its horde of treasure. Being a selfish person, he put on a bracelet and stuffs his pockets full of jewels and treasure before falling asleep.

When he wakes up there is a great pain on his arm where the bracelet was, and he discovers to his horror that he has become a dragon himself. He ends up finding the crew of the ship, who discovers his true identity. This is where his change begins.

Before, Eustace had been a beast on the inside but a person on the outside. He had lied, cheated, tried to steal and been terrible to everyone he met. He hated everything. Now that who he was outside matched who he was inside, he saw the true horror of the situation. It was at this point that who he was inside began to change.

You see, his companions did not leave him, fight him or try to run him off. They did not say good riddance or ignore his plight. Instead they looked for how they might be able to help him. Having experienced that kind of love and care as a beast, inside he changed to become helpful, kind, humble. He lost his selfishness and became a beneficial member of the group.

But there was still the problem of being a dragon.

As the rest of the crew tries to figure out how to continue their journey with Eustace's new shape (Do they tow him? Can they make room on the boat?), the boy dragon wanders off, only to find Aslan. In this meeting Aslan leads Eustace to a well, where he tells the boy the water will ease his pain.  All he has to do is undress first.

Now, being a dragon, he had no clothes. But upon realizing that he is much like a snake, he begins to shed his skin. After doing this three times, each feeling better than the last, Aslan tells him that he needed to do it. Afraid, but desperate, Eustace lies down and allows the lion to do what must be done.

Eustace recalls the moment by saying, "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peeled off."

Once it was done, however, Eustace was a boy again. The constricting and painful experience of being a dragon was gone, the arm ring could come off, and he could live again. He had been changed from a beast on both the inside and out to a person inside and out.

But it did not come without pain and submission. He could have fled from Aslan, could have gone off to try and fix it himself, but the problem would have remained. It was only when he allowed the Lion to do what had to be done that he could finally become his true self.

Often I feel that we are the same way. We want (or believe) that our way is best. That if we can only have the time to take care of it ourselves, we will find a way. But the truth is that we cannot. It takes Someone more, Someone greater than ourselves to tear us out of our beastliness and make us real. It requires acknowledging that we cannot do it ourselves, and submitting to the process that must take place. Often, it will take a great amount of pain as well as we are ripped and pulled away from the things which have attached themselves to us, and what we have attached ourselves to.

So today is a call to submit and give in to the Lion. To allow Him to take His claw, and tear into you so that you can be free from the constriction and pain that sin has placed you in. It is not death or pain that He desires of you, but life and freedom and change. I will not lie and say it will be easy or simple or pain-free. As I have said above it is quite the opposite. But it is worth it. To be free from the penalty of sin, to be changed from a beast into a son of God, to be given a new lease by the only one who can give it.

Regardless of what is going on in your life or how difficult and scary things may be, I encourage you to lie in submission to He who saves, and make you new again. To take your fears and anxieties and redeem them for His purposes. Not that there will never be pain or fear or anxiety in the future, but so that you can know He is working to take those things and redeem them for something better and greater and pure.

Doesn't that sound better than trying to do it all yourself?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Follow Me

I am convinced that "Follow Me" is one of the deepest, most meaningful songs put to paper in dealing with how a Christian relates to Christ. If you stop to consider the lyrics as written, it strips away every worry, every bit of pride, and every overreaction in relation to the beauty of what Christ has done for us. I would like to take this song verse by verse and consider what we can learn from it.

Verse 1:
"I traveled down a lonely road, and no one seemed to care. The burden on my weary back had bowed me to despair. I oft complained to Jesus how folks were treating me, and then I heard Him say so tenderly, "My feet were also weary, upon the Calv'ry road. The cross became so heavy, I fell beneath the load. Be faithful weary pilgrim, the morning I can see. Just lift your cross and follow close to Me."

There are times when, even surrounded by our brothers and sisters in Christ, we can feel like a lone ship being tossed about in the sea of life. There may or may not be a reason for it, but everyone has been there at some point. It is easy to come to Jesus worried and fearful that this will always be the case, but when we look to Jesus we see something different.

In Jesus we find a Savior who has already conquered. And not only who has already conquered, but who was at one point completely alone, with no one to rely on. He endured the beatings and torture with no one there to take it away, He carried the cross until there was no strength left, and another man was forced to help him. He was staked to the cross, and hung, during which He was truly alone in a way you and I never have to be.

As Jesus hung on the cross, the entire weight of the law and all its curses came crashing down on Him. In that moment, He was completely and utterly separated from all that He had known, even God Himself. He had to carry the weight of all sin, of all curses, upon Himself. Alone. But in doing so He conquered sin and its consequence of death and made a path to the Father for those that follow Him. So when the song says "the morning I can see," we know that it is more than just the next time the sun comes up. It is the morning of no more pain, no more sorrow, no more fear and no more loneliness. It is the morning of God, filled by His presence and overflowing with His love. It is the morning of wholeness in everything.

Verse 2:
"I work so hard for Jesus," I often boast and say. "I've sacrificed a lot of things to walk the narrow way. I gave up fame and fortune! I'm worth a lot to Thee." And then I hear Him gently say to me, "I left the throne of glory, and counted it but loss. My hands were nailed in anger upon a cruel cross. But now we'll make the journey with your hand safe in mine. So lift your cross and follow close to Me."

Now I have never heard anyone literally say these things about themselves, but I have seen it played out in people's attitudes about their faith (including my own at times). It is so easy for people to look at what they do and what they've done and become very impressed in how "good" they are. But the truth is, it all comes from pride. There is nothing we can give of our own that can amount to anything before God. Isaiah says in 64:6, "But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousness are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." We have nothing to be prideful of before God. We can be joyous in what He has done, and we can take pride in the fact that Christ has made us perfect and perfects our gifts and worship, but in ourselves we simply have nothing to take pride in.

Jesus, on the other hand, gave up the glories of Heaven itself. Surrounded by worship and praise and light, in the presence of perfection, He chose to come one of us in this world. He chose to come here, with sickness and death and war and suffering in order to make a way for us to come to God. And He invites us to take His hand, lift our cross, and journey with Him there.

Verse 3:
[I said] "Oh Jesus if I die upon a foreign field someday, 'twould be no more than love demands, no less could I repay. "No greater love hath mortal man than for a friend to die.'" [But then] these are the words He gently spoke to me: "If just a cup of water I place within your hand, then just a cup of water is all that I demand." [So I said] "But if by death to living they can they glory see, I'll take my cross and follow close to Thee."

This is the verse that make the entire song for me. Having realized and understood how much Jesus has done for us, we can feel bad sometimes that we cannot or are not doing more. Unreasonable guilt or zeal (depending on the person) can take over, saying that we have to do more! We have to be great! We have to make sure that we go so far that we die for Him! Because really, what less could we do?

The problem with that train of thought is that Jesus calls us where we are. We are not called to compare ourselves to each other. We are not called to feel guilty because we cannot do as much as another person, nor are we called to feel better than someone else because we can do more.

We are simply called to give what we can from where we are.

Some people have been given amazing gifts and numerous opportunities to turn the world upside down for Christ, and that is wonderful! Others have nothing more than a cup of water to quietly give to someone in need. We need to understand that too, is wonderful! Remember the poor widow who had only two small copper coins to give. To those with vast sums it was nothing, but to Jesus watching her it was everything. Understand that it is is a blessing to be a cup of water person. Because of your "meager" gift and position there are people you will see and people you can help that no one else can, so don't be afraid to use your cup of water. The person dying of thirst in the desert does not care about speeches and programs and vast sums of wealth. They just want the water, and you are the blessing they need to see Jesus living today.

So no matter where you are, no matter who you are, know that Jesus loves you. He cares for you, and He sees the morning coming even in your darkness. You have no need of pride, but a simple joy in the fact that Jesus makes you perfect. Finally, if all you have is a cup of water, do not despair. Jesus gave you that cup so that you can accomplish exactly what He wants you to accomplish for His name. All it takes it to take up your cross and follow Him.

So let's take it up together.

Untethered Joy

This post originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of the North Park church of Christ newsletter, The Encourager.

Over the years, it seems as though more and more the world tells us that all happiness and all joy is and must be tethered to the things in this world. Watch nearly any show or movie, read nearly any book, and you will see this played out. We see it in culture, politics, entertainment, discussion, everything. It is one of the driving factors in how people relate to everyday life.

It is the basis for much of the Social Justice Warrior’s dogma. If something out in the world offends me or makes me upset, it robs me of my joy and happiness and therefore cannot be allowed at any cost. It is the basis for much of Socialism. If everyone cannot have the same result, that robs me of my joy and happiness and so everyone must be made the same at any cost. It is even the basis for much of the Christian backlash against the direction the country is headed. If the government says I cannot practice my faith the way I see fit without penalty, that robs me of my joy and happiness and must be brought into line at any cost.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot and we should not base our joy in things of this world. When we do, it is a very small step to start treating things in this world as though they have power over who we are and what we do as people. It gives the enemy a foothold in our lives and places us in territory filled with traps for us to fall into.

Advertisements, politicians and trend-setters use this to an astonishing degree. Advertisements attack with “you need this to be fulfilled!” They are banking on the idea that things in this world will bring us joy. It is why Apple can sell someone a slightly upgraded iPhone 6 months after the last one came out. It is why HGTV can convince newly married couples that a $30,000 kitchen is a necessity for a new home. It all banks on the idea that joy is found in the things of this world.

Politicians give calls to “take our country back,” and claim they will make stores say Merry Christmas again (without bothering to say anything about how to make a private entity say what the government tells them to). It all spins on the idea that it is this world that is important. It is about creating a sense of desire for things in this world so that power can be accrued to themselves.

Trend-setters do the same. It is the basis for those claiming that all sexuality must be viewed as equal and moral. It is the basis for those claiming guns should be allowed anywhere and everywhere no matter what. The underlying concept is that joy is found in this world, and no one should be able to do anything to disrupt it.

But that is not Christian joy. Christian joy is found in God the Father and what Jesus His Son has done for us through the cross. It is found in the fact that those in Christ will be with Him forever, and that everything in this world, though it may be painful or frightening, is ultimately temporary. It is our destination that is eternal, and nothing in this world can tear us away from it. Our joy is in knowing that, as Paul said, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is our joy.

So let us do our best to live like it.