Whatever It Takes

“Those who are wise will take all this to heart; they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.”

It is an awesome thing, after you’ve lived a while, to look back and see how the faithful love of the Lord has always been there. Constantly working to bring you to himself even when you weren’t aware of it, even when you were running with all your might in the opposite direction. To have lived some years and to have gained the perspective that only time can afford is a wonderful thing. What seemed like a jumbled tale of happenstance and random events crystalizes into a glorious story of the steadfast love of the God who will do whatever it takes. And for me, I think that Psalm 107 illustrates this point as well as any pericope in the Bible.

The author of the Psalm describes several groups of people (I’ll call them wanderers, prisoners, fools, and merchants.), and he describes their journeys and how God moved on their behalf. The wanderers were poor and destitute, without food and drink, close to death. But God heard their cry and rescued them. The prisoners had outright rebelled against the Lord. Their rebellion had bound them in misery and gloom. But God, in his mercy “broke them with hard labor; they fell, and no one was there to help them.” Then they cried to the Lord, and he delivered them and “broke down their prison gates of bronze; he cut apart their bars of iron.” Then there were the fools who also turned from God, and in their folly found nothing but dissatisfaction, deep discontentment that ate away at their very lives. But when they cried to the Lord he “sent out his word and healed them, snatching them from the door of death.” Finally, there were the merchants, sailing the seas, perhaps with minds only set on finance. But when the storms struck and their ships were tossed around, they feared for their lives and called on God who “calmed the storm to a whisper and stilled the waves.”

The story goes on to tell of rivers being changed to deserts, “and springs of water into dry, thirsty land. He [God] turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands, because of the wickedness of those who live there. But he also turns deserts into pools of water the dry land into springs of water.” This Psalm provides a beautiful description of God’s faithful love, it’s both poetic and eloquent. In it you see that God is the God who will do whatever it takes to deliver his people. In the midst of our wandering, when chains have bound our foolish, rebellious heart, when we’re giving all of our energy in pursuit of the riches of this world; this Psalm shows us that God will do whatever it takes to bring us to himself. But I can do you one better than Psalm 107.

The “whatever it takes” ultimately meant that God would become part of his creation. In the man Jesus, the unimaginable occurred: God joined divinity and humanity. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God displayed his great love and willingness to do whatever it takes to join us with himself. He personally becomes part of his creation. His appearance means that instead of being wanderers, we are adopted into his family. We are prisoners no more, for he himself has come to make us free. He has rescued us from the folly of seeking our own way by becoming wisdom for us. And instead of being mere merchants, relentlessly bargaining for the riches of this world; he has become our treasure and desire. This was his plan all along, and it gave him great joy to do so. What we see in pictures and poetry in Psalm 107 becomes flesh and blood in Jesus. We now know that the ultimate goal of God’s faithful love was not only to deliver us from the death, insanity and brokenness of sin, but to actually join us with himself. And in Jesus he says, “This is how far I’m willing to go! You in me and me in you- whatever it takes.”

Shechem

From Genesis to Acts, the name Shechem come up repetitively. Sometimes it’s a person’s name, at others, the name of a place. Both good things and bad happened at Shechem. And I’m convinced, due to the repetition of the name alone, that there are deeper, spiritual, even prophetic truths to be gleaned from a study of Shechem. I wish I had something like that to share with you, but I don’t. But there is something very practical that did come to mind as I thought about Shechem and the way it keeps cropping up in scripture: One of the ways that God may speak to us is through repetition.

I think that for all of us there are times when we think to ourselves, “I’ve been here before.” Perhaps we recognize that we’ve visited the same “place” multiple times, sometimes many years apart. And then once more, we find ourselves there again. A different scenario, different people- same place. Or maybe it’s a particular verse or section of the Bible that keeps coming up over and over. The Spirit puts it on your mind, then in your car, on the radio, something about that verse is said again. Then, you’re talking to someone, and the theme is repeated. Or it could be that a particular trial comes around again and again. Whatever the case may be, I believe it’s important that we recognize that God utilizes repetition to speak with us. (I believe you’ll find that this bears out in scripture as well.)

Most of us recognize that God speaks to us through the written Word, the voice of the Spirit in our hearts, and through our brothers and sisters, but I think many of us may ignore (or be ignorant of) the voice of the Lord in “divine repetition.” Think about it; that’s the way we learn as children and adults. It is through the consistent repetition of hearing our parents speak that we ourselves learned to talk. How often did you repeat the multiplication tables to learn them? What about the alphabet song? Acquiring work skills such as mastering a craft requires repetitive endeavor. I don’t really think I have to convince you to get you to agree that one of the primary ways by which we learn is through repetition. But perhaps you’ve never really thought about the fact that God utilizes repetition as a means to speak to you, to work in your life, and to indicate his will.

If you find yourself running into “Shechem” over and over again, take a moment to stop- ask why? Ask God to give you wisdom as to why this (whatever it may be) keeps occurring. It could well be that He is teaching you, desiring to effect change in you through a repetitive theme. Perhaps, in previous visits to Shechem, you were unwilling to stay long enough to learn what He wanted to teach you. So, here you are again. And I’ll bet you that you’ll keep coming back until you “get it.” (I know I have.) How many times have you asked yourself, “Why am I always running into people who…?” It could be that it’s not about them, but rather a work God desires to do in you by repeatedly bringing such people into your life. May be you’re seeking God’s will about a particular direction for your life. Pay attention to repetitive themes that occur during this time. Oh yeah, don’t go it alone. Share your thoughts and observations with others in your community and allow God to use their perspectives to help you. You can bet that they have visited Shechem themselves. As you walk with Jesus, yielding yourself and abiding in Him; pay attention to repetition. Sometimes, He speaks that way.

“Pete and Repeat were sitting on a fence. Pete fell off, who is left………………………..?”

Jesus Wears Nike

“Pressure pushing down on me

Pressing down on you no man ask for

Under pressure…”

In the odyssey of life, the saying, “Anything can happen.” is proven true over and over again. And it seems like the “anything” that can happen tends to happen at the worse time possible. Thus, the old adage, “When it rains it pours.” Relationships we thought would never change are sometimes dissolved in such a manner that it makes our heads spin. Sickness, death, misfortune, work situations, you name it; it can all happen at any time. Living in the tension of these moments causes pressure. We feel restricted and confined, bound in such a narrow place, it’s hard to move. Pressure bears down and continues to tighten until we feel riveted to the ground. Thus, another old saying, “Getting the screws put to you.” Whether it’s self-inflicted, perpetuated by others, or a “combo-meal,” sooner or later; life will hit you smack in the mouth. And we have all sorts of ways by which we try to overcome the pressure and find peace. The thing is, most of our ways don’t work or are temporary at best. We too often forget that Someone has faced the pressure, beat it and offers his victory to us.

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

 

Jesus himself assured us that we would have “tribulation” in the world. That word “tribulation” means: pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; tribulation, especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”). But the cool thing is that Jesus took all the pressures that life has to give and has overcome the world. He said, “I have νενίκηκα (nenikēka) the world.” Yeah, you recognize the middle part of that Greek word. It’s “nike,” which means “victory.” Jesus had on his Nike long before the shoe company was ever thought of, and he has shared his victory with us. He assumed the totality of the human experienced (even death) and says to us that we can have peace, despite the pressure-in him.

The “in him” is more than just some ethereal concept. Actually, we know what it means and use it all of the time. Think of it this way: In love songs, we hear all the time lyrics such as, “Oh baby, in you I’ve found everything I’ve ever wanted.” Well, that implies relationship. Two people are sharing their lives together. They walk in each other’s shoes. They are “in” each other if you will. They walk, talk, live, love and simply do life together. The pressure that affects one affects the other. The husband and wife have actually become one and they have peace by just being together. Ask a guy and he’ll tell you that no matter what happens, knowing that his wife loves him somehow makes it bearable. Well that’s kind of like the idea of “in him.” Us in Jesus, him in us, living, loving, doing life as one. “In me you may have peace.”

Yep, Jesus wears Nike, and he wants us to walk in him, experiencing his victory and peace. Oh yeah, in this world there will always be pressure. But guess what; Daddy’s got a brand new pair of shoes!!

The Lost Art Of Pondering

“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

Unlike Mary, we don’t tend to ponder too much nowadays. The birth of social-media has created an environment in which our every thought has become fodder for the next “post.” Now don’t get me wrong, I think we should share what God shares with us with others. But I can’t help but feel like we’ve lost something. I have found that often, instead of enjoying the moment, my thoughts immediately go to, “I need to post this.” Rather than ponder, appreciate and bask in the wonder of the reality that God is sharing his heart with me, I’m off to the races. And something has gotten lost in the transaction. Maybe it’s just me that feels like this, but I doubt it.

I don’t think that our desire to share is wrong in and of itself, but I do think that sometimes our motives are a little askew. Instead of abiding in that glorious moment of divine encounter, our need for validation and acceptance often drives us to seek it from one another. So, we forfeit the glory of pondering and wondering with Jesus for the quick fix of a few “likes” and a couple of “shares.” What would we gain if we slowed down and took a moment to simply ponder?

Our lack of pondering also affects our relationships with each other. We don’t take the time to peruse each other’s social-media offerings and consider the individual through the context of the thoughts he or she has shared over time. More often than not, we make up our minds about someone based on a few posts, often taken out of context. (Hey, we could apply this to biblical interpretation too, huh?) This often leads to argument and misunderstanding that could have been avoided. Let me ask you, is there anyone you dislike on social-media, “friends of friends,” people you don’t even know? Maybe they should be befriended and their whole “body of work” considered with some thoughtful pondering. Who knows, there may be common ground.

Yeah, pondering is becoming a lost art. Perhaps every thought, every song, every moment is not meant to be shared, but rather savored and enjoyed like a whisper between two lovers. I’m convinced that taking the time to ponder will enhance our relationship with God and each other. It’s something to think about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to post this.

 

I Come In Peace

“Blessed are the peace makers…”

Christmas time means gathering with family, and that means getting together with people you haven’t seen in a long time. And often times that means some old wounds that have not quite healed are opened up once again. I was talking with someone yesterday, and from our conversation I could tell that the bitterness he felt towards a member of his family was still very real to him. He briefly recounted the events that led to the dissolution of a certain relationship, and quite honestly, he was justified in his hurt. But what alarmed me was the way he reveled in it, outspoken in his unwillingness to forgive “I’m justified in the way I feel. “he said. “And it’s never gonna change.” It made me sad.

One of the tragedies of our sin and brokenness is the trauma it brings to our families. That group of people that God intended to “illustrate” for us the relationship of the Triune God (and ours with “It”) often suffers in ways which can never be truly mended. Even when we come to Jesus, sometimes the consequences of past behavior remain. You can’t “go back,” and undo the past. And it’s so easy to hold on to the memories, the pain, and the unforgiveness. Years go by, so much water under the bridge, and it’s just impossible to make things right. Impossible that is unless someone is willing to be a peacemaker.

Being a peacemaker doesn’t mean we pretend like the hurt isn’t real. It doesn’t mean that we excuse the offender’s behavior. It means that we choose to love and seek reconciliation in spite of it. And the truth of the matter is that being a peacemaker can be painful in itself. It’s hard to put aside our desire to be right (especially when we are), and allow healing to take place. We can get to a point where we love our hurt more than the person who hurt us. But in order for there to be a chance, someone has got to be willing to love and forgive. Someone will have to value forgiveness and reconciliation enough to suffer for it. Someone is going to have to be like Jesus.

We have no greater image of a person who was willing to suffer for reconciliation than Jesus. He was totally in the right, he had done nothing wrong, and he would have been justified if he had thrown up his hands in disgust.

“[But] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

Jesus bore the pain it took to make things right, the ultimate Peacemaker. And it is his Spirit who can give you the grace needed to do as he did. In him, you can find the strength it takes to forgive and be a source of healing to your family. Come and give yourself to him today. Let him heal you, and then allow him to heal others though you.

 

Bah, Humbug?

So, this is Christmas. I’m often accused by friends and family of being all “bah,humbug” at this time of year, but honestly, that’s not the deal. I love the lights, the Claymation Christmas specials, and all the rest. It’s just that everyday is Christmas to me. Yep, long after Linus gives his soliloquy and all the trees have been dismantled (Ugh!), when things get back to normal; it’ll still be Christmas. In fact, I would argue that for the most part, what is being celebrated this week is not Christmas at all. So what are we doing and why do we do it?

I was talking about these things with someone the other day, and when I mentioned that everyday was Christmas to me, they said, “No, it’s not. It’s not everyday that we have the trees, the lights, and that feeling you get this time of year.” Hmm…, that feeling. Is that what we’re after- a feeling? We all know about that feeling. I get it every time I hear “Christmas Time Is Here.” It’s a feeling that takes us back to the days of childlike wonder, back to a time when there was excitement and hope. That feeling awakens our imaginations, the ability to dream of perfect families, and a world in which everybody loves everybody. That feeling is magical, and for a brief period of time it makes everything all right. It’s a feeling we long for because we’re all grown up now, and our childhood visions of sugar plumbs dancing in our heads have been shattered by the reality that reindeer can’t really fly, snow men don’t really come to life, and there is no Santa Claus. Fortunately for us, the feeling isn’t Christmas, and it doesn’t end on December 26th.

The truth of Christmas is in the person of Jesus and the reality that’s found in him. Although our childhood visions have been shattered and our innocence forfeited, the Creator has come to his creation and we are made whole in him. Our imaginations are awakened in childlike wonder as we partake of his love, his life. In him we dream again of families restored and a world in which his peace rules in the hearts of men. Excitement and hope are ours once more as we contemplate his ability to do exceedingly more than we could even think to ask. This is the real Christmas, and it’s more than just a feeling; it’s a daily reality.

No, I’m not bah-humbug at all. I like the trees, the lights, and that feeling. I’ll watch It’s A Wonderful Life, eat way too much, and give and receive gifts. But I know that that’s not Christmas, and it’ll all be over on Friday. Like I said, “Christmas is everyday.” and you can only truly experience it in Jesus. Come Monday, my Light and Tree will still be there.

Abortion & The American Economy

I wonder:

So, China has overtaken the U.S.A as the worlds leading economy. According to economists, a major factor attributing to this is China’s massive population.
Hmm… I wonder if the fact that we’ve murdered an estimated 54,559,615 unborn children has any bearing on this. And I also wonder if the “immigration battle” is an effort to supplement our population while protecting our “right” to murder babies.

Lamentation For America

“I have cried until the tears no longer come;
my heart is broken.
My spirit is poured out in agony
as I see the desperate plight of my people…

“Your prophets have said
so many foolish things, false to the core.
They [do] not save you from exile
by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they [paint] false pictures,
filling you with false hope…

“Rise during the night and cry out.
Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him in prayer,
pleading for your children…

“The guilt of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
where utter disaster struck in a moment
and no hand offered help…

“But Lord, you remain the same forever!
Your throne continues from generation to generation..Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!”

Being A Christian In Babylon: A New Reality

I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American any more.”?

We have previously looked at three different ways in which being a Christian in Babylon may tempt us to respond: assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), isolation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation), and rebellion (Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion). I have argued that these were not the ways in which Peter counseled his original audience nor us to respond, and now comes the part where I tell you what I believe to be the “right” way. I’m supposed to share with you how I believe we are we to live as a people without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused? This has been burning in my heart for quite a while, and frankly, other than in conversations with close friends; I’ve never tried to articulate it before. It runs contrary to what most are saying these days, challenging our very concept (American/Western) of identity and reality. I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American anymore.”? How do you deal with the understanding that what culture says is right is wrong, that your idea of freedom is actually slavery, that you have actually been called to suffer as Jesus did, that you are not who “they” told you you were? See what I mean? But I do believe that our coming to terms with all of this is essential to being a Christian in Babylon. So, we’ll go slowly, a step at a time, asking Jesus to make his truth, his reality known to us.

For the Christians in Babylon during Peter’s day, in coming to terms with their reality, it had to be hard not to adopt a defeatist mentality. By all appearances, they were defeated, marginalized, and excluded from mainstream society. That was their reality, and their suffering would have made it very obvious. Babylon had declared them outcasts. But Peter wanted his early readers to remember that their reality was not defined by the way in which they were classified by Babylonian culture. Peter reminds them that they were personally chosen by God. Their “dispersion” across the Anatolian peninsula was not to be viewed as a scattering by the winds of fate, but rather an intentional sowing of seed by the hand of God. And as people of God’s choosing, people baptized into a new reality in Christ, the hardships endured within Babylon did not define them, but rather served to refine their faith as fire purifies gold.

I guess it’s a little different for us today, especially we American Christians. Really, it was probably easier for those 1st century Christians to see themselves as “other than,” being in, but not of so to speak. Their suffering at the hands of Babylonian culture would have made it obvious that they were not held in great affection by mainstream society. But we have, for the most part, been accepted by Babylonian culture, and to our detriment, defined by it as well. We have come to see ourselves as Babylonians who happen to be Christians instead of a holy nation, a new ethnicity, strangers and aliens who happen to reside in Babylon. Because we derive our identity from the culture in which we live, we react as “Americans,” not Christians, when suffering and trials come (or appear to be headed) our way. In order to mask our fear and the pain of separation from a culture we have mistakenly called our own, we protest and demand our rights, ignoring the reality to which we have been called, the reality in Jesus which defines suffering and trial as those things that result in glory and honor and praise. “By his stripes we have been healed.”

We are beginning to see that being a Christian in Babylon can make you feel like the world has crumbled to pieces around you. As the normal ebb and flow of life is replaced by the storm of opposing realities, the disciple of Jesus can be dismayed at the ruin of monuments he once held sacred. But our “security” is found in the understanding that our lives are built upon a Cornerstone that Babylon has discarded, and that the bricks with which they are constructing their ziggurat are lifeless stones, its glory like the flower of grass that withers and falls. We must see ourselves as living stones being built up as a spiritual house upon the Living Stone, rejected by Babylon, but chosen and precious in the sight of God. It is in this “house” that we serve as priests, proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us into his marvelous light. We are not called to serve in the Tower of Babel, to somehow prop it up and ensure its survival. On the contrary, we understand the reality that Babylon is doomed to fall, and as alien priests, we extend mercy, grace, and hope to any who would seek refuge in the temple not made with hands.

I’m tempted to go on, and maybe I will . But we’ll stop here for now. Being a Christian in Babylon is inextricably linked to our relationship with Jesus. It is in the context of his life, death, and resurrection that we receive clarity, definition and assign value to our stay in Babylon and the suffering we are bound to encounter, that many of our brothers and sisters around the globe are already enduring. By “assimilating” Jesus’ reality, we neither isolate from nor rebel against Babylon. But as we see ourselves as he has declared us to be, men and women called to follow in his steps; we count it all joy that we share in his sufferings, glad when his glory is revealed.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion

It is Submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord.

Babylon. That place, that world system which the Bible portrays as being, at its very core, in opposition to God. How do you make sense of the inevitable suffering that comes with living in a culture that is the exact opposite of everything you believe in? When you are without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused; how do you make sense of it all? How ought Christians to respond to this type of environment? Is the answer to be found in some form of assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation )? Maybe isolation is the key (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation ). I think it’s safe to say that we decided against those two responses. But we still have a third to consider before we go on to what I believe is the answer to being a Christian in Babylon. So, let’s take a look at rebellion. Should we simply overthrow Babylon? Walk with me.

As with assimilation and isolation, you have to agree that rebellion had to possibly be one of the things that crossed the minds of the Christian communities to whom Peter had written back in the mid-60s AD. The suffering we are just now beginning to suspect may come our way was their everyday reality. Surely the thought of rebellion had to enter some of their minds. After all: “Peter, we are Christians. We know the truth and walk in the light. We could take over, infiltrate every facet of Babylonian culture, and use their own system to bring about righteousness and justice. How could we go wrong with Jesus as our King?” I’ll be that line of reasoning sounds eerily familiar to a lot of you. Hey, it doesn’t sound that far fetched, really. And it definitely would put an end to suffering. But Peter advised them and us against rebellion, and even counsels for a totally opposite response- submission.

Now, I realize that I just lost half of my American readers, but it is a disposition of submission (not rebellion) that Peter, that the Holy Spirit desires for Christians living in Babylon. Remember, Peter was writing to people living under the tyranny of Rome (Babylon). They had no say so whatsoever as to how things worked. Also, the culture in which these Christians lived had religiocultural activities in which they as disciples of Jesus could not participate. This made them outcasts of mainstream society. And in the midst of such tension, Peter says, “Submit.” Say it aint so. Peter, you can’t possibly mean that we are just supposed to take this abuse. Submit? You have to be out of your mind. Maybe they/we need to know what true submission is, and what it accomplishes.

Though Peter uses governments, slaves, wives, husbands, and the Church itself as examples of submission, it is Jesus he portrays as the ultimate example of submission:

“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

Do you see it? I know it goes contrary to everything we (especially we Americans) have had ingrained in us, but this is the holiness of true submission, with all of its glorious consequences. If anyone has ever been “railroaded,” lied about, and falsely accused, it was Jesus. If anyone ever deserved to rebel, get a good lawyer, and stand up for himself, it was Jesus. If anyone ever had the right to organize protests, and bring to light the injustice that was being perpetuated against him, it was Jesus. But it was his submission that resulted in our very salvation. And this is how we are to respond to the injustice and suffering that we encounter being Christians in Babylon. We must view our suffering as reconciliatory, just like Jesus’ suffering. Like Jesus, wholly submitted to the Father, we stand for righteousness, truth and justice. And like him, we must also know that living such lives may cost us greatly. It cost Jesus his life. To the government that tells us that we can’t do such and such or that we must do such and such, and we know these actions to be contrary to what Jesus tells us, we say, “I must obey God rather than man, and I submit to whatever it is you feel that you must do.” It is submission, not rebellion that illustrates to the world the beauty of our Lord. And just as by his beautiful stripes we have been healed, our own suffering can be that which God uses to bring salvation to those around us.

Being a Christian in Babylon is not about assimilation, isolation, or rebellion; there’s another way. We’ve touched on it today, and next time we’ll see that it challenges our very concept of reality and identity.