Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Risen In You

This past week churches celebrated Easter, truly the greatest celebration of all. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foundation of the Christian Faith and the seal of each Christian’s pardon. As I reflect upon this passing Easter season, I am struck by a couple movie scenes that are as inspirational as they were convicting. The first is from the recent movie, “Risen.” “Risen” is the quasi-fictional story about the spiritual journey of Clavius, one of the Roman Centurions presiding over the crucifixion of Jesus. Following the crucifixion, Clavius was also called upon to investigate and find the missing body of Jesus. I won’t spoil the ending. But, the most striking scene was that of Clavius interrogating the disciple Bartholomew. For Clavius, it was Bartholomew’s testimony that was most compelling. Bartholomew stood before his interrogator bubbling with joy and boundless hope as he testified, “His resurrection changes everything!” Nothing could be truer than that.

As Easter comes and goes on the calendar, I can’t help but ask about what we are celebrating and how? It is one thing to celebrate the fact that Jesus rose from the grave. That is truly worth celebrating. But, it is how we celebrate that flavors what we celebrate. How do we celebrate this? For some, we celebrate Easter on Easter Sunday each year. For others, we celebrate from Good Friday through Easter Sunday. For others, we celebrate the entire Passion Week from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday. And, for others, we celebrate during the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. But, shouldn’t our celebration be all 365 days of the year, every year? After all, doesn’t His resurrection change everything? Now, before you think I’m being cute with such a question, give me a few more minutes of reading.

As we personally reflect the life of Jesus, there are three Jesuses that we see exhibited in the lives of those called “Christians.” And, each of these three Jesuses is totally different from the other two. First, there are those who celebrate the life of Jesus. They refer to Him as a great man, teacher or prophet. They celebrate some of His words and even some of His miracles. However, they ignore the things about Jesus that are offensive or divisive. But, this unoffensive Jesus is not the real Jesus. After all, if you know Jesus, you either absolutely love Him or you absolutely hate Him. If you are somewhere in between, then you don’t really know Him. The Christians that celebrate this Jesus are very adept to remember a couple quotes of His and trot them out when they are convenient to them personally. These “Christians” give lip service and attendance on Easter Sunday. But, their lives deny the power of the resurrection by the fact that they live a life that is nothing new from their old self. They might even doubt that the resurrection even happened – at least they live that way.

The second Jesus that some celebrate with their lives are those who are very focused on celebrating Jesus’ death. These “Christians” know everything about Jesus. They know every word He quoted. They especially know every rule He embraced. These Christians attend church not just on Easter Sunday but probably every day the doors of the sanctuary are open. But, their lives reflect a Jesus who is everything but alive. That is because they celebrate the crucified Jesus. Their lives are more dead than alive. Their witness is dead because their love is dead. Therefore, dead also is their Jesus, is He not? After all, our lives are a true reflection of what we celebrate about Jesus. As you can imagine, such a Jesus is not real either.

Then there are those who celebrate the risen Jesus. These Christians live lives defined by life, love, and blessing others often. These Christians have been changed in ways that defy explanation. For these Christians, everything has been changed by the resurrection of Jesus. Their lives are a constant celebration of what they believe – that Jesus is risen. Those, like Clavius, who come in contact with them are struck by something very different about them as compared to other “Christians.” These are the Christians, whom after you have encountered them, you feel blessed by them. These Christians are new. These are the Christians who really know how to celebrate Easter – every day. They celebrate not just the Savior risen about 2,000 years ago. They celebrate the Savior alive inside of them today. Wherever they go, they become the hands, feet and heart of the risen Christ. These are the Bartholomews. Does this describe you? Are you new?

On that last question, I am also reminded of another scene from one of the most famous movies of all time that gets plenty of air time every Easter, “The Passion of the Christ.” One of the most moving scenes of the movie is when Mary, Jesus’ mother, is making her way through the streets of Jerusalem to get just one contact with her son as He is carrying the cross. As she approaches the intersection, Jesus falls under the weight of the cross before her. She is then reminded of a flashback to when Jesus fell as a little boy and how she ran to comfort Him. For many it is this tug of the mother’s heart that causes them to be most moved. But, for me it is what happens next that brings me to tears. Mary, approaches Jesus and says, “I am here.” To which, Jesus touched her face and replied, “See, mother, I make all things new.” With that declaration, Jesus stands up, embraces His cross and presses forward. The gravity of that scene tears me up because He endured all of that to make me and you new. He came and suffered in our stead. He offered us new life characterized by His life in and through me and you. Jesus makes you new because when you repent and believe in Him, He invades your soul and makes it His - new. And, then Jesus is risen in you.

Christian, God spared no expense, including expensing Himself, to make you new. You should spare no expense to live every day like that is exactly what He did. When you do, Easter Sunday might begin to seem like just another day in a year of daily celebrations.

(You can view the movie clip from "The Passion" HERE)

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. Profits go to Camp Bahamas. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Seeing With Eyes & Thinking With Hearts

There is a Taoist story about a farmer whose prize horse broke free from his stall and ran away. When his neighbor learned of this he commiserated, “Oh, that’s too bad!” The farmer replied, “Who knows what is good or bad?” The next day, the horse returned and brought six wild horses back with it. To this, the neighbor said, “Oh, that’s so good!” Again, the farmer replied, “Who knows what is good or bad?” The next day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses that was brought back, and the horse threw him, breaking the boy’s leg. To this, the neighbor again said, “Oh, that’s too bad.” And, again, the farmer replied, “Who knows what is good or bad?” The following day, soldiers of the landlord prince came around looking for able-bodied men to join their ranks in immediate battle. They ignored the farmer’s son due to his broken leg. “Oh, that’s so good,” said the neighbor. To which the farmer said faithfully again, “Who knows what is good or bad?” Do you see where this story is going? How foolish are we to judge that which we are incapable of judging on the surface? Then again, that is what our culture is ever urging us to do.

Ironically, at first glance, one might look at the title of this post and ask, “So what? What’s wrong with seeing with our eyes and thinking with our hearts?” Well, stop for once and think about it. If you are a Christian, there is plenty wrong with that. Yes, eyes were meant for seeing, but vision is not the totality of seeing. Sight was always meant to be combined with perception and thought. And, yes, thinking should not be void of emotion. But, emotion should always take a back seat to reason and wisdom. This is so clearly illustrated in the Taoist story. In fact, if you read the post title and even remotely agreed with the notion, you have probably been conditioned by our culture to some extent. Our culture is driving us to see only the surface, rapidly assume intent, quickly judge, and do, think and say whatever makes you feel good in response. That is a grand recipe for disaster.

Take for example social media. Instead of actually reading and expressing whole thoughts, social media today trains us to think in sound bites, texts, chats, tweets and posts. Quotes are often hastily labeled as racist without examining context and employing judgement to actually discern true intent. In fact, we will label a person racist off of a one word tweet. And, the same goes for the charge of sexism. And, the latest defaming label du jour this political season is fascist. I won’t go there as that is a whole other post. Suffice it to say, that what our culture is labeling as fascist is not actually fascist – do your research (a.k.a. reading). As a result, we are fomenting a toxic environment where everyone is flagrantly judging, out loud and in public, over social media (the equivalent of broadcasting), and everyone is guilty of something deserving punishment - except for “me” of course. Do you see where this leads?

God actually labels the reality we are witnessing today as foolish and wrong. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” God calls us to emulate Him in this attribute, not the opposite. And, Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Therefore, the heart is the last place you go to discern, only after our mind has had its thorough opportunity.

Christian, the truth is that we are supposed to both see and think with our minds through the Holy Spirit that resides within, not from the shallow veneer that we can see. That is because we don’t fully see a matter until our minds have adequately processed the matter. What enters the portals of our pupils is generally not enough to process most matters. This requires that we pause between viewing and judging and give adequate time for reasoning to take place properly. We should not allow ourselves to be caught in our culture’s formula of shallow, knee jerk litmus tests for everything that immediately enters our eyes. And, judging others should be the last thing we do, if at all. After all, if we see with our eyes and think with our hearts, we will actually distort all that is good into something that is not. The English poet, William Blake, penned it this way:

“This life’s dim windows of the soul,
Distorts the heavens from pole to pole.
And goads you to believe a lie,
When you see with, and not through the eye.”

In addition, emotions (heart) should also take a back seat to our minds and reasoning. Emotions can be helpful in their proper place. This is why sometimes that which immediately seems compassionate often has quite the opposite effect. Compassion must be reasoned with preference to result over intent. For example, as the political debate goes, liberals have heart and conservatives are cold-hearted. Actually the opposite can be true. Liberals favor handouts to the needy as compassion towards their plight. Then, when conservatives demand work in exchange for handouts, liberals immediately hurl harsh epithets in their direction. While well-intended, what the liberals don’t see is that handouts without accountability usually damage the person’s identity. The individual usually becomes dependent and spirals further into self-pity. Requiring work in exchange for handouts (like FDR did), actually instills purpose with our compassion, thereby giving the recipient incentive to move up the productive food chain in keeping with their God-given purpose. God never intended that handouts be demanded. In the end, neither view lacks compassionate intent. But, on the merit of results, conservatism is much more compassionate than liberalism, just not in the bottom-dwelling courts of tweets and divisive sound bites.

This dynamic of seeing and thinking with our minds is also true in the area of spirituality. Wanting all gods to be the same God might seem well-intended. But, if such a notion is false, such notion will lead away from truth and towards eternal death. Rather, our pursuit is for truth and love. And, both can only be found in the one true God (Jesus). But, to see this truth, it must be reasoned with our minds leading our hearts.

In conclusion, God blessed us all with eyes and hearts to be used for their proper purpose. That purpose is not to guide us. That actually is God’s role. And, God’s seat of choice in the temple of our souls is in the mind.

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. Profits go to Camp Bahamas. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

2016 Election: If My People

Last week, we posted a blog offering an interpretation of what we are observing on the larger scale with regards to this year’s Presidential election. Upon posting that blog into social media, I received an amazing response from a very dear friend and spiritual sister from my not too distant past. She simply reminded us of our truest of obligations towards God and country. That obligation is recorded in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” While this verse was meant to encourage it was also piercing as God’s word always is. This passage does not negate punditry, but reveals our ultimate Christian obligation this election season. Yes, we should vote. But, voting is our last priority in every election season. Now, what I am about to share is directed at me first.

God instructed us that our primary means of healing our land is humble prayer. This is our obligation and primary mode of political activism. And, all of the obligations in this passage are upon us - Christians. Therefore, instead of shouting at others to be humble, we should recognize that humility is our first obligation, which shouting nullifies. The way we heal our nation is to first be humble. Humility is not thinking less of self, it is thinking of self less. As Christians, we are still royal sons and daughters of God. But, we are called to wash the feet of everyone else. Humility rarely takes the form of demanding things of others, including candidates and voters. After all, Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That includes expressing our views.

The second obligation of this verse is for us to pray and seek God’s face. It is not our obligation to demand this of others or to criticize the prayers or non-prayers of others. Rather, it is our obligation to pray. This is not an obligation that we fulfill in order to get something. It just means that we have not because we ask not. If we want something out of our political process, the primary means of obtaining that, through faith, is prayer. Whatever energy we spend on fleshly activism would be better spent crying out to God. You can achieve many things in fleshly effort. But, are such achievements spiritually worthy? What is spiritually worthy is reserved for that which we achieve in Spirit – and that begins and ends with prayer. Our primary Kingdom work is done on bended knees. As in everything, including politics, the least we can do and the most we can do is pray. And, like humility, this is our obligation, not a demand we make of others.

The third obligation of this verse is to turn from our wicked ways. Christian, that means turn from your wicked ways, not necessarily crow about the wicked ways of others. And, if you are like me, you have some ways to turn from. By the way, this also happens to be the third and last step in the verse. That means there is no fourth step. There is no step where we turn fingers at others or tell others how to think. And, all three steps are things you and I should do, not things we should demand of others. This is to be the picture of our political activism.

Now, let’s summarize our three-step obligation this election season: 1) humble ourselves, 2) pray and seek God’s face, and, 3) turn from our wicked ways. That is it. We will not be able to nominate or vote our way out of the spiritual malaise in America. As Christians, restoration is ours to give, and by give that means follow God’s three steps personally. Reliance and trust upon any other step is faith ill-placed. We don’t have faith in candidates, ballots, parties, governments, media or tweets. We have faith in The King of Kings and The Lords of Lords who is in control of everything. And, our faith is revealed in how we express ourselves, primarily in prayer. Therefore, our communications with each other and the world should reflect hope regardless of the circumstances because we are prayed up.

To summarize, in conclusion, God said, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Let's pray!

You can purchase the book "Reason If You Will - How To Answer Questions Regarding Faith" by clicking HERE. Profits go to Camp Bahamas. You can also follow @ReasonIfYouWill on Twitter.