Sunday, March 31, 2013
Saturday, March 30, 2013
The body of Jesus was taken down from the cross. It was cold; lifeless; heavy.
They washed his body clean with water and anointed it with spices, wrapping it in a shroud from head to toe.
They laid his body in the cold, dark tomb and rolled the stone over the door. In the silence that followed, the body of Jesus did not stir.
Outside of the tomb, life went on as usual. Most people celebrated the Passover feast with their families, laughed with their friends, played with their children, argued with their neighbors, went through their normal, everyday lives, oblivious to the significance of the cross.
As the lifeless body of Jesus rested in the tomb, people wept for lack of hope.As Jesus lay motionless, they suffered the unbearable pain of loneliness.
As Jesus’ body did nothing, they fainted from hunger.
As the body was unmoved, they cried out for mercy but no one answered them.
Later, people would claim that Jesus was alive. But when those in pain looked, the body of Christ was motionless.
Some shouted that Jesus had risen from the dead. But then some of those who were hungry noticed that the body of Jesus wasn’t concerned with their needs.
Others waved banners and sang songs about the resurrection of Jesus. But then those in prison wondered why the body of Jesus was still wrapped up and hiding behind a large stone wall.
Is the body of Jesus alive today? Or is the body of Jesus still nestled in the dark of the cold tomb?
We are the body of Jesus. If we want the world to know that Jesus is alive today, we are the physical evidence of his resurrection. If Jesus lives in us, then He must live through us.
If Jesus was truly alive today, where would He be found? In the houses of the poor; beside the beds of the HIV infected; holding the hands of the homeless; comforting the lonely; visiting the prisoner.
And if Jesus is there, wouldn’t it be strange for His body not to be there, too?
Friday, March 29, 2013
One Friday was filled with blood.
Skin torn beneath the weight of a hammer, pierced by nails,
adorned with a crown of twisted thorns.
But only love flowed out of those wounded hands.
Only love dripped down that innocent face.
Only love rushed up to cover the nails embedded in his feet.
One Friday was filled with hatred.
Mocking voices raised in defiance, like spears pointed at the sky,
shaken in the fists of men who look just like me.
But only the voice of mercy echoed in reply.
Only mercy spoke their names from lips drenched with compassion.
Only mercy answered them to pardon their naked sins.
One Friday was filled with darkness.
The sun refused to shine. Light itself expired
and hung in the air, motionless.
Even God turned his face away in shame,
as every shadow on earth swelled in to fill the empty space
and wrapped the human heart in a shroud of death.
Angels fell to the ground in disbelief, children wept in the streets, a mother’s heart
was pierced through with sorrow deeper than any ocean.
One Friday was filled with dread, as hope took one last breath,
to dive beneath the surface, descending deeper into that secret place
where darkest darkness wraps itself in a blanket of fear and death and disease.
He swam deeper, his lungs filled with fire, down where blindness thrives, into the face of horror,
towards the darkest terrors as yet unknown to mortal men,
until his fingers found the keys of hell,
and ripped them from the wretched grasp of that cowardly worm.
Turning then beneath those depths, he set his face toward the sky,
raised his arms above his head,
and he began to rise.
By Keith Giles
Thursday, March 28, 2013
The Christian church is not in need of more leaders today. We are not having a crisis of leadership. We have a leader. He is flawless. He is marvelous. He is sufficient.
What we have today is a desperate need for more followers. We need people who will listen to our leader and put his words into practice. Nothing else will rescue the Church from complete irrelevance.
Only this is required: Listen to Jesus. Do what He says.
Here are 10 Barriers to Effective Followership:
- Focusing too much on being the leader.
- Acting as if only trained professionals are capable of following Jesus.
- Believing that average people are not “good enough” to be like Jesus.
- Using the word “leader” too often.
- Forgetting to be a servant to everyone.
- Talking more than you listen.
- Thinking your ideas and wisdom mean more than everyone else’s.
- Reading books about “leadership” instead of remembering to serve in obscurity.
- Staying in our comfort zones instead of going out into the world to serve others.
- Accepting the lie that “good works” somehow nullify God’s Grace.
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24)
“Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)
It’s not that I don’t believe in leadership. It’s that we already have a leader and his command to us was not to “Lord it over” one another but to realize that we are all brothers and sisters. He modeled one thing to us: Love. He washed our feet and then told us to do the same for one another.
To be clear: I’m not talking about doing good works to be saved. Those who are saved will do good works. Or, as I often say, “Swimming won’t make you a fish, but if you’re a fish you’ll swim.”
Or, as Paul says:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:8-10)
Our job is to follow our leader. He is the shepherd. We are the sheep.
“Follow me.” – Jesus
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
My youngest son, David (15) has been working on creating his first X-box game. He’s already created over 100 PC games using a simple program called Game Maker Pro over the last few years, but recently he was inspired to move over to actual coding to create a game for X-box Live. With the help of Brent, one of the brothers in our house church family, David has been hard at work the last few months trying to build his game from the ground up. It’s not been easy. In fact, it’s been downright frustrating at times. He’ll make progress one day and then get bogged down on a coding bug and not be able to move forward until he, or his mentor, can identify it and fix it.
A few weeks ago, David hit such a bug. He poured over the code and found nothing. Then he sat down with Brent, who’s already created and published two original X-box Live games of his own so far, and they still couldn’t identify the source of the problem. So, for weeks now he’s been dead in the water.
The problem David was having with the code was that when the player pressed the “fire” button, the bullets weren’t originating in front of the player’s icon. They were appearing at random places instead of where they were supposed to. Eventually, David stopped looking for the solution.
But then, just a few nights ago, David had a dream. He was with our family at an 80’s themed restaurant and I asked him, in the dream, to go back into the kitchen to speak to the head chef. When he got back there he found Paulie behind the stove. Paulie is a regular member of our motel church family. In the dream, Paulie handed David an X-box controller and said, “Don’t give up.”
In the morning, David woke up and remembered the dream. Especially the part about being handed the X-box controller and the words, “Don’t give up.” So, he sat down at the computer and started looking through the code again. That was when he realized something – he had programmed the enemies on the screen to fire tracking bullets at the player. In order for those bullets to track the user’s location it would have to calculate the position of the player on the screen first. Quickly he went to the code for tracking bullets and found what he needed. Then he copied that code and went to place it into the section for where the players bullets would spawn. What he realized was that his code wasn’t actually bad, it was simply missing one capital letter. See, the code is case-sensitive. So, his original code was only off by one letter.
If he had given up he never would have discovered this, and if he hadn’t had that dream he wouldn’t have given it one more try.
What’s even more awesome is knowing that David realizes that God was the one who gave him this dream and spoke to him about not giving up.
So, whatever it is that you have given up on – a relationship, a project, a dream – let me encourage you not to give up. Try one more time. Give it one more shot. Reach out and take that X-box controller from God’s hand and hit “Start” again. You might be surprised what happens next.
Monday, March 25, 2013
On the day that the Passover Lamb was traditionally selected, Jesus rose into Jerusalem on a donkey. Spontaneously, the people along the road began to wave palm branches and shout “Hosanna!” but what’s really going on might surprise you. First of all, the people received Jesus as a prophet (Matt. 21:11) but not as the Messiah.
This event was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9:
“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
The truth is that the rest of that prophecy was about the Messiah coming as an agent of peace:
“I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” (v. 10)
Notice that Jesus weeps over the fact that they do not understand what his mission is when he responds to their adulation and palm-waving with this statement:
“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44)
See, the fact that they were waving palm branches is significant. Those palm branches were a direct throwback to the Maccabean period when the triumphant Jewish warriors rode into Jerusalem and the people celebrated their victory over the Seleucids, which incidentally was followed immediately by a ritual cleansing of the temple. At that time the people waved palm branches as a symbol of military conquest over an oppressive enemy. By waving those palm branches, the people are saying that they are ready for war. They are ready for the blood of the Romans to be spilled in an uprising that they hope Jesus will lead them in. It’s no different than when Peter cut off the servant’s ear in Gethsemane and received the rebuke from Jesus.
Today we usually read that passage about the people shouting “Hosanna!” as an indication that the people received Jesus as their King. But on the contrary, the people were rejecting Jesus as their personal, spiritual Messiah and calling out for him to be their political, militant Messiah. When they shout “Hosanna!” which means “Save us!” they are demanding him to lead the charge of attack against the Romans.
This is why Jesus weeps over the people. He knows that their hearts are far from God’s heart. They want war. He has come to bring peace. They reject him and his mission. They can’t receive him for who he is. They cannot submit to him as he is – a humble servant riding on a donkey – they only want him to meet their expectations for a warrior who will set them free from earthly oppression, but they are unwilling to be set free from their own lusts and desires.
See, this was the day that the Passover Lamb was traditionally chosen to take away the sins of the people. On this day, the people rejected the Lamb because they wanted a Lion instead.
See, this was the day that the Passover Lamb was traditionally chosen to take away the sins of the people. On this day, the people rejected the Lamb because they wanted a Lion instead.
Ironically, the people of Jerusalem would receive the very punishment they sought to bring upon the Romans, as Jesus predicts in Luke 19:41-44, and later in Luke 21:5-38. This is why Jesus weeps. He knows that in AD 70 the Romans will surround the city and kill everyone and destroy the very temple he is about to go and cleanse.
The cleansing of the temple echoes the Maccabean cleansing roughly 200 years before, but when Jesus cleanses the temple this time it is more than ceremonial. Instead, he chases out the corrupt money changers and the sellers of doves who were exploiting the poor, and he clears the floor that was intended to be a place of prayer for the nations.
When you wave a palm branch on Palm Sunday, you should know that it’s a symbol of military power and conquest, not a symbol of humble devotion to the King who rides on a donkey to reign as the Prince of Peace in every human heart.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
One of the hardest truths for Christians to accept is the idea that God is trustworthy. They can believe in Him – that He exists and that He created the Universe – but to surrender control of their lives to Him? Not so much.
To me this is the most tragic of all the unbelievable truths, because if we cannot trust God then who can we trust?
Our inability to trust God, I think, says more about our need to be in control, or our fear of relinquishing control, than it does about our belief that God isn’t worthy of our trust.
In other words, if we think about it, God is the most trustworthy being in the Universe. He created us. He laid aside His power to become one of us. He allowed us to have power over Him. He forgave us as we were killing Him. He loved us enough to die in our place. He rose again to ensure that we could spend eternity together. He’s preparing a place for us to be with Him forever. So, how could we ever consider someone like this to be unworthy of our trust?
I think it has to be because we just prefer to be the ones in control of our lives. We don’t like the idea of letting go of the steering wheel for anyone else, not even a God who went as far as this to demonstrate His complete and utter trustworthiness. Which is sad.
If we could actually believe this truth that God is trustworthy, and prove it by surrendering our lives to Him, then we’d experience all the sweet joys and wonderful blessings that He intends to share with us. We would rest in Him and trust that He has everything under complete control. We would experience the sweet peace that only comes from allowing this loving Father to take us with Him on an amazing adventure of life that He has planned in advance for us to follow.
A person who truly trusted God with everything in their life would have no worries about tomorrow, no stress about finances, no concern for what will happen next, and have nothing but complete peace and joy on a daily basis. Much the same was how we imagine winning the lottery might make us feel, actually. Except that those who win the lottery seldom find actual peace and those who are wealthy and famous have just as much (if not more) angst and pain and worry in their lives.
If we believed that God was trustworthy we could obey Jesus when He says that we should “not worry about tomorrow” or about “what we will eat or drink, or about our body and what we will wear” but simply trust that “Your Heavenly Father knows that you need these things” and let go of our worry in order to “seek first the Kingdom of God”.
If only we could trust God with everything. If only we really believed that He was trustworthy.
Thursday, March 14, 2013
When we think of Jesus we usually imagine him as the God-man who was perfect in every way. We don’t tend to think of him the way the disciples thought of him – as a man who walked with them, talked with them, ate with them, slept alongside them and occasionally kept them awake with his snoring.
While it’s true that Jesus was by nature divine, we also are told that Jesus was “made flesh” and that he humbled himself to become one of us. What’s more, Jesus affirmed to us when he was here in the flesh that he was just as powerless as you and I are now.
Jesus also affirms that he does nothing under his own power, nor does he teach anything apart from what the Father tells him to.
“Then Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you; the Son can do nothing of himself, but only does what he sees the Father do. For whatever things he [the Father] does, these are also likewise done by the Son.” (John 5:19)
“Of my own self, I can do nothing. I judge only as I hear; and my judgment is just, because I do not seek my own will, but the will of the Father who has sent me.” (John 5:30)
Jesus also affirms that the great words of wisdom and truth that he spoke were not his own words, but that he was hearing them from His Father:
“These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.” (John 14:24)
“For I do not speak of myself, but from the Father who sent me and commanded me what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that to obey his command is life everlasting. Therefore, whatever I speak is just as the Father tells me to speak." (John 12:49-50)
“But so that the world may know that I love the Father, I only do exactly as the Father has instructed me to do.” (John 14:31)
The point seems to be that Jesus lived a life of humility and surrender. It’s clear that Jesus didn’t live out a perfect life on Earth out of any power of his own. Actually, according to the New Testament, Jesus let go of all of his power when he came in the flesh.
What this means is that we cannot say, “I’m not like Jesus so don’t expect me to live the way he lived.” On the contrary, it was because Jesus emptied himself of his glory and power and took on flesh to become nothing that he was capable of doing what he did:
“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)
Plus, the New Testament writers also told us that those who claim to be Christians must behave like Jesus:
“Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:6)
This is precisely why most Christians do not believe that Jesus was fully human during his life on this Earth. If Jesus could do those things as a mere human who was fully surrendered to the Spirit of God, then the implication is that we should all be capable of living such an others-focused life. But, of course, that’s exactly what the New Testament does teach us.
It’s why Jesus tells his disciples:
“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12)
The whole point is that we can do what Jesus did because he was like us; fully human.
If Christians today actually believed the truth about the humanity of Jesus, then they might actually take his call to follow him seriously. We might actually start realizing that it is actually possible for us to love our enemies, and pray for those who hate us, and turn the other cheek, and serve the poor, and everything else that Jesus commanded us to do.
Sadly, it’s so much easier to elevate Jesus into a state of unapproachable holiness so that our ability to reach such heights of perfection is forever out of reach.
But, just imagine if we really did believe this amazing truth? Wouldn’t our churches be filled with people who were more humble and totally dependent upon God daily for the grace necessary to live a life of service? Wouldn’t the poor and the prostitutes and the orphans rejoice that the world was filled with people who took the pattern set by Jesus and truly lived out his example of radical, sacrificial love?
I can’t help but believe that this is exactly the sort of thing that Jesus intended us to do. It’s certainly what his disciples did after his ascension. It’s certainly what the early church did for hundreds of years. Why not now? Why not you and I?
Friday, March 08, 2013
*I'll be publishing a new series of articles called "Unbelievable Truth" here over the next few days. These articles will each examine a different Biblical truth that most Christians don't actually believe, but should.
Unbelievable Truth #1: That God Really Loves You
God’s love for mankind is an incredible thing. The idea that God, who knows the end from the beginning, would know in advance how much pain and suffering He would have to personally endure as the result of creating the Universe and yet still say the words, “Let there be light” is staggering.
The scriptures are replete with example after example of God’s endless declarations of love for every single person on the planet. Usually these statements are about nations, or about general populations of people, but Jesus goes even further with this idea and affirms that God actually loves each of us individually. This is why Jesus urges us to call God our “Abba” or “Daddy” when we pray. It’s why Jesus says that God loved the world (and that means everyone in the world, and therefore you and me) so much that He sent Jesus to give us life and set us free.
Paul the Apostle encouraged all of us to meditate on God’s incredible love:
“ I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Ephesians 3:17-19)
God’s love is wider than we can imagine. It’s longer than we can comprehend. It’s higher than we can reach. It’s deeper than we can fathom. God’s love surpasses knowledge. This means it’s beyond knowing. It’s too great for us to wrap our minds around. It means that if you had all the knowledge in the Universe you’d still not be capable of fully knowing God’s amazing love.
God made you in His own image. Just think of how that makes Him feel everytime He looks at you. [Genesis 1:27]
His thoughts about you are more numerous than all the grains of sand on all the beaches on this planet. He is actually thinking about you. Right now. [Psalm 139:17-18]
God has plans for your life. They are good plans. Plans to bless you and not to curse you. Plans to give you a future and fill you with hope. [Jeremiah 29:11]
God is singing over you. Right now. Just try to imagine what His voice sounds like as He opens His mouth and sings a song of love about you. [Zeph. 3:17]
God loves you so much that He would rather die than live without you. How amazing is that? [John 3:16]
The only thing more amazing than God’s awesome love? The fact that you and I can take it for granted, or worse, not fully receive it.
Most Christians don’t really go through their lives with the awareness of God’s astounding love in their hearts. They walk around looking tired, or feeling bored, or stressed out; totally oblivious to the endless showers of love that God is pouring down over them night and day.
I think I understand why we don’t believe that God loves us like this. It’s because deep down inside we’re convinced that we don’t deserve that kind of love, and certainly not from someone as Holy and Perfect as God. But that’s the whole point of God’s love – we don’t deserve it and yet He pours it all over us because of who He is, not because of who we are.
Just imagine if Christians really did believe that God loved them? Wouldn’t they be happier? Wouldn’t this love fill them up and spill out of them like light from under a basket? Wouldn’t a greater awareness of God’s unconditional, endless, boundless and fantastic love change them forever? Wouldn’t this love help them to love others more? Wouldn’t this love make it easier to forgive those who hurt them most? Wouldn’t this love transform their hearts, and their minds, and transform them from the inside out?
There’s only one way to find out.
Can you think of a truth that Christians don't actually believe in practice? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.
Monday, March 04, 2013
Over the weekend I had an opportunity to join two wonderful people in the bonds of Holy Wedlock.
Jude and Carrie are homeless right now. They have been sleeping outside and have nothing to call their own, yet they both wanted to get married.
So, the Body of Christ surrounded them and poured out a marvelous blessing of love upon them. What’s more, God Himself smiled upon them both and personally provided the rings that they placed on one another’s fingers.
Carrie’s RingOne week before the wedding, at the Motel Church, a volunteer overheard Carrie mention that she did not have a ring for her wedding. This man, who wasn’t supposed to be serving that day, offered up a ring that he had found laying in the parking lot of a rest area a few months previously. The ring was gorgeous, and appraised for thousands of dollars. When no one claimed it he had first thought to melt it down and offer the money to the Church. But when he heard Carrie’s story he knew that God had given that ring to him so he could give it to Carrie.
Jude’s RingOn the morning of the wedding I had met with Jude and Carrie at the motel where the motel church meets each week. Some very generous people had offered to pay a few weeks worth of rent at the motel to give them a place to stay as they started out their life together. So, after we had taken care of getting their room set up , Jude and I stepped out of the office and saw Carrie speaking with my friend Mike. Some of you may remember that about a year or so ago we had helped Mike and Marie and their baby Mikala at this same motel. Carrie started to introduce Mike to me, as if I didn’t know him, but before she could I threw my arms around Mike and gave him a big hug. As usual, he smiled quietly and mumbled a soft “hello.”
As Jude and Carrie and I talked about the last minute details of their wedding which would begin that afternoon, I made mention of the fact that we didn’t yet have a ring for her to give to Jude. When Jude and Carrie left to go get ready for the wedding, Mike held out his hand to me and dropped a silver men’s wedding ring into my hand. “Let it be a surprise,” he said.
So, that afternoon when Jude slipped that expensive diamond ring on to Carrie’s finger, and as she slipped that silver ring on to his finger, and as they both repeated their vows to God and to one another, it was marvelous to see how perfectly those rings fit them.
God is so full of love like this for each of us. He knows our needs. He sees us where we are. He takes note of those things that would bless our hearts. He even knows our needs before we ask.
He knows the number of hairs on your head, and he also knows your ring size.
Isn’t God awesome?