Two Questions

Two questions have occupied my thoughts for some time now. Simple questions. Questions that can receive easy, trite, and mechanical responses from the average Christian. But to think them through, based on what Jesus did and said and taught, cause far reaching implications. Even as far as to say that to really think them through you will find yourself at questions that cannot easily be answered (I will venture to say that most of these hard questions have to do with the treatment of human life). Remember, it’s easy to say we believe in Jesus, much harder to truly follow him and live by what he said. So…

How far am I willing to be remade to exemplify the nature of Christ?

How much do I really believe in the life to come?

How far am I willing to be remade to exemplify the nature of Jesus…even if it is entirely counter-cultural? Even if it does not make any logical sense? Even if it is beyond my understanding? Even if it turns out to be different than I have always thought? Even if it is different than the way everyone has always done it? Even if it trumps nationalism? Even if it is surprising? Even if it puts me at a disadvantage?

How far you are willing to go will be guided by the second question: How much do I really believe in the life to come? Our worry is not to gain the whole world now, lest we lose our soul. But rather to live in such a way that we believe in the life to come so much we are willing to lose, if necessary, this world (and lose at the game it plays) as it is now.

For example, maybe a place to start with these questions, and there are certainly many places, can be Matthew 5:3-12- the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. Not necessarily an easy place to start, but will get you into the mix of things rather quickly…

Here is a quote attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien (yeah, the Lord of the Rings guy), “Living by faith includes the call to something greater than cowardly self-preservation.” I think that is a good, thought provoking, place to close.

Blessings

A blog post about blessing- but maybe not what you had in mind when coming to read this. Jesus opened the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5-7) with a series of blessings (Matthew 5:3-12). They have been named the Beatitudes. Blessed are you if this is yours or if you come to have this. Accompanied is how to receive that blessing. I believe these are things we need to pay very close attention to. Jesus purposefully reveals them to us. He closes the Sermon on the Mount by saying that if you put into practice “these words of mine”, what he just got through saying, you will be like a wise man that built his house on the rock. Here is how he began “these words of mine”:

You are blessed if the kingdom of heaven is yours.
You are blessed if you are comforted.
You are blessed if you inherit the earth.
You are blessed if you are filled with righteousness.
You are blessed if you are shown mercy.
You are blessed if you see God.
You are blessed if you are called a son of God.
Again, you are blessed if the kingdom of heaven in yours.
You are blessed if great is your reward in heaven. As a matter of fact, you can rejoice and be glad.

When you think of being blessed, do you think of these kind of things? We should. Maybe, just maybe, these are the blessings that are greatest of all. After all, beatitude does mean supreme blessedness. The reason they are called the supreme blessedness throughout church history is because they are the blessings that cause and are the lasting things of all. And how do we receive these blessings?

The kingdom of heaven is yours if you are poor in spirit.
You will be comforted if you mourn.
You will inherit the earth if you are meek.
You will be filled with righteousness if you hunger and thirst after it.
You will be shown mercy if you are merciful.
You will see God if you are pure in heart.
You will be called a son of God if you are a peacemaker.
The kingdom of heaven will be yours if you are persecuted because of righteousness.
Great is your reward in heaven if you are insulted, persecuted, and have false evil things said about you because of Jesus. The same was done to the prophets before you.

Again, how do we receive these blessings? What do these words and phrases mean? That’s found in the searching and the Holy Spirit’s leading. I won’t try to explain them all. But to a point, take them at straight value in what Jesus said, not using the ‘yeah, but’ add ons. Let them mean what they mean.

I want to be blessed, as you do. I want the things that are lasting. I want my house built on the rock. And according to these words of Jesus, I have some things to work on…

Hope: a short

There is hope for this world.
There is hope for mankind.
There is hope for you.

Or Jesus wouldn’t have come.

Are you crazy enough, like an old poetic prophet, to believe that?

There is hope in the midst of weighty despair.
There is hope in the midst of deep gloom.
There is hope in the dark, long valley.
There is hope for the shackled in sin.
There is hope for the bound and lame.
There is hope for the suffocation of poverty.
There is hope for dehumanizing hatred.
There is hope for the ravages of violence.
There is hope for ear and eye turning indifference.
There is hope- even after you watch the news.

Or Jesus wouldn’t have come.

Are you crazy enough, like an old poetic prophet, to believe that?

There is hope in the restoration of salvation.
There is hope in a new way of living.
There is the great hope of the return of the King; resurrection, all things made new.

Or Jesus wouldn’t have come.

Are you crazy enough, like an old poetic prophet, the believe that?

So, there is hope for me.
There is hope for you.
There is hope for all people.
There is hope for a new future.

You haven’t given up, have you?

The most wonderful time of the year

It is once again the Christmas season. The Christmas season full of songs, trees, presents, family, movies, eggnog, and all that. As the song says, maybe truly so, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. I’m all for all that. My wife has a yearly struggle with me to keep the ‘Christmas all that’ under wraps until Thanksgiving is officially over. She’s some sort of Thanksgiving purist or something. Now that Thanksgiving is over, we are into the ‘Christmas all that.’ But in the middle of all that, let’s not lose our soul.

So, more appropriately, this season is Advent. The focus, the daily thinking, the heart moved to worship…Immanuel, God with us. The heavens did rend, God did come down (Isaiah 64), just not as they thought. God, the Word, broke into this world, broke into darkness and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory (John 1:14). The lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world has come (John 1:29). A baby, born in a stable of sorts, placed in a manger. The wonder of parents, angels, shepherds, and Magi to come. The King, the Lord of Lords. The Messiah. A cross in his future.

So let’s focus, in the middle of ‘Christmas all that’, let’s meditate on words and phrases found in some of the scriptures about the birth of Jesus. What do they mean to you? What do they move in your heart? What do they tell us about the most wonderful time of the year? Of course, there is a lot more, but below is a little sampling…read the passage, then take time, real time, throughout the days of the season to meditate on some of the highlights of each passage.

Read Isaiah 9:1-7.
no more gloom
a great light
increased their joy
shattered the yoke that burdens them
For to us a child is born
the government will be on his shoulders
Wonderful Counselor
Mighty God
Everlasting Father
Prince of Peace

Read Matthew 1:18-25
conceived from the Holy Spirit
the name Jesus
he will save his people from their sins
the virgin will be with child
they will call him Immanuel -which means “God with us”

Read Luke 2:1-20
good news of great joy
for all the people
a Savior has been born to you
he is Christ the Lord
Glory to God in the highest
on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests
glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen

Let’s enjoy the Christmas season. Sing the songs, hang the lights, shop till you drop, hug your family, and drink too much eggnog. But let’s have our hearts set on Advent. Let’s be moved in wonder and awe, joy and gladness- the good news has come!

Persevere

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author an perfecter of our faith…

The race is marked out for you. Run the race with perseverance. All the while, keep your eyes on Jesus.

The race is marked out for you. You cannot make it up as we go along. Lose your life in order to gain it. The Kingdom, a harvest, growing within you. Not being shallow, casual, and loose spiritually. But being serious, purposeful…living life in such a way that you need God. Not just knowing you need His forgiveness, but a life of faith that depends on Him. Not a legalistic points earning way of living, but literally rethinking, with conviction, your life based on Jesus Christ. All of your life, not just parts of it. In that, willing to lose what you need to lose in order to have true life- abundant life. Even if that is not a fallen society’s idea of success or happiness. Even if it surprises you at times. And with this, the great legacy of passing along The Faith as you have received it.

Run the race with perseverance. It is not always easy. Don’t give up. Keep going. Keep grinding. Throw off sin. Stay strong in the face of persecution. Work through your doubt. Get up when you fall. As Eugene Cho posted on Twitter:

Don’t be overwhelmed.
Stay the course.
Be encouraged.
Be tenacious.
Do not quit.
Take heart.
Persevere.
Have faith.
Press on.
Trust.
God.

All the while, keep your eyes on Jesus. He is the author and perfecter of your faith. He is what you hold to when it seems there is nothing else to hold on to. He is your savior. He is always there. He is the beacon in your darkness, in your struggle, in the midst of your trial.

Hebrews 10:36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

When you persevere, when you have done the will of God, the reward promised is great. It’s wonderful. It is life in its fullness. It is everlasting life.

Valleys: A Short

We all want the mountain top. The experience. The feeling. We search for it, chase it. Even, at times, try to force it (and dangerously I might add).

In search of the mountain top you may find yourself continually in the valley. A walk there that is lasting much too long. 

Perplexed. Frustrated. Hurt. Lost. Feeling alone.

But, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. David wrote that. He must have experienced it.

In the valley, He is there. Even in the valley that may come to be named the Shadow of Death. Even that valley does not cancel God out. He is in the valley as much as He is on the mountain top. 

Since God is there, fear no evil. Keep walking, even if you’re limping. And learn. Grow. Be shaped. Become. Learn patience. Be content with Him and Him alone. He wants you to walk with Him there- in that valley-, consciously, deliberately. Trust Him.

You will find yourself on the mountain top again at some point. He is there too. But even though you don’t search for the valleys- you don’t chase them, you certainly never try to force them-, the lessons of the valley are as important as the experience of the mountain top.